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Black Friday and St. John Paul II’s guide for consumers

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Philip Kosloski - published on 11/26/21

St. John Paul II lays out his guide for consumers in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, detailing factors we should consider when purchasing.

Black Friday, no longer contained to a single day but stretched throughout an entire month, summarizes the modern approach to consumerism. Businesses are entirely focused on making profits before the end of the year and consumers help them by their purchases.

However, St. John Paul II highly criticized this system of consumerism and urged consumers to think before they buy.

He explains his thoughts in his encyclical, Centesimus Annus. First of all, he warns us that the way society uses its money, shows to us where our priorities are found.

A given culture reveals its overall understanding of lifethrough the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. 

St. John Paul II urges consumers to view their purchases in the light of the entire human person, body and soul.

In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones.

If this complete picture is not observed, then our consumerism will lead us astray.

If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts — while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free — then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health.

The Power of Choice

Above all, we need to remember that with each purchase, we are making a choice. This choice can benefit society and our eternal souls, or it can harm it. The key is to be an informed consumer.

Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice.

St. John Paul II doesn’t condemn the desire for a better life, but he urges us to change our desire to “have,” and to focus on the true, good and beautiful.

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards “having” rather than “being”, and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. 

As you continue to buy your Christmas presents, remember that each purchase you make has an effect not only on your own soul, but on everyone involved with that gift. Our purchase can promote the common good and the pursuit of holiness, or it can lead us astray and support a model of consumerism that is detrimental to society.

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