The Artificial Santa

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky (bio - articles - email) | Sep 24, 2019

Jesus teaches, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” We all know it’s easy to make a god out of money. Ebenezer Scrooge repels us, and we’re attracted to Santa Claus. But a counterfeit Santa Claus, despite a reputation for generosity, may be even more dangerous than Scrooge.

Ebenezer Scrooge was a successful businessman and a cruel taskmaster. He forces Cratchit, his bookkeeping assistant, to work late at the office on Christmas Eve. He neglects Cratchit’s crippled son, Tiny Tim, who is not long for this world. But after the three ghosts of Christmas visit him, Scrooge comes to his senses and becomes Santa Claus using his own money. Tiny Tim lives.

In contrast, Santa Claus works hard with his elves at the North Pole throughout the year. On Christmas Eve, he takes the fruits of his labors and distributes them to children everywhere. But is Santa Claus generous? Who pays the bills? Is he charitable with his own money, or the funds of the elves, or do parents send him money expecting a return on investment? Has Santa given in to the narcotic of praise? Has he become Scrooge in jolly red clothing?

With all due respect to the real Santa Claus, there are a few ways in which artificial Santas become Scrooges in disguise.

First, Scrooge disguised as Santa Claus takes credit for the generosity of others.

Government spending has always had a vote-purchasing component. But today, without a doubt, because of unchecked government spending the national debt has spun out of control. The situation is dire, but who wants to be Ebenezer Scrooge and cut spending? So we expect our politicians to play Santa Claus, obscuring our love for money (and what it brings) and their love for votes.

Within the Church, there are countless times when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) takes positions in support of government spending for various purposes. It’s challenging to identify a single instance when the USCCB—or any other mainline church body—encouraged fiscal restraint. It’s easy to play Santa Claus with the money of other people. Memo to the USCCB: It’s not your money.

In parishes, we can say the same. Pastors should be accountable to their people and avoid reckless or unnecessary spending. We often hear of increased offertory appeals, but we seldom hear of cost-cutting initiatives. Who wants to be Ebenezer Scrooge? A great many clergymen hide their love for mammon and adulation and play Santa Claus. It’s easy to do so with the money of other people. Hint to the clergy: Father, it’s not your money.

Family wages, to some extent, do not belong to individuals. The entire family has claims on the pot of funds for its general welfare. There are, of course, healthy mutual gifts and thrifty piggy banks. But a parent, habitually wasting money on trivialities and buying the affection of the children, is a greedy Scrooge disguised as Santa Claus.

The attempt to buy affection is as old as the oldest profession. But who wants to be Ebenezer Scrooge? So it is easy for the parents to cover their love for admiration by playing Santa Claus. Mom, Dad, it’s not your money—it’s money for the common good of the family, and you are the stewards.

Single folks are not off the hook in their self-reliance. Their relative freedom in their state of life does not permit them to live with reckless abandon. Like everyone, single folks also have an obligation—in justice, not charity—to give alms from their excess for those less fortunate.

Second, Scrooge disguised as Santa Claus will eventually destroy the properity that makes his “good works” possible.

The national debt is not only a question of politics, but it is also a question of math. The debt is over $23 trillion (and counting), and some suggest the tally significantly underestimates unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities.

The USCCB never mentions the immense national debt as a violation of trans-generational social justice. Our kids will pay the freight. But who wants to be Ebenezer Scrooge? So it is easy for our civic and religious leaders to disguise their love for money and admiration—and cowardice—by playing Santa Claus.

Among the purposes of the signs placed by the National Park Service—“Do not feed the animals”—is to prevent animals from becoming too dependent on humans. When the feeding stops, the animals starve because they have lost their natural foraging skills. For humans, feeding the excesses of an entitlement mentality has the same effect.

The emergence of an entire ruling class of socialists is the logical outcome of playing Santa Claus with the money of others. But the evils of socialism, if not resisted, promise to cook the Golden Goose of economic self-reliance and prosperity. So we need to acknowledge our love for freebies from our politicians and from future generations, and renounce this unjust entitlement mentality before we devour ourselves.

We have, of course, job worries, college and retirement concerns, and the rest. We live in an affluent society, and the vast majority of Americans have never experienced the brutal hunger that can be seen elsewhere in the world: a topic for another day. But we must understand how easy it is to play the part of Santa Claus, disguising our love for affection and material possessions with its destructive effects.

So maybe we could learn from the example of Ebenezer Scrooge, purified of his love for money: his work ethic; his sense of responsibility; his frugality. With the help of Marley’s ghost and the three ghosts of Christmas, he rediscovered the meaning of authentic generosity and became an undisguised Santa Claus.

A genuine Santa Claus recognizes that his money, his possessions, and his very life, are not his own. All that we have belongs to Jesus. Christian charity is motivated by gratitude and the love of God, without the promise of a return.

Try as we might, we cannot serve God and mammon. Motivated by the love of God, Christians must be good stewards of their possessions and learn to give from their treasure and of themselves.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines.
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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Sep. 25, 2019 2:42 PM ET USA

    This is the best column that I have read in a long time. It should be "Must Reading" for every Catholic - lay and cleric.

  • Posted by: Paul - Ave Law '07 - Sep. 24, 2019 10:45 AM ET USA

    Fr. Pokorsky declares that "the USCCB never mentions the immense national debt" but he evidently did nothing to research his claim. At the time that Congress was considering President Trump's national-debt-inflating 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the USCCB - acting through Bp. Dewane - did send a letter arguing against unnecessary tax cuts: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/federal-budget/letter-to-congress-on-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-bills-12-06-2017.cfm