Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
November 18, 2020 // Diocese

Christmas shopping with Catholic social teaching in mind

Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

Being Catholic isn’t limited to liturgies and attending Mass for an hour on Sunday. Being Catholic fully permeates every aspect of one’s life, from the books read — or not read — to words spoken or omitted. Even Christmas shopping can be influenced by faith.

The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22: 34-40, explains this. Known as “the greatest commandment,” Jesus is tested by the Pharisees about how to live as God designed.

“He said to him,  ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’” Jesus explains how one’s love of God directs all other choices, the opposite of the American concept of compartmentalizing each part of one’s life.

Catholic social teaching is this living out of the faith, in practical, ordinary, small and large ways. Seven principles of CST all have roots in the Church’s Tradition and the life of Christ. In modern times, they have been developed into a “list,” but have always existed in Scripture and Tradition.

The primary starting point of CST is the recognition of the inherent dignity of every person. Grounded in God’s own very creation, CST maintains and reflects the Incarnation, where God became human and lived simply. God chose to be born naturally and normally, through Mary, as an infant baby. God chose a small community for His son to grow up in, where food was grown by local famers, hunters and herders. Jesus’ clothes were made from local materials from people in His community, if not family. God chose poor and holy parents for Jesus to be born of and raised by, showing a special option for the economically poor. Jesus later chose His disciples from the local men of the area.

Being disciples and followers of Christ, Catholics must look at their life choices. Could the small, the local, the poor be chosen? What and who are favored when it comes to something as silly and small as Christmas gifts? Where are one’s time, money and words dedicated?

Annie Morin is a South Bend artist whose business, Annie Morin Photography, offers a local alternative to online photography products — and adds a unique, personal touch. Catholic social teaching encourages supporting local farmers, artists, crafters and others because it directly impacts the growth and flourishing of one’s neighbors.

Realizing that humans are social creatures, the principle of the call to family, community and participation focuses on the spheres and circles of life that a person interacts and lives among daily. From the economy to politics, how a society is organized impacts directly the growth and flourishing of a human person. Supporting marriage and family as vital social institutions strengths the full, fleshing out of a human’s dignity and life as well.

The principle of the dignity of work and the rights of workers reminds Catholics that a healthy economy serves the people, not the reverse. Work is more than a job; it is a way for the human person to participate in God’s creation. Earning a just and fair wage from holy and productive work supports the person’s family, buying food, clothes and other necessities including private property. The right of workers follows too in God’s own footsteps, both as God the Father in creating the world, as described in Genesis and each human life, as well as God the Son, as His foster father, Joseph, trained Him as a carpenter.

The CST principle of solidarity reflects Pope St. Paul VI’s words,“ If you want peace, work for justice.” As all people are united, as sisters and brothers of one human family, it is imperative that Catholics model and strive for peace in a world scarred by sin and violence. Solidarity reminds Catholics to pray and act with their fellow humans, loving their neighbors as themselves.

Lastly, but integral to the other principles, the CST of care of God’s creation calls Catholics to be stewards or caretakers of the Earth. In doing so, they respect their Creator and enjoy the gifts of the environment, from the air to the sea. All seven CST principles are interconnected and together weave a rich pattern of a healthy, holy, integrated Catholic life. One principle bleeds into another, allowing the integrity of each soul to choose serving God

Lay ecclesial minister, wife and mother, Mary Ann Wilson found this very integration of her faith into every aspect of her life liberating and refreshing.

“When I first learned of Catholic social teaching in college, it was a watershed moment. To hear that the Catholic faith was meant to permeate every aspect of my life made sense. Everything was meant to be a reflection of the Gospel — that felt like really good news. I was inspired that that could be possible— total and integrated.” Saints such as Mother Teresa, St. Francis and Servant of God Dorothy Day offered Wilson an example of what this fully Catholic living could look like. Soon after, she met her husband, Ben. She realized that with him “this is a person who I can really live this out with. Ben chose simple living and solidarity with people in mind.”

Now a family of seven, the Wilsons still daily choose to live their faith in concrete, practical ways of Catholic social teaching. The preferential option for the poor is the primary CST principle, which guides many of their decisions.

Parishioners of St. Matthew Cathedral, they chose to live by the Catholic Worker House in South Bend and in the downtown area to remain physically close to the poor. This is “a daily call to conversion, which asks a lot of us and can lead us to a deeper truth,” Wilson explained.

