Deliver Us From Successful Catholics

What I mean is “successful” in the world’s terms. Now that I’ve returned to  America after living in the damp lands for twenty five years, one of the things I find most trying is America’s love affair with “success”. I’m not talking about being excellent or being a fulfilled human being or finding what you want to do in life and doing it well. I’m certainly not talking about building a fine family or simply being happy, and I’m certainly not referring to being achieving sanctity.

I’m talking about the lust for worldly success–for all the glittering prizes. How Americans love the trophy house, the trophy car, the trophy wife, the trophy teeth, the trophy boob job, the trophy botox. You name it. How they love all the tinsel–all the trappings of success, and the problem is that this pursuit of success is taken as a given. This is what life is all about right? No one questions it.

I see it in our schools in the crazed and crazy worship of athletics. Geesh, the amount of money spent on athletics in our schools and colleges is insane! –and not just the expenditure of money, but the expenditure of time and commitment and physical injuries. I see it in the hype, the cheerleaders with their fanny waggling sex appeal. I see it in the hyped up, aggressive “Crunch the enemy!!” mentality. I see it in the way–by extension– they turn academics and fine arts into yet another competition. “Don’t worry if you’ve learned anything. Just win the prize! Win! Win! Win! Get into the Honor Society!” I knew one mother who paid her kid to join the Math Club so he would make it into some Honor Society or other.

There’s some kind of primitive passionate drive behind it this need to win–this need to succeed. The need not just to succeed, but to beat the other guy. Then they all get together and give themselves big plastic trophies, and have these honor society ceremonies and give themselves more plastic trophies and  the plastic trophies symbolize their plastic victories, their hollow success and their shallow ambitions. “It doesn’t matter if the trophy is plastic! What matters is that they are big and you have lots of them.”

Now here’s where my rant becomes even more rabid: in Christian circles they equate this success with being good Christians. This “God has blessed me so I must be wonderful” schtick is a Protestant thing, but the Catholics have soaked it up uncritically.  They don’t say it in so many words, but the underlying value system says it all. The big shiny success thing is what it’s all about, and the Catholic religion becomes icing on the cake. “Gee we must be super wonderful successful and shiny people because we’ve not only got our suntanned lives and perfect smiles organized, but we go to church too!”

The problem with this is that their Catholicism (if that’s what it is) is used as a prop for their totally uncritical acceptance of the big, wonderful, obscenely materialistic American way of life. They blend their form of Catholicism into their American success story seamlessly, and this is where it gets real bad: the kids they are educating in their schools absorb it all and equate being a good Catholic with being a good, shiny and outwardly respectable successful American.

This is Christ consumed by culture rather than Christ critical of culture.

Maybe it’s the Mennonite in me, but I don’t buy it. Never have. I smelled a rat twenty five years ago and scuttled off to England. Now I’m back it’s bringing out the prophet in me.

I know I know I know…there’s lots of wealthy Catholics who are very generous and humble and all that. This post is not about them. It’s about the shiny ones who are pursuing worldly success and the glittering prizes and never once question their lives. It’s my suspicion that their lives are unexamined that worries me–not that they’re rich, but that they’ve accepted the standards and values of the world without demur, and not only that, but they’ve equated it all with being good Catholics thus emasculating the gospel by seeming to embrace it.

It reminds me of those awful turn of the century stained glass windows in which Jesus is wearing a splendid robe, mincing through a garden with perfectly combed blonde hair. They took the hillbilly carpenter and tamed him. They’ve taken the country revivalist preacher with a line in end times prophecy and a healing ministry and turned him into some sort of aesthete with yellow hair and a little lamb.

It makes me want to be radical — go out and do some street preaching myself and maybe turn over some tables or go work with the poor and prisoners and the down and outs and do something beautiful for God, and be a good Catholic…

…even if I’m not a successful one.

  • Tom in South Jersey

    Thanks Father, I needed that.

