Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Mall as a Temple

I hadn't been to a shopping mall in a while. In fact I don't remember the last time. Let's just say it has been many months.

Every Sunday I attend Mass. I see my fellow Catholics kneeling in prayer. I am surrounded by stained glass images of the Saints. I am absorbed in devotion to Christ in the company of not just those present, but also those who have entered into Heaven, and people all around the world who are hearing the same readings from the Bible that day, and even those souls in Purgatory who are striving to reach perfection so that they too can abide in God's eternal presence. This is what the Catholic Church calls "the communion of saints".

There are prayers and incense and candles. The priest is dressed in robes appropriate to the current season in the Church's liturgical year. There is music and singing that celebrates God's love for His Creation.

And then I went to the Mall.

There were people busily going from store to store with shopping bags filled with their purchases. There were bright signs that beckoned me to enter one store or another. There was music that stimulated the inner urge to buy. There were life size posters of models in the latest fashions.

And I realized that the Mall is the Temple of modern secular society.

It's where we go to worship our secular gods of materialism and wealth. And we pray for the money to be able to purchase the objects of our desire. We go through the rituals of exchanging money for goods in order to receive the blessings of the gods of Levi's, Macy's and Abercrombie and Fitch.

We believe in the power of the brand. We have faith in the ritual of the return; and the joy everlasting of a good purchase.

We rejoice at the return of the prodigal sons and daughters who had given up shopping, because now the Malls are full again – overflowing with the communion of consumers. As our fellow consumers around the world flock to identical malls and purchase the identical products and brands that we have purchased.

We are reminded by the images of our role models, the saintly celebrities, who we imitate by dressing in the same fashions. So that we might attain the same blessings which have been bestowed upon them by secular society.

We seek to achieve the eternal fame of those who have died and have gone to live in Hollywood heaven among the stars. We aspire to become like them, and imitate their dress and hair styles and postures in order to come closer to the spotlight of fame,

We adore the iconic images of the celluloid heros and heroines of the past – blessed Marilyn Monroe and blessed James Dean. We fill our homes with memorabilia devoted to their adoration.

And every week we religiously return to the Mall. Seeking spiritual comfort in the surroundings, even when we have no intention of partaking in the ritual of the purchase. But simply shopping in anticipation of the coming day when the paycheck will rise again; meditating on the glories of buying.


  1. Brilliant article Michael! From the beginning to the end.

    I do think that many people have abandoned their spirituality for a quest of goods. At the end of the day, deep in your heart you know that to have things is not enough. Life has a empty meaning living in that way.

    Michael, I would like to receive some advice.

    I haven't been able to attend Church many different reasons, such as poor transportation but this is temporary.

    What can I do on Sundays if I'm not attending
    to not loose contact with my Church, while I can go back once again?

    Another question, how can you handle people, friend and family who are atheist without initiate and argument?

    I just wanted to add that you blog is very helpful to me in order to get closer to the Catholic faith. For example, every time I go through the day and I receive your articles on my e-mail, it is a little remainder to myself to not lose my faith, even when I struggle and I feel fragile.

    Thank you very much, God bless you!

  2. Hi Ride. Thanks for your feedback on the article. It was something that just hit me the other day when I went to the mall and I thought I should write about it.

    First, regarding atheist friends. Most people are not really atheists. Usually they are just turned off by religion, or too busy to make time for it. Partly, the Christian churches are to blame because they have reduced Christianity to a cartoon version of Christ's message.

    Most people will say that they are spiritual but not religious. The are essentially saying that they don't find spiritual fulfillment in Christianity. That is because most people that were raised as Christians have never advanced in their understanding of Christianity beyond a Sunday School level. And of course a child's version of Christianity is not satisfying to an adult. It's like asking an adult to believe in Santa Claus.

    But to answer your question, I think the best way to talk to people that are hostile to your religious beliefs is to ask them about their own beliefs. But this will only work if you are really interested in hearing about how they came to their understanding of religion. Ask them about what kind of church they attended while growing up. Ask them about their parents attitudes towards religion. Asked them if they have ever experienced any "supernatural" events that they could not explain.

    You will be surprised how much people want to talk about these things. And let them know what you believe in. Look for opportunities to bring your religious beliefs into the conversation. Because religion is such a central part of our lives, there are usually many opportunities to do this without having to force the conversation.

    Most people are not really anti-religious. You can get a good laugh from some of their more obnoxious statements, because they are just saying them for their shock value.

    God's peace be with you,

  3. Ride. I sympathize with you because as you know Sunday Mass is an obligation for Catholics, so you should try your best to go. Maybe you can go with a friend. If not, you can watch the Mass on EWTN.

    You can also do the Mass readings on your own. I have added a widget to my blog which gives the daily readings. And you can always pray the Rosary. This year I have started praying the Rosary daily.

    Reading scripture is always good and is something that we Catholics don't tend to do enough of. Another good thing to do is to read the Catechism. There is so much good information in there.

    My personal favorite is to read the encyclicals and other writings of the Popes. I added a NEWS tab at the top of my blog. There is a link there to the Vatican webpage for Pope Benedict XVI. All his encyclicals are online. I'm currently reading Spe Salvi. I had read pieces of it before, but had never read it all the way through.

    I hope you get your transportation problem straightened out soon so that you can go back to attending Mass regularly. And you can go to confession while you're at it. :)