Over recent weeks at breakfast I have had a chronic sense of déjà vu. It was not the fault of the porridge which was the same yesterday, today and, God willing, tomorrow. It was bizarrely the advertisements in the daily newspaper. I would normally hardly notice them at all as the pages are skimmed for anything to be read later in the day with interest. But for the last few weeks the advertisements seemed irritating and intrusive both for their extravagance and their sameness. The extravagance of half-page and even full-page advertisements must be justified because of the imagined lavish spending of the readers coming up to Christmas. With so much sparkling around us in the festive season an advertisement must visually shout all the louder. Unfortunately this does not flatter the readers’ discernment, which I’d have thought good marketing should do, since it is the logic of the thug, who, rightly being ignored for his shouting will only shout the louder manifesting the very reason why he should be ignored, or, for the Christian mindful of the spiritual works of mercy, enlightened, since to instruct the ignorant is a spiritual mercy. However, unlike the thug who should be enlightened, advertisements can, in principle, be ignored. This I was attempting resolutely to do but for the fact that I was irked to notice that all the advertisements I was seeking to ignore fell into one of three categories of which in every newspaper there were multiple examples. The categorieswere luxury goods, Christmas feasting and harrowing destitution. When I realised this I could appreciate why, whether I liked it or not, I was being affected by these huge advertisements because it’s a very disturbing juxtaposition of realities. Finally on one morning I took out pen and paper to count the distribution. In a 36 page newspaper there were six half-page or full-page advertisements for luxury goods such as jewellery and watches; six of the same sized supermarket or wine-merchant special offers on extra-extravagant amounts and combinations of rich food and drinks; and there were seven, mostly full-page, gaunt black and white images of the dreadful cost of war on non-combatants, the children and families of Syria and Yemen, with the charities appealing for aid. The advertisements themselves told me more about the world I was living in than the bits and pieces of news I was reading in-between them. In today’s Second Reading from St Paul to the Romans, he is addressing those few Christians who in the first century were living in the biggest, most diverse but also most unequal, bewildering and, in our parlance, most consumerist metropolis in the world just as, arguably, we do today in London. And Paul is unequivocal: they, and we, are called to be saints. If we are to be saints we need to do Christmas properly, which certainly means rightly ordering our priorities.

Posted on December 19, 2016 .