Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Consumers As Guilty as Capitalists (Part 3)

          How do we combat the evils of consumerism?  The major faiths, whether Islam, Christianity or Hinduism, have a common response:  know how to tame or discipline your body, your excessive desire for material comfort.  There is no alternative to personal efforts to curb unreasonable cravings for unlimited consumption of goods and services that cater to bodily pleasures and comfort.  In Christianity, it is called “mortification” from the Latin root word “mortis” meaning death, death to bodily pleasures.  In the website called “Catholics Striving for Holiness,” the Christian concept of mortification is very well defined.   The brief on Christian mortification starts with the words of Jesus Christ found in Matthew 16: 21 -27:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  Or what can one give in exchange for his life?  For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

         According to Christian doctrine, denying one’s self and carrying Christ’s Cross are necessary conditions to follow Christ and to reach our ultimate goal:  heaven.  This spiritual combat is carried out through mortification, which consists in putting to “death” all the disordered passions and tendencies which we carry within us as a consequence of original sin and our own personal sins.  Viewed positively, mortification is actually an affirmation, our affirming our love for God whom we displease if we fall into sin.  We say “no” to ourselves, to the evil tendencies rooted in our soul (pride, laziness, vanity, greed, envy , lust of the flesh…) in order to be fervent and faithful followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Considering that everyone is called to be a saint, mortification is absolutely necessary since as St. Josemaria Escriva wrote “We will not be saints, if we are not united to Christ on the Cross.  There is no holiness without the Cross, without mortification.”

         It is difficult to live Christianity to the full if we do not keep our body, our emotions in check within the dominion of right reason, without allowing the contrary to happen. A very practical advice from St. Josemaria which he wrote in his classic book “The Way”:  “One has to give the body a little less than its due.  Otherwise it turns traitor.”  Mortification strengthens our feeble human mind and will.  It educates as well our emotions to cling to what is just and good according to reason, thus making us masters of ourselves, enabling us to have dominion over the tyrannical power of emotions if left uncontrolled.  Its practice frees us from the bondage of what is material, pleasurable and mundane:  things which can enslave us and prevent us from doing what is right and good.  It makes us more free and with this, spiritual progress starts, be it ours or that of others.

         For the ordinary Christian, mortification passes unnoticed.  It has nothing to do with self-flagellation in public, kneeling on mongo beans in church, and doing all sorts of ostentatious acts in front of other people.  As contained in the brief referred to above (Catholics Striving for Holiness), there are a thousand ways during the day when we could offer sacrifices to God, carry the Cross of Christ, without calling attention to ourselves:

         -Punctuality.  Getting up on time, arriving punctually at work.

         -Sobriety in food and drink.

         -Moderation in the use of gadgets.  This is especially relevant in today’s digital age in which Filipinos are notorious for excessive time devoted to social networking.

         -Controlling our imagination, which tends to get us out of our place, to make comparisons, or want to be the best in every aspect and every level, an aspiration that is

       unrealistic and can just lead to confusion and anxiety or even depression and boredom.

         -Mortify our memory so as not to store any grievances, slights, and so on.  It is uncharitable to store all the unjust, uncivil, and rude humiliations we have suffered because

       it is improper for a follower of Christ to have a record ready to present a list of grievances to people who have offended us.

         -Restraining our tongue:  gossip is always inappropriate for someone struggling to be a saint.  Again, a practical advice from St. Josemaria in his book Furrow, No. 902:

       Acquire the habit of speaking about everyone and about everything they do in a friendly manner, especially when you are speaking of those who labor in God’s service.

       Whenever it is not possible to say something positive, keep quiet.  Sharp or irritated comments may border on gossip.

         -Mortification of the senses:  sight, curiosity. avoid complaining all the time.

         -Try to be always cheerful, amiable and putting on a smile, even though we are tired or we do not feel like it.  This is not hypocrisy, but charity. There are enough depressing

        things and happenings in this world; we need add to them with a sour face.

         -Bearing sickness, difficulties, problems or obstacles with grace and joy, entrusting ourselves to God’s Providence.

         Personal responsibility must be embraced if we hope to eliminate the throwaway culture, a culture that discards everything that is no longer “useful” or “satisfying” for the tastes of the consumer.  Mortification or self-denial helps to ignite our effective and practical love for God and all souls.  It capacitates us to tune in with the Lord, the ultimate source of union and love.  If we want to save the Philippines from the worst consequences of consumerism, we must use all the spiritual resources of the major religions, especially Christianity,  to foster the spiritual practice of mortification, not only as regards illicit desires and movements of the will but also in legitimate pleasures of which  one can deprive himself from time to time with the double purpose of strengthening his will and of contributing to the preservation of the physical environment in which we live.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.