Every November, Catholics have traditionally honored their deceased loved ones by having Holy Mass offered for them, by visiting the gravesite of our loved ones, and by personally contemplating the mysterious reality of ... death. The ancient Latin phrase is recalled by the Living during November: Memento mori -- "Remember you will die." Here is Part Three of a reflection to help our Academicians enter the Catholic spiritual perspective on living... and on dying.Every November, we should bite the bullet and confront ourselves with some vitally important questions:
- Where am I going?
- What is the meaning of existence?
- What is the 'end' or goal of my existence?
- Why am I alive?
- Do I believe in God, or in impersonal "primordial forces of nature"?
During the 1990s, I noticed a bizarre warping of our western culture — toward narcissism and unbridled materialism. In 1993, Forbes Magazine asked several influential and wealthy Americans why so many Americans "feel bad" -- depressed, anxious -- considering that they've never had it so good. Various pundits have had answers centered on the economy, political stagnation, and the loss of the entrepreneurial spirit.
I did not then and do not now think that any of these are the reason why people feel so bad. It's much simpler than that: "For the enemy has pursued me; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead". (Psalm 143:3) I believe that "feeling bad" is the result of our society elevating the lifestyle of the conspicuous consumer to a new secular religion.
Many unchurched consumers' religious views in our society — views that are relativistic at best — do not present a Catholic understanding of God, life, death and the afterlife. For instance, a little girl asks her mother, "Mommy, where do we go when we die?" Mother’s answer: "I don't know." Or the bizarre repartee between the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the farmer who plowed his corn crop under to create a baseball diamond for ghost baseball players, in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams: "Is this heaven?" "No ... it's Iowa."
Instead, I think a lot of people in our present culture do not practice nor affiliate with genuine religions. Instead, there's a popular pseudo-spiritual attitude in our culture — an attitude that may be affecting a lot of us who do practice a genuine religion. This pseudo-spiritual attitude distorts the truth which Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us about human existence.
I had written about this back in August 2009, in the post entitled, Spirituality For Catholic Jedi - Part One:
Twenty years ago, in American society, if you asked someone what their religion was, you would get simple answers: “Catholic”, Jewish”, “Methodist”, “Evangelical”, and so on. But, not these days. The old categories don't seem to work, because the religious landscape has changed so much. Today, ask someone, "What's your religion?" and you won’t get a simple answer. These days, many people describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious"— as spiritual seekers who are ANTI--religion, who like Jesus but hate His Church.
These days, many people describe themselves as “spiritual.” So, what does THAT mean? For these folks, the word, “spiritual” has been deliberately emptied of anything to do with God. The word, “spiritual” has become highly subjective and political.
Next time someone says to you, “I am spiritual but not religious,” let them know -- as the Catholic Jedi tha you are -- that they are speaking an oxymoron, a statement that is self-contradictory
The popular pseudo-spiritual attitude is founded on fear: a fear of death. Sacred Scripture frequently speaks of the fear of death as a fundamental affliction of the human race. This fear of death underlies many people's deviant impulses and destructive kinds of behavior:
- Obsessive anxieties
- Neurotic cravings for power and possessions
- Compulsive quests for pleasure and sensuality
- Efforts to "escape" through sex, drugs, alcohol, food, sleep, movies, TV, video games, computers, etc.
It is hope in Christ which is the antidote to the fear of death.
Today, however, secularism contradicts and undermines hope. It reduces human existence to the here and now. In the secular worldview, there is no resurrection, no eternal life. After death comes nothing.
These secularist views are unswerving in our popular movies, songs, TV shows and news programs. They do have an effect on our Catholic religion. The result:
- People manipulate and use people to guarantee the acquisition of affluence and control;
- People buy and consume more and more of what materialistic culture offers;
- YET, with more and more, they feel worse and worse.
- They will still sense sin and moral dis-ease in themselves.
- They will sense evil in the world.
- They will cower at the thought of suffering or of dying.
- They want to know what meaning they have: What is the purpose of existence? Why am I? Why do I exist?
Nonetheless, the possibility of God existing is not allowed to explain any of their questions about reality. Many people are faith-less, with no sense of God. They have no true religion, but do practice pseudo-religions: the "ME" religions. Those who adhere to the "ME"-religions are completely immersed in physical matter -- in material objects, in the five senses, in whatever can become a source of personal pleasure or narcissistic advantage or power over others.
BUT... the pit hidden along the consumerist way of life is uncontrolled narcissism and despair.
It's logical! Since the only things that count are the sensual things you can see, hear, taste, touch, or buy, then God and anything remotely connected to Him are impossibilities! There's nothing after this existence.
Here in the United States, our society focuses on the here and now. We want:
- Immediate satisfaction
- Immediate responses
- Perennial youth and good looks
- Instant answers
- Self-indulgence without any negative consequences.
- We are bathed in a consumer culture and a youth culture.
- If something isn't consumable, tangible, solid, and immediately pleasurable -- in the here and now -- we are told that it isn't worth our time or interest.
Ironically, history has shown that whenever difficulties are experienced in the here and now -- usually -- a growing concern for a personal afterlife, for any form of afterlife, begins to take hold.
Thus the explosion of TV shows involving ghost hunting, psychics, and paranormal events. At the same time, many people claim to believe in an anonymous "Higher Power" and an afterlife -- a non-descript afterlife, with no specifics. “New Age” movements have crazy-glued (pun intended) spiritual-sounding pap to money-making and economic wealth.
- An example: Oprah Winfrey offers a ten-week, online “new age” class on the best-selling book, "A New Earth," by guru, Eckhart Tolle. "A New Earth" has already sold some 3.5 million copies worldwide, thanks largely to the publicity given to it by Oprah.
In some ways, our Catholic faith and hope in the resurrection of the dead have been infected by the non-committal, empty, materialistic attitudes prevalent among the faithless in our society. In centuries past, the Church described these attitudes as pagan. “Pagan” is an accurate description of the modern attitudes. Primitive pagan attitudes about God and human existence have been around a long time. And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Now, ancient pagan attitudes are just using iPhones and wearing better suits.
To Be Continued ...