Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What I Love About Catholicism: The Lack of Artifice

Yesterday, I received in the mail a huge postcard from a local church. It was advertising their Easter services. In fact, there were "3 Options" for the services. On the other side was a message from the pastor, a photo of a hip Christian band, and the message that there was "a place for you" in the midst of a busy schedule, a place that offered "great music, casual dress, and children's programs."

The name of the church had a slogan underneath that was registered. Since when does the intention of moving closer to God need to be registered? As I looked at the slick marketing of the mailer, I smiled as I realized my current parish would never send out such a thing. It's not usually something a Catholic parish would do.

I can now see several things that are misguided about such a mailer. First, it focuses on the the obsession our culture has with entertainment. To mix religion with entertainment is to rob religion of its true purpose - to separate us from the world and help us focus on God. Second, it caters to the flesh, which is in enmity with the spirit. Romans 8:7, 8 says: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot;and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (RSV)

The flesh constantly demands to be entertained, to be fed, to be noticed, to be indulged. It is not about to deny itself anything. Catering to it by providing pretty colors on a screen and cute ditties will not help our spirit grow closer to God. The path to holiness does not lie in slick marketing campaigns that promise a good time will be had by all - but by remembering that we are travelers through the world, in it but not of it. And heaven's future citizens focus on heavenly things.

I used to think that Catholicism was woefully behind the times. For many years, I was a member of a church that had slick marketing campaigns and excellent entertainment. I used to think this was what a modern church should be. In order to be "relevant" to the culture, I reasoned that we needed current modes of reaching out to them.

But did it produce anything good for the spirit? It was as though we were advertising "Christianity-Lite," plenty of flavor but zero substance. It never challenged me spiritually and somehow, deep inside, I knew as Christians that we were supposed to be challenged - not coddled.

I know there are good churches out there that do challenge their members. But the Catholic church is the only one I know of that seems to do it naturally. There is no artifice, no marketing initiatives. The liturgy, for the most part, has stayed the same. The rhythms of Mass helps our spirit focus on what is truly important - which isn't whether we're 'enjoying' it, but whether we are humbled before God. The point of the Catholic Mass is seen in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the focal point. Not us. It has taken me a long time to appreciate that but I am elated that I'm finally "getting it."

There is a slavish pursuit of "The New" at the expense of "The Old," which is true spiritual food. The world wants the latest and greatest. This is why fads (and the consequential marketing ploys) are so appealing. We mistakenly think it's progress when it's anything but. It's not a progression, but a regression from what is true.

One last thought: Jesus Christ did not come to destroy the old, but to fulfill the Law, which was of the Old Covenant. Yes, He brought a New Covenant but without the Old, there would have not been the New. There is a relationship there that I think is worth pondering - as well as its implications for church.


Shirley said...

My husband and I are moving soon and I can't help but wonder what kind of church I am going to find there; I do hope it leans more to the traditional ways!
I am heartened to see that devotees of the TLM include so many young people. There is hope.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it sad what our churches are doing in
commercializing themselves? It saddens me.
I am not Catholic... but you and I share the
same problem in seeing our church and
parishes giving in to worldly values and not
making a clear stance on right and wrong.

My church is putting in a book store and
a coffee shop! Crazy!?!

What can I do about it? Should I leave? I love
my church, and have taught Sunday school
there for three years... it breaks my heart.

owenswain said...

Ah, yet another thing about being protestant I do not miss in the slightest since becoming Catholic.