This morning, as I was sipping my brewed coffee, I read a Christmas comment of Pope Francis (a psychologist himself) of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. He remarked and decried that Christmas has always been "taken hostage" by dazzling materialism that puts God in the shadows.
He observed that a great majority of people in the world celebrate Christmas with a different "celebrant," obsessed with gifts, feasting, and self centeredness. The Pope said, "Worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed."
I always witness one thing from our generation today. We are constantly exposed to "things" that convince us that we need more to be happy. This Christmas, I treated my children with new iPhone, clothes, watch, gym membership, sumptuous food, cash etc, in keeping with their wish to be up to date with fads. I know, in my mind for I'd been through it myself, having obtained what they think they need, they'll soon feel unhappy when new models come out! It's never-ending.
I'm naturally concerned about materialism's psychological effects on my kids. "Things" may not be evil in themselves, but they have the capacity to be "idols of the heart." They can make one psychologically imbalanced, lose touch with reality! They can lead one to forget Christ's simple admonition: "One's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15). In the constant presence of "things" and the spirit behind them, one may indeed lose touch with the divine as well.
Have you ever experienced living in cold Antarctic all by yourself? There is this guy, Admiral Richard Byrd, who did it for months. In his journal, he wrote: "I am learning ... that a man can live profoundly without masses of things."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn had a similar insight. He was thrown into Soviet prison and all things he held dear were taken from him - books, loved ones, home, freedom. It was then that he came to write about the secret of how to be truly happy and strong -- "that man is never stronger than when he has nothing but the treasures within his heart."
Is having money, possessions etc wrong or pathological? Of course not. Christ, the reason for the season, is simply against anything that becomes a "god" in our hearts and leaves God out of our lives. Unfortunately, this is a very common "psychological illness" and "soul wound." Many people nowadays are "possessed by possessions" as no other generation in history.
Christmas and materialism always go together each year to millions around the world. We witness lots of gifts and parties but there is a different "celebrant." It's a different "lord" that continues to dominate the season. This can wound people - emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
As Pope Francis remarked, Christmas needs to be "freed." That involves a lot of renewing of the mind.