For the second post of this series, Fr. David B. Couturier, OFM Cap. reminds us that those gifts we’re exchanging on Christmas do not in fact come magically on a red sleigh, hand-crafted by elves.  Before you buy that gift, take a moment to think about the worker who made it.

Several years ago, I delivered an Epiphany sermon on the three “wise women” of Christmas (Mary, Elizabeth and Anna). I had noticed something striking about the Gospel narratives, namely that the incredible message of God’s grace, the wondrous work of God’s redeeming love, and the stunning act of God’s universal embrace are all first celebrated by the subversive acts of women in the opening chapters of the New Testament.

The Gospels turn our attention away from the powerful men of the Roman Empire and focus us on the songs, greetings, and inspired acclamations of women who experience the dawn of a new day, when the “mighty are cast down from their thrones” and God lifts up the lowly and poor, once and for all. It is as if the Gospels are proclaiming – “if you want a world without the violence of the Empire, pay attention to the women!”

The message remains the same today. The Gospel has never been amended. If you want a world without consumerism today, pay attention to the women!

Consumerism is not just an annoying deluge of commercials on TV and an unending stream of clichéd advertisements in our snail and email boxes. It is an increasingly dangerous social condition. What makes consumerism so problematic is that it is a style of life that overtime corrodes and then destroys our ability to desire God anymore.

John Paul II spoke often and alarmingly about consumerism’s ability to make us “slaves of possessions and of immediate gratification.” He said that consumerism erupts when economic life trumps every other value in the social order of things. He warned that we are in spiritual danger when buying, producing and consuming things becomes the center of our social life and profit becomes society’s only value.

We can check ourselves. We are developing a “consumerist” mindset when we don’t care how a product is made and under what conditions it is manufactured, as long as the price is cheap and the goods are available. But, the Gospel tells us, if you want a world without consumerism, pay attention to the women!

Over the past year, I have spoken often about the connection between consumerism and human trafficking, especially of women. Stories cross the wires every week that detail how women are trafficked through our urban centers to our suburbs and rural communities for the purposes of the illegal sex trade. But, more than that, human traffickers are now using our most respected and beloved American companies to distribute goods and products made by millions of women and girls around the world in dangerous conditions that defy the fundamentals of human rights. Many of these goods are the stuff we wrap, place under the tree and exchange on Christmas morning.

Two things can help us have a Christmas without consumerism.

First, focus on the women behind the products you’re thinking of exchanging for Christmas. Were these goods made with the slave labor of women and girls in sweatshops that demand that laborers work 60 to 80 hours per week for little more than $20-$40 per week? Are women and children dying (literally) to produce the gift you’re about to exchange? As a spiritual discipline, learn more about “corporate human trafficking” before you start your holiday shopping.

Second, download an app for your IPhone or IPad that you can use to track whether the purchase you’re about to make has been made under forced labor conditions. Free2Work provides the first and only mobile application that allows you to scan the barcode of an item and instantly gain access to information on the brand’s efforts to prevent child and forced labor. You can download the app from their website at www.free2work.org.

The three “wise women” of Christmas (Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna) undermined an empire of brutality and violence with their simple gestures and powerful hopes. We can do it too, if we pay attention to the women!

David B. Couturier, OFM. Cap., director of Catholic Consultations International, an organizational development and mediation ministry can be reached at davecout@aol.com