  • Alex

    I have to disagree with some of this. Being a good Catholic and being a successful Catholic are not mutually exclusive. The love of money, not money, is the root of all evil. I agree that status worship and vain materialism should not be equated with goodness. But Catholics should admire and support other Catholics who are successful in a worldly sense.

    I am acquainted with many evangelical, nondenominational Christians, and they strongly support their “successful” members. They openly network with other evangelicals in business. I find little in the way of similar networks among Catholics (especially if you don’t count Catholic college allegiance, which is a result more of sports than of religion). I wish Catholics did not ignore the value of such support. When one Catholic succeeds we all should rise a little. Good ole American “success” should be viewed as something that adds to our parishes, not something that subtracts from them.

    • Zai

      I don’t think he is talking about those “successful” Catholics that are GOOD Catholics. In fact, he says that in the blog. He is talking about the ones who, by all appearances, don’t question the worse aspects of the American view of success. It is extremely Old Testament in its view of God, like early OT. The Jews often equated worldly success with God’s favor. Not that He does not bestow such success on those He favors, giving talents and whatnot. Job was a look at this question. They were starting to see that it was not as they thought, the rain falls on the rich and poor man’s house. Anyway, I agree that the ones who are really using their talents for the Kingdom. I think Fr. Dwight does, as well.

    • scrapbkcathleen

      I would love to see Catholic network and support each other in becoming successful: how else do they support their wives and children in these trying times? You need an electrician, look to your fellow parishioners first. You need insurance? see if their is a parishioner who sell this first. Supporting the success of your fellow Catholics ought to be an obligation which does make you a “good Catholic” in that you are thinking of your fellow Catholics and their familial support before putting the almighty Federal Reserve Notes (and the cheapest cost). How else are Catholic families able to tithe and support their parishes?

    • Thomas R

      I don’t always agree with him, but I think he’s meaning the love of worldly success for its own sake. For the individuals ego and feeling of accomplishment alone. Not for the good you can do with it for others or having a sense of gratitude for the gifts you have. The idea that your happiness or even virtue, to some extent, involves other people admiring or even envying you.

      You don’t need to be rich to be like that. To be concerned with using what wealth you have solely for your own ego and image.

  • Melody

    I can admire and thank God for others talents and their ability to succeed, but I bristle when those gifts are used for self glorification.

  • Romulus

    Almost all American Catholics have protestant DNA. No one seems to want to acknowledge this or deal with it.

    • Pew Sitter

      Amen!

    • Ryan

      Yeah, and almost all other Catholics have Socialist DNA. Which do you prefer?

  • Damien

    Alex, Father isn’t talking merely about money but the measure of the good life. Money is such a metric. Our culture has become hyper-competitive so instead of becoming the best we can be, we strive to be better than others.

    But the Gospel is the authentic measure of life, and shouldn’t we strive to die to ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus? Even to an affluent person, whom God has blessed, to whom much has been given, isn’t *much* expected?

    You have a point about evangelical congregations and their sense of community. There is an opportunity for you to start a Catholic business network in your parish.

  • Tim Jones

    Until disinterested onlookers can see a real difference between the way Catholics live and the way the rest of the society lives, they will have no reason to listen to the gospel we preach. We are far, far too materialistic, so much so that we have no clue how materialistic we are.

  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    I agree with Alex. I don’t know any Catholics like that (not saying there aren’t any — just that I don’t know any). It’s evangelicals and others who write books with titles like “God Wants You to Roll.” I live in a very large archdiocese and I’m sure that there are indeed plenty of successful Catholics who meet your description. But that’s because they’re American, not because they’re Catholics, and the few people I know who come close to your description are mostly driven by secular culture. The largest church in my neighborhood is Presbyterian, and they are very well off people who spend a LOT on their church and who tend to be more of the “successful” types you are talking about — tops at everything, and super pious and thus tops at THAT too. But they are also incredibly generous to the poor with their money and time. Christianity and the American success myth are uneasy partners.

