Most of us have grown up with the mantra “The customer is always right.” When our food comes out wrong at a restaurant, it’s expected that, if we say something, the situation will be adjusted to our liking. If, as a consumer, I don’t like the particular direction that a business is heading, I am free to take my business elsewhere. If the options that exist aren’t what I want, then someone, somewhere out there, will probably offer me an option that’s closer to my liking. In a capitalist society, money talks—and it is often most advantageous for those who provide services to listen to the desires and requests that the consumers make.

All of this, for the most part, is right and just. But everything can be taken to extremes…and our culture seems to like testing the limits at times—and so we take these deeply held convictions and poke at them, to see where the boundaries lie. Now, as a customer, if I demand something be written on a cake (for example), the bakery must accede to my request, regardless of personal convictions held or whether it violates someone’s free expression of religion, or else. If the business is unable to perform to my liking, gone are the days when we just take our business elsewhere—certain currents of society would seem to demand that it would be better for the business to not exist than question my absolute rights as a consumer.

In my world, I see this dynamic play out most at the various schools I have had the privilege of being a part of. Most of us can probably recall a time growing up when we were reprimanded for our behavior or didn’t achieve the grade that our parents expected. [When that was the case, I can remember some pretty stern conversations between me and my dad! Fortunately, I was basically a perfect child…just ask my brother! Ha!] It used to be that concerned parents would question their children about what was going on, maybe call the school to determine what could be done to collaborate with the teachers for the success of the student. But now, it is much more prevalent that if a parent is dissatisfied with a grade their child earned, the fault is assigned to the teacher, who inevitably is approached for an explanation. I can’t help but think that this is a result of our consumerist mentality when it comes to most things: as a consumer, I must be right, and if things are contrary to my liking, then others owe me an explanation as to why it must be that way.

Obviously, I am caricaturizing a bit for the sake of the point; most of us don’t actively pursue these lines of thought when approaching a situation. But it’s worth pointing out this increasingly common cultural shift, so that each of us can ensure that we don’t mistakenly accept wholesale what the culture currently promotes as good or right or just. Rather, as Christian disciples, we must look always to Christ!

Consumerism is not entirely bad (especially within the context of capitalism), but it is decidedly not how we as Christians should relate to God or to the Church. With the things of God, we are not merely consumers—we are participants, called to take an active part in the life of God, inspired by the Spirit and driven into mission. We do not merely consume the music or homily or Scriptures or Eucharist as we would, say, the most recent binge-worthy series on Netflix. We must rather be transformed by that which we consume, so that we as Christians become the very Church that we profess belief in every Sunday.

We must strive against the culture of consumerism in the Church to find where God is calling us to live in His divine life, not on our terms, but always on His. At the end of the day, Mass and our faith is not about what I “get out of it” (hopefully salvation!) or whether I like the music or homily—it’s about worshipping the God who made us and loves us into being; it’s about serving Him. We find, however—fittingly—that when all is done for His good and the good of His Church, it is always, without fail, what gives life and joy to our souls as well.

Keep spreading joy!

Fr. Friedel

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