Bernardo M. Villegas
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Avoiding A Throw Away Culture

           The spartan life that Pope Francis lives is an outstanding example for the followers of Christ to truly live what is known as “poverty of spirit” which has nothing to do with despising material things or living in dehumanizing penury.  Today, Holy Monday, is a good occasion for business people to reflect on overcoming the temptations of consumerism, instant gratification and what Pope Francis has called a throw-away culture.  As more Philippine households join the middle class (most of them at the lower middle class level), there is a real danger that consumerism can tarnish the usual generous nature of Filipinos who are always ready to share what they have, no matter how little, with their needy neighbors.    I still remember my days as a boy scout in Negros Oriental trekking to the mountains close to Dumaguete City.  We would be received in the most modest huts of farmers and they would invariably offer us something to eat.  They would say in Cebuano, “Please excuse us.  We can only serve you some chicken tinola we cooked from our backyard poultry and papaya.  We do not have cans of sardines or carne norte to share with you!”  What generosity in the midst of poverty!

          I pray to God that this native generosity is not lost as economic progress slowly uplifts more households.  The worst kind of “ideological colonization” is for them to embrace the cult of consumerism so pervasive in developed countries:  measuring the worth of human beings by the amount of material wealth they have accumulated instead of the virtues and values that they have acquired, that is, giving more importance to having than to being.  This obsession with accumulating things have very negative repercussions, as Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si, on the physical environment.  Having excessive cars, appliances, cell phones, IPads, designer clothes, etc. sooner or later lead to piles and piles of garbage and the consequent threat to the physical environment.

          How do we avoid this throw-away culture?  On the Holy Monday of 1955, St. Josemaria Escriva delivered a homily on “Detachment,” in which we can find the antidote to consumerism.  Very much in the spirit of Holy Week during which we commemorate the way the God-Man Jesus Christ spared nothing of Himself in order to redeem us from our sins, St. Josemaria spoke of the Christian spirit of detachment:  “The detachment which our Lord preached and which he expects from every Christian, necessarily brings with it external manifestations.  Jesus began to do and to teach.  Before talking with words, he proclaimed his doctrine with deeds.  You have seen that he was born in a stable, in the most abject poverty, and that the first time he slept on this earth was on straw in a manger.  Later, in the years of his apostle journeyings, you will recall, among many other examples, the clear warning he gave to a man who offered to become one of his disciples:  ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air their resting places; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’  Nor should you forget to contemplate the Gospel scene which shows the Apostles staving off their hunger on the Sabbath day by plucking some ears of corn that were growing by the wayside.”

          The spirit of detachment that St. Josemaria preached is very compatible with fulfilling one’s duties in life in the middle of the world.  It has nothing to do with the vow of poverty lived by those who have abandoned the world to enter a religious order or congregation:  “Following the example we see in our Lord, who is our model, I preach that detachment is self-dominion.  It is not a noisy and showy beggarliness, nor is it a mask for laziness and neglect.  You should dress in accordance with the demands of your social standing, your family background, your work…as your companions do, but to please God:  eager to present a genuine and attractive image of true Christian living.  Do everything with naturalness, without being extravagant.  I can assure you that in this matter it is better to err on the side of excess than to fall short.  How do you think our Lord dressed?  Haven’t you pictured to yourself the dignity with which he wore his seamless cloaks which had probably been woven for him by our Lady?  Don’t you remember how, in Simon’s house, he was grieved because he had not been offered water to wash his hands before taking his place at the table?  No doubt he drew attention to this example of bad manners to underline his teaching that love is shown in little details.  But he also wants to make it clear that he stands by the social customs of his time, and therefore, you and I must make an effort to be detached from the goods and comforts of the world, but without doing anything that looks odd or peculiar.”

          St. Josemaria also refers to a very positive manner of living detachment:  that of taking very good care of all the material things we handle in our work and at home:  “As far as I am concerned, one of the signs that we’re aware of being lords of the earth and God’s faithful administrators is the care we take of the things we use:  keeping them in good condition, making them last and getting the best out of them so that they serve their purpose for as long a time as possible and don’t go to waste.  In the centers of Opus Dei you will find the decoration simple, attractive and above all, clean, because poverty in a home is not to be confused with bad taste or with dirt.  Nevertheless, it seems quite natural to me that, in keeping with your means and your social and family commitments, you should possess some objects of value which you take care of with a spirit of mortification and detachment.”  Let these pieces of advice from St. Josemaria, whom St. John Paul II called the “Saint of Ordinary Life”, help us to be truly “poor in spirit” so that we can see the Kingdom of God, as Christ promised during His Sermon on the Mount.  For comments, my email address is