    • Bob

      Seems to me Father is talking about a man who goes to mass, even gives to charity but takes that promotion even though he’ll have to travel and see the family less. He needs to take this promotion because they bought a new car and a large colonial house, that their peers also own. Has he asked Jesus what he should do? Has he put Jesus at the center of his life or is keeping up with his peers the most important thing? Those items in of themselves aren’t wrong but his priorities are wrong. I’ve leaned this lesson the hard way after spending way too much of my life working. God bless all. Bob

    • Thomas R

      I’m not sure. It’s a different thing maybe, but in my life I have seen a certain kind of “snobbiness” more among Catholics than Protestants I’ve known. People who joined CYO and then the Newman Club, at least in part, to be “seen.” Who feel that being rich, Catholic, and popular automatically makes them superior regardless of how they live or treat others. Example that comes to mind is the unmarried students I knew at Newman Center who talked about their sexual or booze exploits while being perhaps cold to even Catholics outside their “clique.”

      This happens with Protestants too, but I don’t know it’s different somehow.

  • http://400wordsforwomen.com/ Béatrice Fedor

    Father, I don’t understand who are these people and what they do. I must be missing something.

  • MI Will

    My wife and I went on a tour in Europe a few years ago. There is much talk about non-Christian Europe, so please bear with me. The bus driver was from The Netherlands. Judging from the three weeks of the tour, he is a wonderful person. I talked to him a few times. He mentioned that his children all lived near him in The Netherlands near the Belgium border. He obviously has great pride and joy in his children. We never talked religion, but, right or wrong, to me, family and family life is one of the great determiners of how good (or lucky?) a person is.

    • MI Will

      Perhaps what I was trying to say in the last sentence is that family is one measure of one’s wealth.

      • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

        Psalm 128.

  • Karen H.

    Pbooey. I’m living in England for the time being due to family commitment. My husband died, and as he had no children, or siblings, I am remaining for his very elderly parents. I only hope I can keep that damn Liverpool Deathway euthanasia away from them when their time comes. In the mean time I miss simple things like air-forced heating rather than stupid radiators taking up every square inch of wall space, I miss built in closets, and, by Zeus a simple item like a freaking GARBAGE DISPOSAL. I miss Jiffy pop, kayro light syrup, pancake mix in a box, graham crackers, pumpkin pie and soda that doesn’t cost the price of a bottle of champagne. I miss corn on the cob that doesn’t cost £1.70 for two. I miss the second Amendment, also the 1st, 3rd, etc, etc. I miss engaging talk radio instead of some drone on BBC et al telling me about the sex life of the Tse-Tse fly. Oh, and I MISS white bakery cakes with white butter cream icing instead of crappy “we have never heard of white cakes, how exotic, surely you must want chocolate. No, d**** it, I want WHITE. Oh, and gas prices you don’t have to take out a loan for — although with Barack Insane Odama prices are rapidly approaching Eurotrash prices in that regard. I don’t know too many people who are so into plastic anythings, much less trophies. Oh, and dentistry. I could use some – but I am loath to trust my teeth in the care of anyone *here* — at least not without 5 personal recommendations from people with really good teeth who got their dental in England. Did I mention free parking? These people wonder “why is the high street dying.” I KNOW why it’s dying there isn’t anywhere to park. Oh, and I miss NOT having to crawl under a freakin’ stairway to insert some bl**dy key like Eliza Freak Doolittle just to put money on the electric meter.
    Agree with Alex 100% — I think you are far off base here.

