Friday, June 22, 2012

The Spiritual Mistake of Avoiding the World

   How many of us still say things like, "We're here to save our souls?"  And what does that mean?  Sometimes I think that more Catholics live a spiritual life inspired by Plato rather than by Jesus.

   Plato said that we are souls, and only souls, who existed in another world before we were born.  While we existed in that other world, we knew everything and were perfectly happy.  When our parents created our body, we left that other world and came down to this one and entered our body.  But the shock of entering into our body was so great that we forgot all that we knew before we were born.

   Our job here on earth, then, is two-fold.  One, we have to remember what we knew.  We do that by being educated.  The word, "educate," comes from the Latin, e, out of; and ducare, to lead, or pull.  Our parents and teachers pull out of us all that we knew before we were born.  

   To Platonic thinking, nature really isn't real at all.  It's a shadow of reality.  In fact, nature gets us into trouble, especially through our emotions and passions.  To be perfect, then, we have to get away from our emotions and passions, and live in the world of the mind.   And finally, we have to get out of our body and out of this world, and get back to the world we came from.

   Many of us have followed this view in living our spiritual life.  To be good Christians, we have to control our body, our emotions, and especially our passions.  The world that we live in is not the world of the Spirit.  So we should stay away from the everyday world and look beyond it as much as possible.  

   Jesus of course was fully immersed in his everyday world.  He lived with his family, had a job, had friends, male and female, got an education, went to weddings, etc.  He was involved in his society well enough to know and get angry at the way the Pharisees were being hypocrites, and how the rich were oppressing the poor.  He got so deeply involved in this world that its evil energy crucified him.

   In his preaching, he used the language and images of his everyday world, e.g., sheep, vineyards, weeds and wheat, mustard seeds, etc.  Later, when his apostles went out to preach the Gospel in the Greek and Roman worlds, they used the terms of those worlds. Paul, for example, knew that the Greeks had no knowledge or interest in the Kingdom that Jesus preached.  Jesus used "kingdom" to remind the Jews of David's kingdom so they could imagine the greater glory of God's kingdom.  So Paul preached instead on the body of Christ.  In the fifth century, the Christians began using the language of Plato because the philosophy of the time was Platonic.

   In the 12th Century, St. Thomas Aquinas put the Gospel into the terms of Aristotle's philosophy, which is based in this world.  But our spirituality has tended to remain "out of this world."   Vatican II worked to change our view, especially in its document on the church in the modern world.  Here we can note that Pope Benedict XVI is reported to be unhappy with Vatican II's approach of dialog with today's world, and even learning from it.  To him, Vatican II (and Pope John XXIII) was too optimistic.  He prefers to see the world first as a place of sin.    

  Today's challenge is to be spiritual in the terms of today's world.  Let's take a look at some well known Catholics to see how they're doing this, or not doing this.  Newt Gingrich is a Catholic.  John Boehner is a Catholic.  Nancy Pelosi is a Catholic.  Six of the Supreme Court judges are Catholic.  Washington Post and Commonweal commentator, E. J. Dionne, a Catholic, has said that except for abortion, President Obama speaks fluent Catholic.  

  How Catholic are the "job creators" who are not creating American jobs?  How Catholic are those who are obstructing the "job creators?"  How Catholic is the growing disparity of income?  The dumbing down of education?  How Catholic are the sermons and homilies that don't really begin to touch the reality we live in every day?  How Catholic are the Prayers of the Faithful that keep asking God to do what we should be doing with the grace that God has already given us?             

   Many of us say we want to help uplift and transform today's world but don't know how.  The world that we are spiritually empowered and responsible to uplift and transform consists of the people and situations we meet every day.  It consists in the world that is on the other end of our telephone line and in our vote.  Here, and all the other places and opportunities we meet everyday are where Christ, in us, is meeting the world that he wants to save in and through us.         

  We are here, not to save our souls alone, but our entire self, all others, and all of nature. People are suffering.  Waiting is not an option.


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