Thursday, November 17, 2016

The growing battle for our very souls...

I am a Catholic, and I am a catechist.  I live my faith as best I can, but I am also a person "of this world."  I have a regular, secular career that helps support my family (including their Catholic school tuition and my catechetical hobbies), and I engage in activities and relationships outside the Church.  For the most part my life in both these worlds have found a harmonious balance... that is, being able to engage in a secular society without compromising my Catholic faith.  There are times, however, where this can be a challenge, and sometimes we need to recognize that we are in a battle for our very souls.

This morning the following advertisement arrived in my email:

"Lust can be rationalized."  Think about that for a moment... "Lust can be rationalized."

I looked at this advert, and I was dumbstruck!  It stopped me in my tracks.  Once I regained my mental composure, the first thing that came to my mind was, "this is what we're up against."

Don't get me wrong... I get what the advert is trying to say.  I like cars, so it's no wonder that Jaguar would like to sell me one.  I also get the joke... of sorts... that those who long for a luxury vehicle can enter that market at a lower price-point than they might have thought.  So, I get it.  But underneath this attempt at humor is exposed the devil himself.

Even though we live in the secular world and can take advantage of its many gifts, we also need to recognize that this same society feeds on our turning away from God.  For all its good intentions, our society is unfairly balanced against those whom God taught us to protect... widows, orphans, foreigners... in essence, the poor. 

This isn't new, brothers and sisters.  Sure, we all know the Beatitudes, but this protection of the marginalized goes all the way back to Moses.  All of us in catechesis know that Jesus' greatest hits were just covers of the best of the Mosaic Law.  God's expectations of us have never changed, Jesus just made it simpler for us to understand:  Love God.  Love one another.  From 10 Commandments down to 2.  But I digress...

Our society today thrives on feeding our desires.  Not so much for those desires that are noble and selfless (though our society does give a grudging respect for those things), but more for those that are selfish, wanton, and base.  We are shown things like luxury cars and then are convinced that "we deserve it."  We covet financial and social success and epitomize those who have achieved it, even willing to overlook how in achieving that success (or perhaps because of it) they have taken advantage of or even abused others to get there.  We are taught to measure success by how much money someone has made or how much celebrity they've achieved instead of what they've done for others.

To make matters worse, this particular advert shows up in what our society has dubbed the "holiday season."  What was once a minor Christian celebration of our Lord's birth has been co-opted and mutated into something that is commercial, secular, and unrecognizable.  Even now, before we've had a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving, the radio is playing Christmas music, decorations are going up, and retailers are lining up to sell us whatever they've convinced us we need to have.  Secular Christmas bears little resemblance to our Advent expectations for the second coming of Christ.  And don't get me started about those who pack-up all the decorations on December 26th... when we Catholics are technically just beginning the celebration of this 12 day long (give or take) Christmas season.

Again, don't get me wrong... I enjoy the holiday season, even if our secular brothers and sisters haven't gotten it quite right.  The challenge for us is to learn how to recognize the devil, and when we see him, to fight against him.  And he can be so prevalent during the holiday season!

For me the advert above serves as a notice to all of us who profess a faith in Christ.  Lust cannot be rationalized.  It should not be rationalized.  To even contemplate that it can invites us down a path that leads us away from God.  Mind you, I'm not an absolutist by any measure... I fully understand what Pope Francis said several weeks ago when he was teaching seminarians and young priests that they needed to recognize that our lives (the lives of those whom they are called to shepherd) are lived "in the middle."  That gray area between right and wrong.  I'm always teaching my adult candidates and catechumens that my job as a catechist is to give you the tools to help you "navigate the gray."  We know what's right, we know what's wrong.  But our lives are not black and white.

God meets us where we're at, and we're given the opportunity to follow.  Similarly, however, the Devil meets us where we're at, and tries to lead us down his path.  And our society has so many options to meet the devil and have him lead us astray.  I'm not saying you shouldn't buy a Jaguar or other luxury cars or other luxury items if you can afford them.  But I am reminding everyone that they need to keep everything in perspective.  If you're lusting for a luxury car... you need to check that lust at the confessional door.  There are so many other things that are more important.  All our actions, both in the secular world and in our religious lives need to reflect the priorities that Christ taught us:  Love one another.

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