    • http://sayingyes2life.blogspot.com Agnes Day

      This is one of the best and funniest replies. I love America! I hate that many people see “success” as a bad thing. One fellow “Catholic” I know recently put on fb that Romney didn’t win because that was one house she wanted to make sure he couldn’t buy. How about all the hard work he has put in over the years? He is an American success story…and people hated him for it. Often, the American hard work ethic results in material success. If we are good Catholics, we put that money to good use. I understand what Father is trying to say here, but it does come across a bit scathing towards people who have had material success. Thanks for this great reply. If others could live in another country, they would appreciate ours so much more. Our country is successful because of the hard work of our ancestors – working hard to try to provide a better life for their children.

    • Jack

      I disagree with some of what you wrote here, but I would miss white cake also. I knew that England was getting more and more decadent, but I didn’t know it had gone that far.

    • kh

      Father’s article was excellent. But Karen your reply was hilarious.
      Having spent time in Germany, I understand your deep frustration.

  • Dayne V. Jervis

    Father:

    I notice how often there are extra drives dunning the “successful” parishioners to support the various charities and other less fortunate parishes in the Diocese. Your rant might have been better directed by lovingly imploring the “successful” to contribute more their material gains. Certainly, chastising the “success” will make them feel so welcome in the pews that they will take a vow of poverty. As a priest, certainly you know the parable of the wealthy young man makes an important distinction viz. not all are called or able to take on the evangelical counsels of perfection. Neiter is it required. It is interesting who you choose to berate and exclude from the community with your rant. Poverty itself is no perfect sign of goodness. Mostly it is a sign of misfortune. I will bet that you live a very comfortable life. I note that you were once the head of the largest Episcopal Church in America. What impelled you to strive for that achievement? Excellence? Thanks for bringing back from merry old England good old European snobbery. I pray for you in all love for another Catholic. I pray that you continue to be blessed. I will drop another $20 in the collection plate just for you.

    Dayne

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      You seem to have totally misunderstood the post, and where you got the idea that I was ever in charge of the largest episcopal church in America I have no idea.

      • Dayne V. Jervis

        My sincerest apologies Father. I conflated you with something else I was reading. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I cannot apologize enough for my error. However, I don’t think I misunderstood your post. But I will continue to read you. Thanks for your blog.

  • Gina

    Father Dwight,
    As a priest are there any common themes that you hear from people who are close to death? I imagine that most people have some regrets about the way they lived their life, but especially those that did live their life searching for worldly success. It’s really a challenge not to get prideful by chasing worldy trophies or respect. It’s even a greater challenge to give all of the credit to God when I do successfully accomplish something or attain material goods.

  • TeaPot562

    We need to remember two parables that Jesus taught: Matt: 25, v.31-46; and Luke 16, v.19-31. Judgment is not necessarily based on whether material success was achieved, but on how we used whatever material goods we acquired. Better to be a beggar and willing to share than a millionaire keeping his wealth buried under a rock.
    TeaPot562

  • http://waysweworship@wordpress.com Jo A

    Thanks Karen for confirming how rubbish my home country is. Still you have radiators.

  • http://feminine-genius.com gsk

    I think I understand what you’re saying, Father, but I’ve only ever seen those well-heeled examples in the South. Here in New England folks are a little less buttoned-up. Where there are several generations in one place, it’s hard to stretch too far from your roots (there’s usually folks at the market or sports arenas who remember when you were uncoordinated and your teeth weren’t straight). I noticed that when people migrate (usually following jobs) they are free to recreate themselves, and if they keep the faith, they may try to justify their success in odd ways.

    The other factor is trying to live the Catholic faith in the Bible Belt, which gives rise to some theological clunkers (as Gail pointed out above). When mysticism and sacramentality are missing, the material world can end up being just a prop for piety. There is much to admire in the Evangelical community, but there are a host of toxins as well. Good piece, Father!

