Throughout his visit to the United State, Pope Francis has sounded like a cheerleader urging us on to be better at what we do best – he’s applauded our independence, our concern for the poor, our faith and our families.
But on Sunday morning, during his talk to the Catholic bishops assembled in Philadelphia, Pope Francis elaborated on what ails contemporary society — our consumerism.
Consumerism, he said, is what defines “so many contemporary situations” and is “a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness.”
But Holy Father, we might respond, “How could I be lonely, I have hundreds of friends. Just look at my Facebook page and my ‘likes’ on Instagram, not to mention my Twitter followers.”
Sorry, no, that’s not friendship, said the Pope: “Running after the latest fad, accumulating ‘friends’ on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer. Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.”
That stings. When we spend more time crafting a perfect internet persona for ourselves than in actually meeting each other face-to-face, point well taken, Your Holiness.
Our materialism isn’t limited to goods that can be bought and sold, but to our relationships with each other, he said.
“There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust. The most important thing nowadays seems to be follow the latest trend or activity,” he said.
He continued, “A consumption which does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere ‘means’ for the satisfaction of ‘my needs.’ The important thing is no longer our neighbor, with his or her familiar face, story and personality.”
“The result is a culture which discards everything that is no longer ‘useful’ or ‘satisfying’ for the tastes of the consumer,” he said.
A look at Pope Francis’ addresses throughout his visit shows that this harsh critique doesn’t come out of the blue, but baldly states a theme that he has touched on all along– that of the need to foster a “culture of encounter” with one another.
His references to the “evolving pastoral landscape” and “challenges” to clergy all point to this diagnosis he’s made. He’s said he sees the Church as a “field hospital after battle,” and now we’ve just been told how serious are our wounds.