Wasting no time, my very dear friend fr Richard Ounsworth OP, editor of ‘Torch’ (the website for English Dominican preaching), obtained a sermon for the Sunday just gone from the Order’s newest Deacon, fr Lawrence Lew OP : and fr Lawrence, with wry insight into the readings, titled his homily ‘Affluenza’.
In it, he considers the problem of modern culture, and its insistence on the type of consumerist materialism which has given rise to what is called ‘selfish capitalism’ : and he remarks that reliance on this as a path to happiness and self-worth has been given the name of ‘Affluenza’ . . . a greed which puts one’s own self-gratification (mainly, but not exclusively, in relation to material goods) above everything else.
Now, it seems to me that, at least in one important way, in this Homily fr Lawrence is following up on one of the great ideas of fr Vincent McNabb OP, whom I mentioned the other day.
fr Vincent, together with G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, was a leading light in the Distributist movement in the UK in the early twentieth Century : a movement which stemmed, largely from his belief – which the others shared – that ‘the economic centre of gravity had become displaced by a subtle avarice which was endeavouring to serve God and Mammon’.
It was on that basis that he recommended people to ‘leave the garden cities and the flesh pots, not in order to scorn suburbia or to lead a simple life, but to worship God.’
In his turn, fr Lawrence has noted that ‘materialism drives us to work harder while neglecting our vital personal relationships, and true human goods’ : which is another way of saying the same thing, in the sense that it is by not having followed fr Vincent’s advice that modern society finds itself suffering from this present malaise.
Aquinas, although he makes it clear that the ownership of property is not of itself sinful, nonetheless points out that even private ownership ultimately holds things for the common good;* and I would suggest that this is one of the characteristic problems of consumerist materialism, which is driven by an increasingly personal ‘need’, part of the essence of which is that it excludes the good of others.
I believe that fr Lawrence’s Homily is an excellent step in the footsteps of fr Vincent, and I do urge you to read it here.
* ST : II, IIae, Q.66 Art 2