For Christmas gifts, the Wilson family “focuses on fleshing it out and making it: Asking themselves, ‘What can I give? What can I make?’” versus what can receive or buy. They try to be creative, making or finding an experience to share. When shopping, Wilson prefers to buy “as direct as possible, where the correlation is the strongest and a way to respect the dignity of workers. We teach the children of a sense of vocation, that beautiful work can bring the glory to God.”

Proverbs 31 reminds her of this choice, that it matters how she conducts her business, because it impacts both her family and local community. The Wilsons then bring those actions back to prayer. For example, they buy their vegetables and meat from a local, organic farm and regularly thank God for the efforts of their farmer friends, Matthew and Jen Betz Insley and Stephen and Raquel Storey. The benefit and good of a just economy is important to the Wilsons, realizing that they are dependent on others and making “those relationships as healthy and real as possible, knowing where products come from and supporting local businesses.”

This year, she pondered over the idea of offering the children an opportunity to buy an animal, such as a cow or goat, for a family in need for Christmas, as well as encouraging them to plan and make gifts for their siblings. “Those are often the most beloved gifts of the Christmas season,” she reflected.

Becky Czarnecki, St. Joseph, South Bend, parishioner, also stressed solidarity and subsidiarity, in her Christmas shopping. Along with her husband, Andy, and two young children, she explained, “it comes at a sacrifice because you’re paying more money for goods that are not mass produced. We choose the person, not the cheapest, efficient or the most convenient. Convenience isn’t one of our highest values as Christians.” She’s found “supporting real people, paying them a reasonable wage and building up our community by keeping money in the area, through choosing families and small businesses” a life-giving way of living Catholic social teaching and their Catholic faith.

“We tend to choose convenience and quick and easy fixes in America, so to choose the small, the local, the slower way is counter cultural — it’s not how America runs. But it is how Jesus lived. He prioritized people one on one. By loving them, He chose people over a larger profit.  Choosing to go out of your way isn’t logical, but it can make a bigger difference,” Czarnecki suggested. “Imagine if every person who bought from Amazon purchased just one Christmas gift locally. The impact would be huge.”

Czarnecki uses her “go-to” list of local individuals who make things: a former co-worker from Hope Ministries who makes T-shirts and items with a Cricut, a store that sells fair trade coffee, and 10,000 Villages. She tries to only buy used clothing and items directly from small businesses. After finding out Etsy takes a large cut of artists’ profits, she started directly contacting the artist to purchase. 

When she was assigned her wealthy sister in law for their family Christmas gift swap, she contacted a lady from Etsy directly, invoicing through PayPal, to make personalized stationery, something her sister couldn’t buy herself. It was a personal gift that still supported a small business. “I can’t do everything,” Czarnecki reflected, “but I can do something.”

For small businesses in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, that something means a lot. With the global COVID-19 pandemic still greatly affecting local business, Catholics can positively live their faith by practicing Catholic social teaching and supporting local, Catholic individuals and families through their Christmas — and everyday — purchases.

Photos by Jennifer Miller
Divine Mercy Gifts owner Sue McFarland has a go-to list of local individuals who make things: She does her own shopping with them in order to support their livelihood. She hopes others will do the same this Christmas and consider purchasing their Catholic items from her independent South Bend store.

Divine Mercy Gifts owner and Christ the King parishioner Sue McFarland felt the impact from the coronavirus pandemic last spring. The only Catholic storefront in the South Bend area, she had ordered items for first Communions before the mandatory shutdown began in March. She missed the business for the many graduation and first Communion parties that usually were celebrated. Now, McFarland is grateful to be able to open her storefront and hopeful for the coming Christmas shopping season.

Jen Towers paints peg dolls in the image of saints, an online business she considers a ministry. It also brings income to her family while simultaneously allowing her the flexibility to home-school her and her husband’s six children. Catholic social teaching encourages gift spending that allows families like the Towers to live with dignity.

Artist Jen Towers of Grand Expressions is grateful for her small business, which she understands as a ministry. “Most days I am blown away that God allows me to do it”, she shared.

Begun just three years ago, she has already painted 10,000 peg dolls of 298 different saints, 1,125 key chains and ornaments, 450 animals in Nativity sets and 1,200 icon eggs for Easter. Towers, a parishioner of St. Pius X Parish, Granger, works from home, as she gracefully balances home-schooling her six children. By purchasing a hand-painted saint peg doll from Towers for a child’s Christmas gift, a person can live out multiple principles of Catholic social teaching, enabling their relationship with God to develop and flourish, as well as that of the Church and world.

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