Please join me for a moment of honest self-reflection.
Do you ever feel numb or helpless in the face of all the problems the world faces each day?
One only has to watch the news or follow the events of the day online to feel completely overwhelmed. Some of the challenges facing the world include ever-increasing threats to our Catholic faith. The Church is being accosted on all sides and the culture wars are raging. We are locked in an ongoing series of battles over the HHS Mandate, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and immigration. There is a crisis in vocations to the priesthood and in some areas of our country, parishes are nearly empty. The sex abuse crisis in the Church continues to dominate the headlines of the mainstream media. These are real issues which demand a response.
What can we do? How do we engage?
Unfortunately, many of us succumb to feelings of indifference and apathy rather than get involved. We may think to ourselves that somebody else will take care of these problems as we have enough to handle already or believe the issues don’t really affect us. At times, it feels to me like we are living in an isolated little town of our own making called Apathy-ville.
How did we get here?
If we take a candid look around us, it is obvious that we live in a consumer-driven, materialistic society. Advertisers bombard us with messages about how our lives can be so much better if we only had the latest gadget or toy. Additionally, over the last few years, we have seen unparalleled growth in the federal government and its subtle, but ever-growing influence over the economy, healthcare and education as well as moral issues such as abortion and marriage. It seems that so many of us have wrongly placed our faith in material things, the government and ourselves, instead of in Christ and His Church. Political correctness has seeped into our collective consciousness like a disease and made us fearful of saying and doing what is necessary to defend our faith and stand up for what is right and true. If we tolerate everything, it leads one to think that we likely stand for nothing. “I don’t want to offend” often translates into “I am not willing to defend.” As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”
They said it best
To stimulate more self-awareness and reflection on how we may have arrived in Apathy-ville, I have listed below some quotes which I hope will challenge all of us, make us question our actions and serve as a catalyst for different behaviors. Let’s be honest as we ask ourselves if any of these quotes apply to us.
- “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Matt 10:32-33)
- “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16)
- “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.” (2 Tim 4:3-4)
- “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” (Blessed John Paul II)
- “You cannot please both God and the world at the same time. They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions.” (St. John Vianney)
- “Faced with today’s problems and disappointments, many people will try to escape from their responsibility. Escape in selfishness, escape in sexual pleasure, escape in drugs, escape in violence, escape in indifference and cynical attitudes. I propose to you the option of love, which is the opposite of escape.” (Blessed John Paul II)
- “Really, most of us live below the level of our energy. And in order to be happy, we have to do more. Now, we can do more, spiritually and every other way. . . so you see how important it is to have in the mind to do all that you can. To work to the limit of your ability. Our world is really suffering from indifference. Indifference is apathy, not caring. I wonder maybe if our Lord does not suffer more from our indifference, than he did from the Crucifixion.” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen)
How do we respond? What can we do?
First of all, we can’t stand on the sidelines and watch. We also must believe that one person can make a difference! At times it seems we have lost our way and forgotten or ignored the teachings of the Church. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadephia offers this insight which cuts to the heart of the matter in his excellent book, Render Unto Caesar (p.197): “What needs to be done by Catholics today for their country? The answer is: Don’t lie. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to prove it. America’s public life needs people willing to stand alone, without apologies, for the truth of the Catholic faith and the common human values it defends. One person can make a difference – if that individual has a faith he or she is willing to suffer for.” Are we willing to suffer for our faith? What sacrifices are we willing to make to follow the teachings of the Church?
Are there good examples for us to follow?
The good news is we have many examples to emulate, ranging from the numerous Pro-Life groups who pray outside abortion clinics to the Bishops who are challenging government leaders over the HHS Mandate, same-sex marriage and reforming our immigration laws. Some of the greatest examples may be our friends and neighbors who pray constantly for the Church in the quiet of their homes, who write letters to their government representatives and devote time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer for the blessing of the Church and Pope Benedict. There are also those who offer financial and personal support to those in critical need. Also, remember our Priests and the incredible job they do in serving their parishes. We clearly have examples to follow, but far too many of us have only been watching, tolerating and…turning away.
