a majority of this homily came out of reading and reflecting on a particular chapter from Ross Douthat's book "Bad Religion - How We Became a Nation of Heretics"
“Eat, Pray, Love” is a book by author Elizabeth Gilbert that spent 187 weeks at the top of the NYT bestseller list
Married, successful author found herself pleading with God – “I don’t want to be married anymore, I don’t want to be married anymore, I don’t want to live in this big house, I don’t want to have this baby”
And someone spoke back. She says “It was not an Old Testament Hollywood Charlton Heston voice, nor was it a voice telling me I must build a baseball field in my backyard. It was merely my own voice, speaking from within my own self…How can I describe the warmth of affection in that voice, as it gave me the answer that would forever seal my faith in the divine?”
She felt her voice was telling her to leave her marriage
This phenomenon of “spiritual but not religious” is what NYT Catholic columnist Ross Douthat calls “The God Within” theology that, as he notes, “Is the insight offered by just about every spiritual authority ever given a platform in Oprah Winfrey’s media empire”
Followers do not say they are rejecting Christ, they say they are being truer to Christ than churches with rules – and truer to Christ certainly than the Church with the MOST rules – the Catholic Church
Pope Francis has often noted that his favorite book is the novel “Lord of the World” – and in this fictional telling of the coming of the Antichirst, and then the coming of Christ and the end of the world – the Antichrist does not sell himself as the opposite of Christ but as the fulfillment of Christ – not as rejecting Jesus and His Church but as doing a better job of being Christian than the Church
I would like to note the problems of this mindset of “The God Within” theology or the Church of “spiritual but not religious”
1) Problem: Nothing they say is “uproariously on the face of things” wrong
The God Within theorists do not say abandon Christ and they certainly don’t say
Follow the evil one. “Spiritual but not religious” or the Church of “The God Within” because a pretty easy pill to swallow for Christians and even an easy pill to swallow for Catholics
Related problem: Some of what is believed in this ideology is Christian. The Church says, in some ways, God is NOT comprehendable. God isn’t completely comprehended in one sense of that word.
Solution: There is the fact that we can never FULLY comprehend God, but our Catholic Faith also says there are important things that we must know and believe and profess
We can’t ever fully comprehend the Resurrection event, nor can we fully comprehend the Birth of Christ nor can we fully comprehend today’s celebration which we’ll get to in a moment the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit…we can’t get our arms around it, but that doesn’t mean we can deny it. It is, in one sense, what makes our Creed so important.
3) Problem 3: Sometimes the God Within isn’t God at all, but just the ego or the libido using spirituality as a convenient gloss foits own desires and impulses
Solution: John of the Cross very strongly cautions that using spiritual visions and ecstasies is something that the Devil can just as easily and readily use as God, so a faith based on religious emotions and feelings can lead a person very quickly down the wrong path, eventhough that path might be coated with lots of phrases and ideas that sound like Christianity making them even more dangerous, while also making them more readily desirable to our Western Culture
4) Problem 4: This “God within” stuff is that it turns us into narcissists – where my own promptings and desires become God speaking. University of Michigan found that today’s college students scored 40% lower than their predecessors in the 1970’s on their ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Isn’t that interesting: we think we’re better at putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, but we’re actually way worse.
Solution: My “Voice within” has told me to do some awful things, some very selfish things, and evil things, and other “voice within” was God speaking: our Christian tradition is very clear: there are several “voices within” competing against each other – and if I think they are all God, I am setting myself up for misery
Problem 5: As narcissism has exploded by every standard measure, what has typically served as a critique to narcissism has been eroded. Christianity, despite being lived imperfectly by every Christian in the history of the world besides the mother of Jesus, has traditionally held in check the individual ego
Christianity: you might want to do __________ but don’t. You might not want to do _______ but you must.
But now there are tons of people foisted on the culture telling everyone that “your ego is God’s voice, and Christianity is bad and it is rules, and it is mean and burdensome and must be cast off!”
6) Final Problem: It doesn’t help in the face of adversity. Starvation. Torture. Martyrdom, Cancer. “The Voice Within” has never helped me in the face of suffering. The Mass did. Eucharistic Adoration did. Repeating the Divine Mercy “Jesus I trust in you” in the midst of the desert helped me. What some would call the rules, the burdensome Catechism and the thou shalts and the thou shalt nots – that helped me and it sounds like, from the 2,000 years worth of the writings of the saints, it was precisely the dogmas and the rules of the Church that have helped in the face of loneliness, suffering, pain, temptations to despair and temptations to anxieties
But what every available psychological study also shows us is that people today are also lonelier, more isolated, and more depressed than ever. That is to say that the new “spiritual but not religious” “just listening to the God within me” is failing
And here’s the point, tying it back to what we are celebrating today – the feast of Pentecost. If you want to have your world ABSOLUTELY ROCKED, pray this prayer – come Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is jet fuel coursing through the veins of the Body of Christ. It burns away all that is impure. The Holy Spirit will lead you to all Truth. The Holy Spirit does not ever point away from the Church, it comes from within the Church and points us back there. The Holy Spirit sometimes confirms our ego’s desires, but other times it contradicts and reprimands our egos and our desires. It calls us out of ourselves to the margins, it calls us to keep the ten commandments, it calls us to Mass, it calls us to our marriages and our vocations, it calls us to sacrifice, and it tells us that sin is wrong, no matter what your voice within is saying
Come Holy Spirit. The three most dangerous words you will ever pray. The three most powerful words you will ever pray. Come Holy Spirit.
If you want to continue to only listen to yourself, do not pray those three words
But if you think that perhaps the common wisdom that has been stored up in the 2,000 years of lived experience of billions of Catholic people in good times and in bad in persecution, amidst struggle and difficulty, if you think that Christ actually did found a Church on Peter that would serve as a help through the maze of life’s experiences. If you’ve tried it on your own but have found it only leads to numbness, despair, anger, frustration, unhappiness and misery, then pray now, and mean it, Say from the depths of your soul “Come Holy Spirit”
The Holy Spirit will lead you to the Church
The Holy Spirit will lead you to all Truth. Nothing else will.