When Did Church Become a Form of Entertainment?
Good friends of mine, Catholic friends, recently confessed to me. They said that although they occasionally attend their Catholic church, they have found a community church that makes them feel better. They find themselves happy when they leave, unlike their Catholic experience where they feel guilty and dejected. They complained that the Catholic Church depressed them, asking for endless donations and fostering all kinds of guilt feelings. The community church, on the other hand, was full of happy people with whom they could feel at ease and have a good time. And the pastor was funny, too!
As I listened to their rationale regarding the problems of the Catholic Church, and how much better they felt at the community church, I had to remind myself that they were talking about church and not a comedy club! When did church become a form of entertainment? Is this what church going has become – if the church doesn’t keep people happy, they will find one that does?
Congregations are becoming gargantuan. Thousands of parishioners jam parking lots that require an army of security forces to regulate the traffic. The number of programs offered boggles the mind and are as diverse as the people who attend these churches – probably everything from yoga, gourmet cooking and self-help, to career classes. Something for everybody and a great place to meet that Mr. or Ms Right. And along with all the fun, of course, is the obvious guarantee of heaven; just believe and have a ball. It’s not rocket science why my friends are ready to bail out of their Catholic faith – the Church just cannot compete with rock bands and celebrity speakers.
My smiling friends went on and on about their newfound community church and all the new friends and business contacts that they have made, and as they continued gushing, I found myself reflecting upon something that a great Catholic saint; St. John of the Cross, once said.
“In order to have union with God, the soul must be in darkness concerning things of the senses, that is worldly things and creatures (human beings). But the soul must be also blinded to spiritual things which are of the higher or rational part. The soul must be resigned, annihilated and detached. All is darkness compared to God – all creatures deformed, the earth is void, the heaven’s dark. All the wisdom of the world is foolishness. Proceed by unknowing, rather than knowing. Desire and knowledge make the soul weak. To be craving the things of the earth is to be forever dissatisfied, as the things of the earth are as small crumbs from the table of God.”
Well. It’s a good bet that good ol’ St. John, poor fellow, never really heard a really good Christian rock band! And if he did have a church these days, which he wouldn’t, but if he did, he certainly wouldn’t need parking attendants! Who in their right mind would want to hear things like – “Human beings are creatures?” Human beings are our friends and loved ones! They fulfill our lives that God wants us to live! “St. John is full of beans, really depressing, and must have been out of his mind,” would be a typical comment, or perhaps just silence and a deer-in-the-headlights stare.
The problem is, after meditating for almost thirty years and studying the deeper aspects of various religions, I have come to the conclusion that St. John was right on the mark. I mean, he wasn’t made a Saint and a Doctor of the Catholic Church on a whim! But what he taught along with St. Teresa of Avila, was too advanced for most people . . . but perfectly in synch with Buddhism.
When St. John says, “In order to have union with God, the soul must be in darkness concerning things of the senses, that is worldly things and creatures (human beings),” Buddhism explains how to meditate and sit quietly with one’s mind detached from the busy world.
When he says, “But the soul must be also blinded to spiritual things which are of the higher or rational part. The soul must be resigned, annihilated and detached,” Buddhism teaches how to meditate without the burden of thought and all of thought’s implications, even spiritual images and theories.
“All is darkness compared to God – all creatures deformed, the earth is void, the heaven’s dark. All the wisdom of the world is foolishness,” in Buddhism this means that everything and anything that we have or ever hope to think or imagine; all of our thoughts and memories, are but illusion compared to Ultimate reality.
When St. John says, “Proceed by unknowing, rather than knowing. Desire and knowledge make the soul weak,” Buddhism teaches that desire is the source of all suffering, including the desire to know.
“To be craving the things of the earth is to be forever dissatisfied, as the things of the earth are as small crumbs from the table of God,” and Buddhism rests it’s case here in the First Noble Truth, that life is indeed suffering, and that only enlightenment, or as St. John would say, “Union with God,” can cure us.
Enlightenment and union withGod is true happiness, not the surface happiness we feel when we are socializing. Socializing is only a way to grow the ego as we use friends and loved ones to reinforce the idea of “me.” In the absence of “me” is God, but few honestly want to go there, even though that’s all they will have left when their last breath is taken . . . nothing will accompany them on their final, solitary journey; no possessions or knowledge, no family or friends, no rock band, only God. So shouldn’t we get to know God while we can? St. John and Buddhism consider enlightenment or union with God to be the most crucial thing that a human being can aspire to, because if we do not know God in this precious and important lifetime, our destiny is a crap-shoot for sure.
Oh, and one more thing that St. John said, just in case you ever decide to get to know God for yourself:
“Strive always to prefer not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult.
Strive always to prefer not that which is delectable, but that which is unpleasing.
Strive always to prefer not that which is the most pleasure, but that which is the least pleasure.
Strive always to prefer not that which is the most restful, but that which is the most wearisome.
Strive always to prefer not that which is the most consolation, but that which is disconsolate.
Strive always to prefer not that which is greatest, but that which is least.
Strive always to prefer not that which is most precious, but that which is most lowest and despised
Strive always to prefer not that which is desire for anything, but that which is desire for nothing.
Strive always to prefer not that which is the best of worldly things, but that which is the least of worldly things.”
And then St. John said this:
“In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything, desire to have pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything, desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything, desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at knowing everything, desire to know nothing.”
And he drove it home this way:
“In order to arrive at that wherein thou hast no pleasure, thou must go by a way wherein thou hast no pleasure.
In order to arrive at that wherein thou posseseth nothing, thou must go by a way wherein thou possess nothing
In order to arrive at that wherein thou art nothing, thou must go by a way wherein thou art nothing.
In order to arrive at that wherein thou knowest nothing, thou must go by a way wherein thou knowest nothing.”
Have a nice Sunday! See you in church?