Friday, August 01, 2008

I'm not getting anything out of this...

In my high school junior-year Confirmation class, a friend of mine raised his hand and asked poor Fr Tony (who was mismatched with high school juniors, to say the least), "I'm not getting anything out of this; is that alright?"

After a dreadful moment's pause, Fr. Tony mustered up his best authoritative tone of voice and said, "Yes."

Today, I am a priest myself who routinely corresponds with young persons dealing with many questions. So I feel for what Fr. Tony was going through. Worse for him, he was from the old school where it was taken for granted that sixteen-year-old Catholics would actually have been raised practicing their faith, known what it involved and even been fervent in their desire to further the cause of the Church militant. I at least have the advantage of assuming that many people will ask just this sort of question.

The fact that the question that my friend Scott asked focused on the subjective experience of one person says everything and goes a long way toward explaining why 'religion' seems so deathly dull to young people. 'Why do adults just go through the motions?' No one looks like they are 'getting a lot out of Mass'. We put the Mass into the vernacular, and people still don't look like their getting much out of it at times. We organize youth retreats and sing around campfires (at least I did when I was a youth--does this still happen?). When, as young adults, people have to go back to St. Mary's of Centerville, they pine for those campfires with young, exciting people, and quietly let their faith fall into desuetude.

To ask in return, 'Well, what are you putting into it?' does not address the underlying problem, that we for some reason feel entitled to 'get something out of' the Mass (besides receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist!). What, just what if, the point of religion is not about me?

This is, in a sense, a follow-up to yesterday's post about liberation theology. There is a healthy sense in which liberation theologians are attempting to address the problem of subjectivism in the Church. By pointing out the necessity of working for justice and the 'preferential option for the poor', liberation theology moves us away from the question of what we get out of worship and points us toward mission. As I pointed out yesterday, this attempt can easily backfire when homilies or talks or books rant at length about the evil people who disempower the poor, since it tends to exonerate the ones giving and receiving the rant! We still 'get something out of it'.

Now I do not mean to imply that we should strive to have religion be something dry that does not engage us. Quite the contrary. I wish everyone were passionate for God and God's justice! But this passion for the Other, for the salvation of the world, is a far cry from passion for one's daily 'pick-me-up'.


Anonymous said...

Dear Father Peter,

Would it be fair to say that some people don't seem to get anything out of the mass because they are expecting to experience a "feeling." Pleasant feelings are pleasant to have but the lack of a pleasant feeling does not mean something extraordinary did not happen. Also, people are going to receive what they are disposed to receive. If a person is not trying to live a holy life, and is going from mortal sin to mortal sin, that person won't be disposed to receive what someone who is sitting next to him who is trying to live a holy life is probably going to receive. I think that is why it is possible to have two people in the same mass experience very different things. One person is overwhelmed with all kinds of graces almost to the point of tears, and someone else in the exact same mass is bored and looking at his watch wondering when will the mass be over.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Yes, I run into this from time to time. I chalk it up to the culture of individualist consumerism. It's all about me.

They say things like "I come to Mass to get my Communion" like they go to Target's to get an IPod or Starbuck's for a chai mocha frappe (or whatever those weird drinks are...)

The idea that maybe Mass (or anything for that matter) perhaps exists for something larger than the self, i.e. something that can basically be consumed to make me happy, is a completely foreign concept to the Generation Y crowd.

I think coupled with this is the idea that not everything in the world should come in the form of instant gratification. The Patristic idea of the Spiritual Journey towards salvation, or what the Orthodox call deification of the soul, is likewise a completely foreign concept to kids raised in a world where everything is presented full blast with the press of a button (computers, TV, ipods, food from the microware, whatever.)

I think ultimately the culture of instant gratification and commercialism will ultimately ring hollow for many. It will take a generation or two, but eventually people will realize that the "spirit of the age" is not all that filling.


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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