As a Catholic priest, I feel like I inhabit two different worlds. I live in the world of American politics, global news, and daily struggles. I also live in the Biblical world of prayer and sacrifice to an all-powerful God. Anyone who has ever tried living for Jesus quickly realizes how wide the gap is between the Christian faith and the daily lives of Americans. The Bible honors purity; the world praises lewd behavior. The Bible teaches us to love our enemies; the world cancels people. The Bible invites us to look to eternity; the world grasps at pleasure, popularity, power, and possessions.
Some of the differences between the Biblical worldview and Christianity are harder to notice. I would suggest that one of the key differences is the consumer mentality. We are so accustomed to this mentality that we have a hard time even recognizing it. What do I mean by “consumer mentality”? We have a tendency to see the world in terms of products and services. I identify a need and then find products that fit my needs. Each product has a price and consumers shop around for good deals. I pick the store that has the products I like, or I order them online and they arrive in boxes. I’m the center of my consumer world and I go all “Karen” when the products aren’t to my liking.
People have started to see themselves as products, too. I position my “brand” in the market by clothing choices, activities, beliefs, and tattoos. Social media becomes a marketing platform. Because consumers always ask, “What’s in it for me?”, human relationships become shallow and self-centered. I enter a marriage to meet my needs and exit it when, “I’m not happy any more.” Churches start to look like store-fronts. They keep wanting to sign me up for the every-Sunday plan, but I just want to buy a Baptism and grandma’s funeral and get a nice backdrop for my Christmas photo. As soon as a church doesn’t meet my needs, I look elsewhere or worship online.
The Biblical worldview is very different. The Bible recognizes that everything around us was created by God. Picture a little boy spending hours on an elaborate train set that fills his basement—every piece is carefully crafted. This is God shaping the universe. At the very end, as the crown of creation, God said, “‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-28, RSV)
Humans are put in charge of a world they didn’t make and don’t really own. They can use it and exercise dominion (authority) over it, but it really belongs to the Creator. The Bible refers to this role of subordinate authority as Stewardship. A Christian steward is, “One who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with all, and returns them with increase to the Lord.” (US Bishops’ pastoral letter, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response”). Stewardship recognizes that everything I have is a gift from God and I will owe an accounting to God for how I used his stuff.
Stewards recognize that not only is everything a gift from God, but everyone is also. I exist because God wanted me to exist. Each of us is willed, wanted, and loved. Comparing myself to others is like comparing two hand-made things. We are all unique and we are each special in our own way. I find the mentality of Stewardship both frees me, and also holds me accountable. Do you live like a consumer or a steward?
---Published in the Antigo Daily Journal 9/16/2022---
Fr. Joel Sember serves as pastor of four Catholic parishes: St. John the Evangelist and Saints Mary & Hyacinth, Antigo; Saint Wenceslaus, Neva; and Saints James & Stanislaus, White Lake. His book Oriens: A Pilgrimage Through Advent and Christmas is available at Amazon.con.You can find him online at www.PilgrimPriest.us and on the Antigo Area Catholic Churches YouTube channel.