Margaritaville Christianity; God's Way Or Our Way?
As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, a growing populace happy for good news and grateful for these positive turn of events in their lives openly and without apology made the Catholic faith the center of their lives. They believed in the Word of God, even if they couldn’t read or write. They hung on to every word of those who could read. Even during the workday, if at all possible those working in the fields would briefly slip into town to see the priest raise the Host during the Consecration at Mass. Though their lives were full of toil and often misery (they weren’t allowed the liberty of attending daily Mass) the people of this era used any opportunity they could to make religion a part of their daily life.
Fast forward a thousand years and we can certainly see that daily life has shifted some 180 degrees. Many of the elite often snicker or poke fun at those who are serious about their faith. Even those who are considered serious in their faith pursuit, often hide the true extent of their faith, for fear of being called a holy roller.
The secular talking heads tell us that we should be more like the modern world we are trying to help and change. Religion should be more like the popular culture they tell us. We should try to glean words of wisdom from thinkers like Voltaire, Marx, Freud and Alinsky and entertainers like Madonna, Lady Gaga or even Jimmy Buffet. Yet, have these secular talking heads ever taken their own advice? Have these leftists ever thought, “why was Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher so popular? What could we learned from them? “ (For more on this read my column, If You Like What The Political Left Has Done To Politics, Look At What The Religious Left Has Done To Religion (Left It In Tatters) along with my article, The Construct of Rebellion.
Some might say wasn’t Jesus somewhat of a cultural outcast, like modern day pop culture figures? Well Jesus certainly enjoyed some fun; otherwise he wouldn’t have been at the wedding feast performing his first miracle by turning water into wine no less. However, he was hardly the type of person that endorsed the “its Five o Clock somewhere lifestyle.” He forgave the woman caught in adultery, but told her to “sin no more.” Incidentally, she probably had more clothes on than some who show up at church on Sunday. However, that’s another story.
Our educated world makes excuses for the behavior of those pop stars like Lady Gaga who make edgy and sacrilegious videos and show up in public (at the New York Yankees club house) clad only in undergarments. Those illiterate peoples that lived in Europe one thousand years ago were smart enough to know that despite the corruption they knew existed in the Church, they were far better off listening to the Teachings of the Church than the whims of the world in which they lived. They and their forbearers had witnessed violent feudal warlords that had plunged Europe into centuries of horrific darkness; a darkness that we face today if we listen to the sirens of militant secularism who want us to return to the dying days of Rome.
We often forget it was in those dying days of Rome that many of the elites longed for the days of their elders, when Christianity was outlawed and orgies were commonplace at homes of the movers and shakers of Roman high society, and violent spectacles took place at the coliseum. Today their descendants are gaga over the likes of Lady Gaga, and treat abortion as if it were some sort of coming of age ritual.
Yet these modern day sirens of militant secularism want to lecture us on how to worship. For years they pointed to the imploding mainline liberal Protestant churches as the place to be, where talk of social engineering was the driving force and sin was long ago left on the side of the road. Now they increasingly point to the “It’s all good” mantra of the mega church.
It seems these dour militant secularists must be having a mid life crisis. They now fancy a man in the pulpit clad in an Hawaiian shirt, and sporting the latest tattoo. In their younger days they longed for the wisdom of Bob Dylan, but it seems as he has gotten older and more conservative they are now focusing their attention on someone that looks like Jimmy Buffet. Perhaps Bob Dylan was a little bit prophetic when in 1979 he sang the lyrics “Do you think that God is just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires?” The song “When You Gonna Wake Up,” from the legendary Christian inspired album Slow Train Coming is more than a little prophetic concerning the actions of Dylan’s one time social activist protégés.
A theological construct holds that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, it was to remind those assembled of their sins (Hence the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God.) The people realized their sin of pagan worship and lewd behavior which resulted in many repenting for their actions. When Jesus came, many especially among the intellectual classes felt they weren’t sinning and rejected his message. If this contruct holds true, than many of today’s intellectuals probably don’t believe there is such a thing as sin.
St Paul reminded his readers that although he persecuted the Faith, he had spent years earning the Faithfull’s trust by enduring awful and brutal trials, and he had the scars to prove it. All too often in today’s Christian world too many Catholics and Protestants shun the road less taken for a path of instant self gratification which more or less resembles something one might see excused on the View, Oprah or Dr Phil.
We don’t mind a food drive at Thanksgiving or Christmas. However, for some standing in the cold praying for the lives of the innocent outside an abortion clinic may get too uncomfortable, both in terms of personal views and the weather. The thought of going to church more than once a week for Bible study, Eucharistic Adoration of praying the rosary may be downright holy rollerish for some.
On any given Sunday morning across the western world and especially the United States, one can find large numbers of Catholics and Evangelicals engaging in sincere earnest worship. However, there are far too many Catholics and Evangelicals engaged in this sort of “It’s all good form of worship.” These folks never focus on the fact that Jesus lost most of his followers because of the stands he took along the way. The biggest loss of followers took place when he foretold the Institution of the Eucharist in the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-69.) He probably alienated some when he forgave the woman caught in adultary. He also scared some when he cast out demons, so much so in one town, that they asked Jesus to leave. These are the facts we often don’t want to consider in this construct of, “It’s all good form of worship.”
I mentioned the mega church cult of personality phenomena that for many Evangelicals is a scourge to their movement. It has taken many away from their more serious minded churches. Sadly, far too many Catholics found their way into the budding mega churches in the 1970s when the Church was flirting with, as Pope Benedict XVI describes, “The Dictatorships of Relativism.”