  • lethargic

    ” … the trophy botox …”

    Oh, you punched one of my buttons! Not only is cosmetic use of botox vain and silly in and of itself … it has made it far too expensive for many stroke and other brain injury patients to receive a valuable rehab therapy that involves the use of botox in spastic muscles … I won’t go into details, but the principle burns me to a crisp — innocent sick people being deprived of valuable therapy that helps them recover some use of paralyzed or semi-paralyzed limbs … placed out of reach because of vain rich people … grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  • Joseph

    A lot of people seem to miss the content of the post. I think Father is talking about swallow living. Living on the looks and not the heart of things. Exhorting success and achievement in terms of made up awards and shiny buildings, ties and cars. And when it comes to faith, the same mentality twist reality and orienting values into merely prim and proper appearances. Jesus spoke about this very same topic when he called particular groups of Pharisee “broods of vipers” who ware long robes with tassels but ignore what is valuable to God.

  • Shnikey

    I can really sympathize with this rant. We were discussing this in my TMIY group yesterday. I think that the ultimate mark of this on our “society” (It is not a culture because it doesn’t bear the marks of culture in my opinion, since we have very little in common with one another) is how we live our lives on Sunday. Yes, we are in the pew in the morning, but do we keep the rest of our day holy? Why would you shop on Sunday? Doesn’t that make you a participant in making someone else work on the Lord’s Day? We are so focused on our success that we don’t have the time during the week to take care of our needs during the rest of the week. This discussion got started because of the Black Friday craze and how our local Walmart ran out of parking places before it opened at 8pm on THANKSGIVING!! I have given all of this up, and have to constantly battle with the world to keep it from creeping back in. Why? Because almost everyone we are exposed to is caught up in it one way or another. I am like you Father. My wife likes to call me an Amish Catholic, because I have a love of the simpler things in life. I have contemplated moving to Oklahoma to be around Clear Creek Monastery, so my sons can be influenced by other REAL MEN, but I am always telling myself that I need to grow where I am, and not look for a panacea. That will be heaven, and I won’t find it on this side. Do you have any recommendations to try to create a more authentic Catholic culture where ever we are now, instead of looking for it elsewhere? That is my goal. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

    • Bonnie

      I don’t have suggestions, but I admire what you’re doing and your goal. I do think some time to think, quiet time to pray, are both essential and hard to find. There is a reason that entertainers and sports figures make the most money in our society. They distract us. We keep busy doing so that we are not thinking, thinking about some very important issues like who am I, why am I here, where am I going. Football keeps thought of our mortality – the really big scary issue – at bay. I am as guilty as the next person. We need to slow down, unplug, experience nature, talk less and listen more, ponder and pray. Easier said than done. Good luck to you and God bless you.

  • Woody

    I think Father got cut off by one of those cadillac SUVs in the church parking lot! Go gettem, Father.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      It was the guy in the Jaguar who thought he was being generous when he bought the box of Girl Scout cookies…

  • ThomasL

    And the take away is… Catholics shouldn’t play sports.

    Are you certain that your valid moral criticism has not at any point veered into mere criticism of different taste? When the two become muddled, people tend to ignore what you’ve said; or worse yet, write off morality as a mere difference in taste.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      No. I don’t mind sports. New blog post coming up on this subject…

      • ThomasL

        FWIW, I don’t really care for sports. Never have. But I do think it is important to make sure that admonitions are aimed precisely. No collateral damage in a moral strike, as it were. :)

        As to your central lament, I think Sayers’ “Letters to a Diminished Church” hit these points pretty hard. You may enjoy it.

    • Bob

      Sports are great but when a family orientates their life around travel sports spending weekend after weekend in other states and wife in one state the husband in another not to mention the thousands spent it is too much. A cousin did this routine looking for a division 1 scholarship but daughter didn’t want that life and went to division 3. She had been complaining that she wanted to do other things like art too.

