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Key Words: ‘Sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages’: Pope Francis warns against the ‘cult of physical wellness’ — and perils of consumerism

While Americans keep up a holiday spending spree that could break records, Pope Francis has a suggestion for your shopping list: less of it.

As the leader of the Roman Catholic Church left Greece on Monday, he invoked ancient Greek poetry to sound the alarm on contemporary consumerism.

Once upon a time, mythological Sirens sang beautiful songs to try alluring sailors to their doom in Homer’s Odyssey.

The story has a sequel now, Pope Francis said.

“‘Today’s sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages that focus on easy gains, the false needs of consumerism, the cult of physical wellness, of entertainment at all costs.’”

— Pope Francis

Pope Francis made his comments, as reported by the Associated Press, in a speech to students. It capped a trip where he also called attention to the plight of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Europe.

Pope Francis — like so many other spiritual forebears in Catholicism and other religions — has warned against materialistic culture before.

In 2015, Pope Francis said, “Today consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships … Whatever the cost or consequence.”

But there might be a new ring this season, as America’s re-opening economy copes with a supply chain that’s been stretched thin by a labor shortage and voracious consumer demand.

“As the holiday shopping season kicks off, America’s re-opening economy copes with a supply chain that’s been stretched thin by a labor shortage and voracious consumer demand.”

The National Retail Federation projects a record holiday shopping season that could reach between $843 billion and $859 billion.

Online shopping in the five-day span after Thanksgiving was down slightly year-over-year, according to Adobe
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But many people got an early start on their gift lists this year, and online sales were up almost 12% year over year.

Consumers’ spending spree might be robust, but so is their charitable streak. Approximately 35 million Americans donated $2.7 billion on Giving Tuesday, making for record-breaking numbers.

“This extraordinary show of generosity lit up the world against a backdrop of a dark two years,” said Asha Curran, co-founder and CEO of GivingTuesday. 

“To avoid the sirens invoked by Pope Francis, consumers might have to take similar measures — turn off their notifications and remove certain shopping apps from their phone.”

In Homer’s epic tale, Odysseus withstood the Siren songs because he was tied to the mast of his ship. Before that, his crew stuffed their ears with wax.

In today’s attention economy, to avoid the sirens invoked by Pope Francis, consumers might have to take similar measures — turn off their notifications and remove certain shopping apps from their phone.

Of course, that’s a difficult way to get through life.

But some financial advisers say people can steer clear of the sirens’ song by looking directly at everything they have — and then being grateful for it.

For example, James Vermillion of Vermillion Private Wealth in Lexington, Ky. said gratitude could people avoid those short-term impulse buys that needlessly gnaw at a person’s finances at the sacrifice of long-term goals.

“By practicing gratitude, we can overcome the urge to spend on possessions that won’t increase our happiness and focus on areas like spending quality time with family and friends,” he noted.

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