Monday, July 4, 2016
The Buffet Must Close
Media is like a buffet. Most of the mass produce stuff isn't worth the film or paper it comes on. They are the mental equivalent of comfort food. Junk consumed that has no positive effect on its partaker. I am a channel surfer on the few times I watch TV. I find most of what is there to be either juvenile, extremely predictable, or crude. Shock seems to be the new comfort food. The commercials make the shows look like classical art. Commercials seemingly break into three groups: awful stereotypes selling disposable junk, medications, and lawsuits about the aforementioned medications. The media sells soul sucking lies meant to to tell you if you consume you will be happy.
The same holds true for the spiritual. Some time ago, I saw a blog proclaiming the cafeteria was closed. It was run by a newly minted Catholic agog about his faith. For awhile the cafeteria was closed until, of course, a dish was served he didn't like and the cafeteria was open for business again. The dish in question challenged him in an area he did not wished to be challenged, and so it goes. He certainly isn't the only one by a long shot. Cafeteria Catholicism, as it is called, has been with us since the beginning. It is easy to pick and choose what we will believe and not believe. It is at the heart of every single heresy, every split, and every sin. When we view the Church as a buffet of many dishes that we can pick and choose what we want, we stray away from the essential call to conversion that is the call of Christ. When we treat faith as a buffet, we close the Holy Spirit out of sections of our lives by our own choice.
Overcoming this is hard. The world will encourage us to treat faith as a buffet if we must even pay attention to faith at all. It will encourage us to mold something comfortable. It will encourage a faith that lets us keep our favorite sins. However, like a food buffet, it may taste good for the moment but is largely unfulfilling and nutritionally sterile. There are some dishes it will tell you to stay away from, especially absolutely anything to do with Catholic sexual ethics. They will tell you it taste nasty; and like a person who loves the taste of junk food, it will. Real food always taste different than junk food, but it is good for you whereas the junk food isn't. By the same token, real faith (the kind of faith that brings transformation and growth) taste different than the society in which we live, but it is good for you and will make you a better person.
Treating faith like a buffet or cafeteria leads to spiritual schizophrenia. We fall into a compartmentalized existence which will be maddening. I will allow God in in this area but not that area. It is also the easiest route to seeing God as a servant who is to come at our beck and call and otherwise leave us alone. It will also engender resentment against the Church, a deep seat belief that it is the church that much change its teachings to suit the dishes I wish to ignore. This will lead to either an empty faith or a departure from faith.
So, how do we combat this? I would imagine that if people could see what the bad food is doing their bodies they might well stop. I would imagine a good dose of real knowledge of nutrition paired with an emphasis on self preservation would go a long way. Sure, some would still chose poorly. By the same token, knowledge about why we believe what we believe, presuming that what we believe is known, would go a long way as well. Knowledge about the faith would lead us to a inescapable understanding that all of the teachings of the church are intertwined in a simple dictate: to love God with all our soul, might, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This divine love is the heart of every single Catholic teaching. To treat the teachings as a buffet is to say there are places where I do not need to love God, my neighbor, or myself. Hence, coming to a true knowledge of the faith is important.
Knowledge is not enough on its own. People might well know that junk food is bad for them and eat it anyway. The next step in moving away from the cafeteria and buffet is the cultivation of the virtues. By cultivation, I mean acquiring and using the disciplines necessary to grow in faith. As love is the mother of all virtue, the selflessness of divine love is the surest and healthiest food available. As good food and drink can be acquired taste after years of junk food, so selfless love will take some effort after years of the junk food that is the emotion we call love.
To my brother clerics: we must make these thing available in our parishes. We must take care that what is being taught in our schools, RCIA programs, PSR/CCD programs and such isn't the intellectual and spiritual equivalent of cotton candy; but is solid and real food; the truth applied with charity. Too often we have been like nutritionists who play cashier at the buffet line. Sometimes we grow weary of trying to teach the truth to shut ears. Sometimes we don't know what we should know ourselves. Sometimes we just don't want to be hassled and hide behind the ubiquitous "just follow your conscience " to absolve ourselves of the effort and risk involved in proclaiming the truth. It is an occupational hazard that some will walk away in anger; they did so to Christ Himself, we cannot imagine being treated better. I know it's hard, but we must remember that our job isn't to teach them to be nice, but to be holy. Holiness will require real food...it will require an unapologetic adeherence to truth.
The buffet must close. It is killing us. It is emptying out our churches, driving our youth away, driving our men away, and gutting our faith to be little more than empty comfort food. Pope Benedict XVI once said, "The world offers you comfort. You were not created for comfort, but for greatness." Greatness will never be found in the buffet line. Comfort will be found at the buffet line, but greatness will not. Greatness comes from truth, it comes from our willingness to love. Step away from the buffet and its empty worth and move towards that which will feed you with truth.