Thursday, December 10, 2015

Jesus and Catholicism Are Way Better Than Afternoon Television

Today I had to take a family member to the doctor's and found myself confined in a small waiting room for several hours. I didn't know it was going to take that long, so I didn't bring a book and my phone battery died. So, in this tiny waiting room with about twelve other people, I was forced to endure something horrific. For approximately three hours, the waiting room was filled with the sound of afternoon television. I had no idea that civilization had collapsed to the degree that it has!

It was awful. Most of the shows had four or five individuals sitting around a table, drinking coffee and discussing drivel. The humor was almost entirely sexual innuendo that sounded like something out of the Seventh Grade. At one point, they even discussed prayer and religion. They were solemn in their declaration that God is everywhere and you don't need to go to church to pray. One of them boasted that she is a lapsed Catholic. Then, after this fleeting moment of coming to some approximation of a serious discussion, it quickly returned to juvenile banality. Did I mention that it was awful?

Now, it was interesting because as all of these discussions were progressing, I was sitting in the waiting room dressed in clerical attire. I had the sense that some of the people in the room who were so absorbed in the television shows were also a bit uneasy because there was a priest sitting across from them. They, however, probably thought that I was uncomfortable because the only guys on the show kept referring to their "husbands." Or, they thought I was uncomfortable because of the constant sexual references. But, what was really bothering me was how foolish it all was. It was boring and empty.

It really bothers me to think that this is what passes as life for people. It was pathetic. What's worse is that in some of their discussions, they acted as though they were uttering profound things. Look, I don't mind someone making an argument on television that I completely disagree with. A good intellectual debate is great. But this stuff was just all nonsense. I felt like I was getting dumber by the second.

As I watched this garbage, I wondered how the Church is supposed to respond to this reality. How do we evangelize the people who spend their life watching this stuff? One response is to imitate this method in its totality. Sometimes, well-meaning people think that in order to attract folks to the Church, we basically have to baptize the trite. Efforts are made to imitate the culture and make Catholicism look and sound just like the world. The problem is that Catholicism is not trite. So, if you try to outdo the culture by making Catholicism into a super cool form of triteness, it doesn't work. Either you wind up being really bad at being trite or you wind up providing really bad Catholicism.  

Catholicism calls us to greatness. Catholicism calls us to a love that isn't shallow, but deep. It calls us to a Truth that isn't a soundbite, but rather a banquet. Catholicism engages the mind and the heart in a serious way. It takes life seriously. It takes humanity seriously. These programs that I endured today all seemed to give the impression that nothing really matters, that life is just a series of disconnected moments. 

I suppose the one thing that these shows realize is that people have a desire to feel connected. They want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. This is a good reminder to those of us who are Catholic. People want to feel loved and connected. Evangelization ought to help people feel loved and connected.

At the same time, the Church should evangelize though living out its greatness. We shouldn't fear greatness. We should strive for and call each other to greatness.  Our worship ought to reflect the majesty of the One whom we worship. Our music ought to be of the noblest kind. Our preaching ought to be eloquent and serious. Our love ought to be big and convincing. 

There's a lot of triteness in the world. And, people seem okay with that triteness. But, the Church is not trite. The Church is about God and God is not trite. If we want to draw people to Christ and to a life of discipleship, we have to call them (through our words and example) to greatness. If we try to compete with afternoon television shows, we will always lose. We will lose either because we stink at being trite or because we stink at being Catholic. Instead, we need to show people that life is something much greater than juvenile silliness and cultural emptiness. 

People like fast food, but fast food doesn't make them healthy or nourish them. Similarly, we can all be drawn towards triteness. It's easy, requires no effort, and fills up empty time. But, such things never respect our humanity. They always leave us empty. They do not respect our intellectual capacity nor our capacity to love in a profound way. Christianity has the ability to nourish the mind, the heart, and the soul with a goodness, beauty, and truth that is substantial and profound. 

Sometimes, we can make the mistake of thinking that effective evangelization means becoming gimmicky and trite in order to win people over. But, I think that the culture is always going to win in the battle of triteness. Instead, our evangelization ought to reveal a humanity that is bigger, greater, and deeper. Our humor ought to be truly funny and not juvenile. Our intellectual conversations ought to be deeper and not shallow. Our love ought to be greater and broader. Our worship ought to engage the human person on the deepest levels and not just on the surface. Our parties, our art, our music ought to be of the highest quality. 

Where should we begin? I have two thoughts: the Liturgy and Friendship. If we celebrate the Liturgy well, we put before people the Mystery. Even if they do not fully comprehend it, the heart is drawn towards it. And, if we live our friendships well, people encounter a love that is real and true. People are starving for true friendship. True Catholicism provides a life that is filled with joy, meaning, and greatness. The people watching those shows on television want more in their life. We shouldn't give them more of the same. 

When Jesus wanted the disciples to make a great catch of fish, he told them to "Go out into the deep." He did not say, "Go shallow." Apparently, afternoon television is catching a lot of people by staying shallow. Although that is their method, it cannot be ours. Our method has to follow the command of Christ, "Go out into the deep." 

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant insight, padre. You should be a bishop! I'll pray for that.