Two Important Things to Remember
Is simply being Catholic enough to motivate everyone to authentically embrace the responsibilities of our faith? One would hope so, but perhaps we need these additional reminders:
1. We all received the call to holiness at our Baptism.
“The call to holiness is rooted in Baptism and proposed anew in the other Sacraments, principally in the Eucharist. Since Christians are reclothed in Christ Jesus and refreshed by his Spirit, they are ‘holy’. They therefore have the ability to manifest this holiness and the responsibility to bear witness to it in all that they do. The apostle Paul never tires of admonishing all Christians to live ‘as is fitting among saints’ (Eph 5:3). (Blessed John Paul II, Christifideles Laici 16)
2. We are made for Heaven, not this place.
”The big, blazing truth about man is that he has a heaven-sized hole in his heart, and nothing else can fill it. We pass our lives trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles. As St. Augustine said: ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” (Peter Kreeft)
“We must always remind ourselves that we are pilgrims until we arrive at our heavenly homeland, and we must not let our affections delay us in the roadside inns and lands through which we pass, otherwise we will forget our destination and lose interest in our final goal.” (St. Ignatius of Loyola)
”I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.” (C.S. Lewis)
Please reflect carefully on these two points as we can clearly see how to conduct ourselves on our faith journeys (the call to holiness) and our final destination (Heaven). As Catholics, we are set apart and therefore not to allow ourselves to be assimilated into the surrounding culture. It requires courage, trials and often loneliness to walk this path, but we know what our final reward will be if we embrace our calling.
5 Keys to Escaping Apathy-ville
How do we escape Apathy-ville? First, we need to acknowledge that perhaps our personal response (and indifference) to the challenges the Church faces is woefully inadequate. Second, we must truly desire to do something about it. I have quoted the teaching of Our Lord and the wisdom of Pope John Paul II, Saints and others in an effort to illuminate the right path. I have reminded us of the call to holiness which we received at our Baptism and that we are all made for Heaven, and not this place. What else do we require to leave Apathy-ville? Here are five tips:
- Stop practicing “Cafeteria Catholicism.” We can’t pick and choose what we believe and still be authentically Catholic. Follow the Magisterium and authentically practice our faith, trusting that two millennia of Church history and teaching are far superior to what we may come up with on our own. ”Be Catholic, really, faithfully, unapologetically Catholic, and the future will have the kind of articulate and morally mature leaders it needs.” (Archbishop Charles Chaput)
- We can’t explain or defend what we don’t know. We may be indifferent to challenges the Church faces because we don’t understand them. We may believe the lies and half-truths being said about Catholicism because we have forgotten or never bothered to learn the truth of what the Church teaches. Poor faith formation for a generation of Catholics is one of the biggest problems the Church faces today. We have to study our faith-the Bible, the Catechism, parish adult education and a number of online resources are readily available.
- Prayer is the key. We can’t remain apathetic about Christ and His Church if we are conversing with Him in prayer each day. Most indifferent Catholics I have encountered are struggling in their prayer lives and yet, turning our thoughts to Him in prayer, thanking Him and asking for His help can be so easy if we will only surrender and acknowledge that we can’t do it alone.
- Put our Pride aside. Peter Kreeft wrote: ”The national anthem of Hell is ‘I did it my way.” It must take a pretty big ego to show indifference to Christ and His Church! What we need is more humility and a sincere commitment to put Christ’s will before our own. I know from personal experience that doing it my way has never really worked out well!
- Know the enemy. We rarely hear this in homilies these days and little is written about it in contemporary books or articles, but who stands to gain the most by our apathy towards defending the Church? The Devil is the clear winner. Read the Book of Revelation to see the similarities between modern times and the prophetic visions of Saint John, or heed the words of Saint (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina: “Temptations, discouragement and unrest are the wares offered by the enemy. Remember this: if the devil makes noise, it is a sign that he is still outside and not yet within. That which must terrify us is his peace and concord with the human soul. That which comes from Satan begins with calmness and ends in storm, indifference and apathy.”
What could be said about resisting an indifferent attitude towards our Catholic faith would fill several volumes and much more needs to be written and discussed on this subject. My goal is simply to grab your attention, if only for a few minutes, and tell you we are in trouble if we don’t step up in defense of Mother Church. You may ask yourself what gives me the right to challenge you and everyone else about being apathetic.
To put it simply, I am just like many of you. I am human…and I have my struggles with this problem as well. But, I also know full well we can’t continue looking to others to fight issues counter to the teachings of the Church. What is going on matters to us, our children, our friends, neighbors… the entire world.
The last train is ready to leave Apathy-ville… will we be on board?
Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and your local Catholic bookstore.
The Catholic Briefcase was recently voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.
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