Far too many orthodox-minded Catholics have had to put up with “Father Cool,” the well tanned, world travelling pastor who might know more about Club Med than he does the Bible or the Catechism. He loves to “relate” to his parish and his sermons sound as if he wants to be one of the guys, as if he he’s auditioning for a spot on some sort of Cheers TV show remake. His church is bereft of statues and symbols of Catholic devotions, which of course he would find hard to explain to his secular or Protestant clergy friends.
For in the “it’s all good” Catholic or Protestant churches there is no talk of Judgment, only reasons why they are going to heaven, all of them. This is to Christianity what the magic pill diet (which you might have seen posted on your local telephone poll) is to the diet industry. It is nothing but sheer chicanery and hucksterism. Perhaps someone should remind these folks that Jesus said we must follow Him, not our whims and devices in which we excuse much of what we deep down know is wrong.
We want to make church convenient, make excuses for those who don’t go, dress as if they are at a picnic, or fall asleep while in church. Yet, do we make these same excuses for our favorite sports teams or athletes? When we are at our favorite sporting event and our team performs horribly, do we applaud and say, “Well at least they showed up, that’s the most important thing?” I don’t think so. Do we make the same excuses for our favorite actors, actresses, producers or directors when they put out a poor product on the stage or silver screen? No, we don’t.
How many Catholics really defend the words of Jesus about the Eucharist, Apostolic Succession, or the role of His Blessed Mother when confronted to do so? What if a Catholic would use the words of the English Saint Anselm and say that to deny the role of the Pope would be akin to telling Jesus He didn’t know what he was doing when he instituted the papacy in Matthew 16:15-20? What if a Catholic would accept a Protestant invitation to attend a Bible study and then commence to go line by line through John 6 (on the Eucharist) the longest discourse in the Bible?
What if that same Catholic would relate the events in 1 Corinthians 11 where St Paul came across a group of believers, who weren’t taking the Eucharist seriously, and scolded them for being ignorant as to why some of their number were dead of seriously ill.
What if that same Catholic would relate the events of the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 where Martin Luther even walked out on some of his fellow Reformation colleagues when he felt they weren’t taking the Eucharist seriously enough? What if that same Catholic reminded his friends who were Protestant that Martin Luther celebrated the Assumption every August 15th until he died, or that fact that he believed in the Immaculate Conception (Luke 1:28, Ephesians 1:4-6,) prayed to saints (Hebrews 12), believed in a form of Confession(John 20:19-23,) and believed in Woman Clothed in the Sun (Revelation 12) all because he thought it was Biblical? You get my point; the Catholic would probably be labeled as some sort of pre Vatican II old school holy roller. Would they think that this same Catholic was nuts if he went into a long discourse on the historical significance of the Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama, Army-Navy, or USC-UCLA College Football rivalries; probably not.
However, I have found that most Evangelicals (not the fundamentalists) are probably more receptive to this kind of a debate than say a “We are Church Catholic.” We want to make church convenient and make excuses for those who don’t go and when Catholics and Evangelicals call out their fellow brethern for doing so, they are labeled as narrow minded, or worst of all “repressed.” However, Jesus told us the road was hard and long. He told us we had to pick up our cross, not once in a while, or yearly, or even monthly, but every day.
Fortunately, there is good news and as I point out in my book The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, the numbers show things are coming around our way. As I noted to you before, all of this is made manifest in ordination numbers. 64 to 6 and 14 to 4 stand out. What does this mean? In 2006 when writing my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, I noted that even though the Diocese of Rochester had more Catholics than the dioceses of Lincoln and Omaha combined, Rochester had 6 men studying for the priesthood while Lincoln and Omaha had 64. That same year of 2006 Denver had 14 young men ordained to the priesthood (eleven in May and three earlier in the academic year) while Los Angeles had four; a staggering statistic when one considers that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 4,300,000 Catholic residents compared to 385,000 Catholics for the Archdiocese of Denver.
In 2006 Los Angeles and Rochester were led by two of the most liberal prelates in the Church, while Omaha, Lincoln and Denver were led by three of the more conservative bishops in the US, a revelatory statistic to say the least.
While liberal convents are strapped for cash because they haven’t had a postulant in years, more conservative orders like the Sister of Mary in Ann Arbor, Michigan are running out of room due to the large number of young professional women coming their way. They are not the only conservative order growing; the Nashville Dominicans among others are also experiencing growing pains.
Help is there for us all, if we just simply follow the teachings of the Church and not the whims of the world. Perhaps the old story about God sending a boat to those on the roof of a house being swept away by flood, might have some credence here. Those looking for the world to save them are like those in the story waiting for that helicopter that never comes, all the while ignoring the boat (the Barque of Peter) God has sent for us.
Something to think about the next time you read one of Maureen Dowd’s diatribes on her own Catholic Church, or the fellow Catholic who brags about going to the local mega church where the pastor talks about the spiritual significance of pub crawls at Key West and heaven as really just another Margaritaville. (I am not making this up a woman e-mailed me this fascinating tidbit some time ago.) There’s nothing wrong with a having a cold one in Key West or listening to Jimmy Buffet (I have plenty of his albums and cd’s.) However, believe it or not, God loves us so much that He has promised that heaven is far better than Margaritaville, but will we truly follow the road to get there?