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John Paul I’s letter to St. Luke and a warning about consumerism

John Paul I letter to St. Luke

Renata Sedmakova | Shutterstock | Public Domain | Collage by Aleteia

Philip Kosloski - published on 01/14/24

In his letter to St. Luke the Evangelist, John Paul I gives a warning about the growing trend of consumerism he saw in the 1970s.
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When Cardinal Albino Luciani (future Pope John Paul I) set out to write letters to past historical figures, he did so in the context of the early 1970s.

He wrote for the Catholic newspaper Messaggero di S. Antoniobetween 1971 and 1975, and his letters were later compiled into a book entitled, Illustrissimi (To the Illustrious Ones).

At the time, the world was changing quickly and he noticed some of the potential problems that were beginning to surface. He used his letters to address many of these issues.

St. Luke the Evangelist

John Paul I begins his letter expressing his love of St. Luke and his Gospel.

I have always been fond of you, because you were a man of great sweetness, filled with the spirit of conciliation. In your Gospel you stressed that Christ is infinitely good, that sinners are the objects of a special love on God’s part, that Jesus, almost ostentatiously, made the acquaintance of those who did not enjoy any consideration in the world.

Our place before God

He continues his meditation on St. Luke’s Gospel reflecting on our place before God.

In the presence of an infinite and omnipotent God, we must accept being very small and repress in ourselves any tendency opposed to proper submission.

Consumer civilization

For John Paul I, he believed that a rising tide of consumerism would greatly harm our ability to see our place before God.

We try to reverse these positions; we would like autonomy, honors, independence…we don’t want to be dependent, meek, patient…Progress has gone to our heads: we are very aware of having reached the moon, of having created a civilization with every kind of consumers’ good and every kind of comfort.

John Paul I believed this consumerist mentality threatens our ability to remember God and how everything comes from him.

Continuing in his letter, John Paul I quotes a harsh rebuke of consumerism that came from “some Oriental sheikhs.”

You people of consumer civilization and opulence…the party’s over: there’s oil now for only a bout another thirty years; if you want it, you have to pay plenty; rethink your way of life: go look for other sources of energy.

While much has changed since the 1970s, our consumeristic culture has only grown and unfortunately often distracts us from God.

John Paul I wanted to point out that St. Luke’s Gospel reminds us of the simple, the poor of this world, and how we are called to a certain simplicity of life that brings us closer to God.

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