Anyway. I am not cynical, I am sober. (Of course, who of us doesn't describe himself as realistic? "They are optimists, they are pessimists, but I am realistic...")
I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone else who I think would also consider himself more of the cynical persuasion. We posed this question of theoretical evangelists: "To what are they aiming?" - What goal to they have in mind for their 'subjects'?
That's an important question, no?
Let's rephrase it: Do they have in mind what, for instance, St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Theresa of Avila had in mind for conversion to Christian living?
If you will accede a discrepancy (that's seems reasonable) what should we make of it? Is it important or incidental?
Perhaps most wold say that of course there's a difference between what modern evangelists are aiming at and what they saints were aiming at. The former are simply concerned with the first stage of conversion, the latter the next stages...
Of course, I bet you that's not universally so. All the saints listed above, but most overtly Anthony and Francis, thought that our bourgeois Catholic life is intrinsically, radically un-Christian.
But who cares - am I splitting hairs here? What's the importance?
Let me outline something of it.
A friend of mine says that he hesitates to go to certain church functions because all the people talk about are sports - in which he has no interest at all - and their latest purchases: especially trips they have or will be taking or renovations they are undertaking. I get that. I haven't taken a trip in... almost twenty years. All my renovations are more like putting duct tape on things and praying like hell that fire does not result. I get that. Since I got married I have always been the poorest of my friends (and family). Sometimes that's hard to deal with. Like now, seeing how my whole family is pressuring us to visit them this summer and I cannot afford to purchase a vehicle that would safely get my family there... Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes. Other times (most times) I don't care.
So, what are evangelists aiming at? I would warrant that they are not thinking of converting the guys who talk about sports, vacations and home-maintenance. These guys go to church and spout the party line. Most importantly, they dress up for mass on Sunday. These things show they are true-believers, part of the club.
I get why people think we should dress our best on Sunday. I don't agree with their arguments, but I understand them. The reason I don't agree is based upon my own experience and my 'conception' of the experience of others who would be like what I was when I was considering joining the Church.
This is a little digression, but relevant to my main point. I purposely do not dress up. It has a lot to do with comfort and laziness, but also a great deal more to do with one of my main concerns: not alienating young people who see the Church as some superficial conformist club. That's how I looked at Christianity as a young person. I am determined to dissuade young men like me of this notion. The Church is not about externals, hypocrisy, bourgeois values, etc. It is about the mass, the saints, mystically connecting with God. I don't care that many don't see it this way. This is how I see it. There are lots of people who feel alienated from the Church. I want them to feel this way for the right reasons, not because they come from a broken home, don't have nice clothes, etc. These are people for whom I feel compassion. I really feel like Nietzsche and Dawkins could have been saved if they met someone like me... Yes, I have grand self-conceptions.
Let's move forward here. Am I mischaracterizing faithful Catholic evangelists as shallow tribalists? Well, it's all a matter of degrees: how much is your evangelization about wanting to re-create people in the image of Christ that is really your image of the image of Christ, which looks more like you, Joe-blow Catholic than it does the very Son of the Living God, and, not only you, but the whole white picket-fence bourgeois view you have of the good life? I see this when I go to church sometimes. If it strikes me, a believer, you can be sure it strikes others.
Nor is the solution to insert another type of person (a cool marginalized person) for sake of the hated WASPs you have in mind, or think I have in mind (WASC, I guess, but you know what I mean).
Young, cool, hip Christians think we need to make the Church all about this:
rather than this:
I say, we should make it about this:
And that these two here below are more like this than the two above:
|St. Diego of Alcala (by Murillo).|
|St. Francis in his tattered attire.|
Images are pretty powerful things. Don't we all have some pretty strange mental pictures about things? The girl above would doubtlessly evoke a feeling of admiration from liberals: she is free, authentic, etc., while the second would represent to them hypocrisy and conformism, etc. What does the bloody Christ represent, and the dirty lives of the saints.
Images. Why do pop stars look like they do? Don't tell me it's because that's who they are. Why do homosexuals dress up as they do at their parades? It's not authenticity. It's a costume; it's an image; it's acceptable.
So, in summation, we all have a lot of work to do towards clearing up our notion of who Christ is and who we are supposed to be as a result. Don't confuse exterior trappings with inner spiritual states. The suit tells us something; the nose ring tells other people the very thing the suit tells us. In the end Christ had neither the one nor the other. He would not have hung around with the hippies, nor would He have treated the bankers with special scorn.
Nor is it at all possible to cling on to this world. Have you ever noticed how how evangelists phrase their goals: how do we get people back to church? How do we get people to marry, vote for traditional marriage, etc., etc.? These things might look like intrinsically good things, but don't we all know that people can go to church for all the wrong reasons, support traditional marriage for all the wrong reasons, hate homosexuality for all the wrong reasons?
You can't just put some patches up on Canadian culture and call it the Kingdom of God. As long as we get the church attendance numbers up all will be well, we seem to assume.
Even my good buddy, C. S. Lewis, liked to talk about the Christian presuppositions "we used to all have" (i.e. the image discarded in his The Discarded Image). That is a grand exaggeration.
We all "used to" nothing. And we all never will anything.
For my friend, Mickey Blopp.