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Living the Gospel of Life -- Study Guide

Paragraph Three


In his encyclical letter The Gospel of Life, John Paul II observed that we need more of a "contemplative outlook" in our daily life. He explains,

"[W]e need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a "wonder" (cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death's door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity. It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person…"(n.83).

A simple distinction between the "ideals of utility" about which our bishops warn, and the "contemplative outlook" described by the Pope, can be seen in two ways we can look at a tree. We can see it and begin calculating how much lumber or paper can be produced from it. Alternatively, we can look at the tree and be moved by its beauty and praise its Creator. There is a place for both ways of looking at the tree, but our problem today is that there is no balance between the two.

The following list, showing how much Americans spend each year on various pleasures, puts numbers on the "consumerist excess" mentioned by the bishops.

Peanuts $1 billion yr. (National Peanut Council)

Popcorn $1.2 billion yr. (Nielsen Marketing Research)

Chewing gum$2.3 billion yr. (National Assoc. of Chewing Gum Manufacturers)

Cookies $3.4 billion yr. (Nielsen Marketing Research)

Potato chips $4.6 billion yr. (Nielsen Marketing Research)
Movie box office receipts $4.8 billion yr. (Academy of Motion Pictures)

Candy $6 billion yr. (Nielsen Marketing Research)

Ice cream $10 billion yr. (Int. Ice Cream Association)

Soft drinks $30 billion yr. (EPM Communications)

Restaurant dining $173.8 billion yr. (National Restaurant Association)

Beer $50 billion yr. (Beer Institute)

Legal gambling $300 billion yr. (Discovery Channel, Cronkite Report)

Pet grooming $175.3 million yr. (Pet Industry Joint Council)

Cat furniture $23.5 million yr. (Pet Industry Joint Council)

Terrarium heaters $37.7 million yr. (Pet Industry Joint Council)

Dog snacks $39.3 million yr. (Pet Industry Joint Council)

Licensed sporting goods $2.2 billion yr. (The Licensing Letter, 1993)

Guns and ammunition $10 billion yr. (National Rifle Association)

Non-beer alcoholic beverages $39 billion yr. (Beer Institute)

Cosmetic products $27 billion yr. (Drug & Cosmetic Magazine)

Lawn & Garden Products $6.1 billion yr. (Better Lawn & Garden Products)

It is not the intention of the bishops to call for an outright rejection of the "marketplace" but rather to call for balance and a proper hierarchy of values. We do have boundaries, actions do have consequences, and our obligations to one another call us to a life focused on others rather than on ourselves.

Discussion Questions

What are some examples of "self-absorption, indifference, and consumerist excess" that have become problems in our society?

What are some ways we can foster a "contemplative outlook" in our families, Churches, and schools?

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