I have a dear friend who grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. His parents and siblings were all good Catholics. He had gone through all the catechism and training that any good Catholic would undergo. When he grew up he married a good Catholic woman and had good Catholic children who were also trained up in the Catholic Church.
Building a House of Cards
Then one day, my friend found himself in a position that he had never bargained for. You see my friend had been, and still is, a very successful business man. In his career he was always on top. In his private ventures he always achieved his goals. He was adept at using his charm, good looks and intellect to his advantage, and he got away with a lot. But in his late 30’s, his seemingly unlimited success created a house of cards that came tumbling down on top of him.
When this happened, my friend looked up and cried out to God, this God of his youth, of his parents and his wife, and he begged for help. God answered his prayer, helped him and changed his life. But the way in which God moved in this man’s life forced him to re-examine his faith.
You see to my friend, the God of his understanding was a distant God whom he did not really know. The religion he had been brought up in was, to him, about saying the right prayer, and doing the right religious calisthenics: stand to sing, sit to listen, kneel to pray. He went through the motions for decades but he never really made an effort to know more about God. He had practiced religion his whole life without ever allowing it to penetrate his heart. To him, the faith was meaningless.
Or was it?
“Either a person will side with the world and its pleasures (and so enter hell by the wide gate), thereby realizing his personal pleasures and losing himself endless entertainment and enjoyments, or he will side with God and His love (and so enter the narrow gate of heaven), thereby realizing holiness and toil. Such a person will find joy in life with God.” - Matthew the Poor
Spiritual Senility = Familiar Indifference
What my friend did not understand was that his heart longed for the pleasures of the world and not for God. My friend had fallen into what is known as spiritual senility. This condition is not brought on by age but rather by a neglect of the things of God, or a familiar indifference to them. Rather than exerting his energy to know and serve the God he’d been taught about all his life, he chose to direct all his energies toward the pleasures and conquests of this world.
And while my friend happened to be Roman Catholic, we've seen spiritual senility in every church we've ever visited. It's a spiritual sickness that affects all denominations and all peoples equally.
To Him the Catholic faith that he grew up with was just a familiar routine. It was a ritual that served him only in as much as it furthered his personal and business goals, of which truly knowing God was not one. Matthew the Poor describes it like this:
“Spiritual senility means that people’s ears are tired of hearing the constant calls for repentance and change of heart. In such cases, the preacher cries out to the listeners as though they were dead and motionless bodies, while each person looks at his neighbor as though his neighbor were the intended target and not he himself. Spiritual senility also means that people’s eyes are tired of reading the Bible and spiritual books. The words stand on the page cold and lifeless, and the reader’s eyes are scarcely able to pay attention and resist the approach of sleep. Spiritual senility means the heart has become stone like, losing the ability to become inflamed by the Spirit, losing the ability to feel and respond to the work of grace. Such a person stands in church for prayer and can do nothing but yawn, yawn, yawn, to the point that he becomes a laughing stock to those around him. Meanwhile, he feels and understands nothing of what is happening, as though he were not even there.”
Does this describe your spiritual life this lent? Who among us cannot see bits of ourselves in these words? I pray that we heed his warning and re-examine our motivations. I pray that our spiritual vigor, tamped down by a global pandemic, would be revived. I pray that the fire of our first love, Jesus, would be rekindled in our hearts, that celebrating the Mass would be a joy, and that the many cares and comforts of this world would no longer distract us from serving Christ and his Church.
Rekindling the Fire of Our Hearts
The worship and teachings of the Church have power to save and change us, but only if we choose to allow the practice of religion to penetrate our hearts. Those who spend their energies running after the knowledge of God will indeed be rewarded, as Hebrew’s states: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). We must pray and ask God to rekindle his holy fire in our hearts.
As our Lord stated, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The earthly things that so easily attract us are fleeting. God knows we need things: food, clothing, housing, etc… but the priority should be God’s kingdom and the knowledge thereof. This is what will ultimately satisfy the longings of your soul and make you complete and at peace.
I hope you will join me with renewed spiritual vigor at any or all of the upcoming services:
Rector St. Andrew’s Church
This blog is about living out our Christian faith in the Anglican tradition. It includes homilies, Sunday services, and commentaries from our leadership.