When Being Comfortable Is More Important Than Being Catholic: Complacency
Fr. Dwight Longenecker – I’m continuing a series on things that are destroying American Catholicism. They all begin with the letter ‘C’–as does the solution to the problem.
You can use the ‘Categories’ tool to pull up the whole series as they are written. Here is a link to the first article in the series on Cultural Catholicism.
Cultural Catholicism which blends a particular culture with the Catholic faith is destroying American Catholicism because it keeps the faithful from seeing that Catholicism, by its very definition, should transcend culture and challenge culture.
The second thing that is killing American Catholicism is another ‘C’ word: Complacency. Too many American Catholics are complacent. They are lukewarm, and when a church is lukewarm (as it says in the Book of Revelation) God will spit them out. Why are American Catholics lukewarm in their faith? The problem is not simply laziness. It is linked with the first problem of cultural Catholicism.
Too many American Catholics have soaked up the materialistic spirit of the American age totally uncritically. They have chosen the way of materialism, hedonism, utilitarianism and consumerism, and this has dulled their commitment to Christ and the gospel. What are all these “ism’s”? Materialism is not simply buying lots of stuff at the mall. It is also a philosophy that the physical world is really all that matters. This translates into an attitude about the church in which all that matters is the good works of feeding the poor and doing peace and justice. While these things are important–to focus on them alone makes the church, (as Pope Francis says) no more than an NGO–just another charity.
Hedonism is the pleasure principle. If it feels good do it. You needn’t be a debauched drug addict to be a hedonist. Your a perfectly good candidate for the hedonist party with your dedication to a nice, comfortable middle class lifestyle. If you live for pleasure–even if it is a refined and tasteful pleasure–you’re a hedonist.
Utilitarianism is putting practicality first. It is relying on worldly common sense rather then the Holy Spirit. It is making choices according to the bottom line, efficiency and practicality. Most American Catholics choose birth control, for example, because it is a practical, seemingly common sense decision. While we should be practical and efficient and choose wisely–we are also called not just to be practical, but radical. The saints are never utilitarian. Instead they are devoted to the wild and wonderful and unpredictable love of God.
Finally, consumerism is not just soaking up just as much of the world’s resources as possible. It is also a mentality that one is a customer. It’s Frank Sinatra’s theme song, “I Did it My Way”. It’s the attitude, “I’m paying. I’ll choose.” When this attitude comes into the church everybody is the loser. It breeds discontent, disorder and dissent.
Together these “ism’s” produce a kind of lethargy in the American Catholic Church. There’s a deadness and torpor. Eyes glaze over. Parishes become like yesterday’s porridge: cold and hard to stir. The fire is gone. The Church is complacent.
How to counter complacency? By another ‘C’ word: Compassion. By ‘compassion’ I don’t simply mean feeling sorry for people. Instead I mean what the word means: “Passion With”. Passion is emotion that is disciplined and informed and active. “Compassion” is emotion and fire for God that is disciplined, informed and active. Compassion in this sense is an active nurturing of the love of God which is put into action to counteract the consumerism, utilitarian, hedonism and materialism of our society.
This “Compassion” starts not with a movement or a sermon or a new rule or regulation for religion. It starts in the human heart. It starts in each individual human heart.
It starts now. With my heart. It starts now with yours.
Read the first article in this series here.