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)

    One of my favorite quotations of Mother Theresa’s- ‘Faithfulness Not Success! ‘ Being Byzantine-Catholic- really a micro-jurisdiction- hated by the corresponding Orthodox church and misunderstood or ignored by the Roman rite- we will never be successful- that’s ok

    • Nan

      I’m sorry you feel the corresponding Orthodox Church hates you. I don’t find that in my locations; I have friends from both the OCA and the Greek Church. Then again, there are 2 Catholic and 1 Orthodox parish in close proximity, founded by people from the same geographic area which may make a difference.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    I’m reminded of this quote which can describe Catholics as well as Evangelicals:

    “[Evangelicals] seldom understand the Bible very well, know little about theology, buy heavily into the therapeutic culture of feel-goodism, and are caught up in a cycle of overspending and consumption like everyone else.”

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/12/004-more-scandals-of-the-evangelical-mind-13

    • Alex

      Some thoughts…

      (1) I agree that feel-goodism (great term, by the way) is shallow faith and ignores the most profound questions of our existence and relation to God. But a certain amount of feel-goodism is needed by the laity. I think this is part of the appeal of evangelical churches. The laity for the most part have immediate, first-person problems like paying the mortgage, saving for college/retirement, their dying aunt/uncle, etc., etc. They come to church seeking someone to pat them on the back and say “There, there. Everything will be allright.” This may be shallow, but I don’t blame people for seeking this from their church. In a sort-of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, most Americans are still in the material need category. It is difficult to move past this to become selfless, even partly so. I would like to see a little more feel-goodism in Catholic churches as a way to transition people to higher expressions of faith.

      (2) What is so bad about church as self-help? People have real problems. If a church isn’t offering people help with their individual needs, how can it expect people to be enthusiastic about serving others? I think a great example here is Dave Ramsey. DR is heavily promoted in evangelical circles for personal finance. His message is simple, not gimmicky, and provides actual help to people. But he also stresses the importance of service and giving, and he frequently refers to Christian principles. I would love to see Dave Ramsey or other such self-helpers promoted in Catholic churches. (Note: Dave Ramsey might be promoted in Catholic churches, I’m not sure. I’m just speaking from my own limited experience, in which I see a lot of self-help in evangelical churches and little from Catholic churches.)

      (3) Back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I’m sure many people look at middle class American existence and question how anyone with this amount of wealth and opportunity is not at the highest rungs of the ladder. If middle class Americans aren’t ready for service and self-actualization, who is? Well, I would say two things. First, service should be emphasized, and in my experience most church going Catholics perform at least some act of community service. So give credit where credit is due. But more to the point of this post, we need to take people as they are in the context of the current culture. How can we reach people when we discount their mundane concerns about student loans, credit card debt, mortgages, the economy, etc.? Though the middle class are by no means impoverished, they still need support. This is where the church could fill a useful role of self-help and networking. Also, the more worldly success that is fostered by local parishes, the more middle class parishoners will feel connected to their parish and hopefully they will be more inclined to give back.

      (4) This is an entire other post unto itself, but I would like to bring up tithing. I work with many evangelical professionals, and all of them tithe. Whether tithing is a truly Christian practice, or whether tithing should be required, frankly is beside the point. I am blown away by the fact that these evangelicals gladly give 10% of their incomes to their churches. I have never encountered Catholics who have done the same. I am not saying we should ask for tithing, but I think it is an interesting reflection as to some of the differences between the cultures in Catholic churches vs. evangelical churches vis-a-vis the relationship between worldly success and their faith.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        In future please use combox for short comments–not long posts.

      • lethargic

        Re tithing: (1) Our Catholic family tithes on our gross income. So we are out here. Have done for many years, began when I had an little epiphany about making my financial donations systematic rather than sporadic. In other words, I don’t wait for the missionary priests to come around, I have an annual plan and know who’s getting this month’s tithe check(s). I split it between the parish and other worthy charities, not the art museum, but bonafide charities. (2) I have only seen one Catholic diocese ask for parishioners to “tithe” 5%, and they weren’t asking directly for that amount to the parish/diocese, just saying that it would be nice for Catholics to give that much to charity. Of course, lots of mamby-pamby about everyone’s circumstancces being different, blah blah blah. I think Catholic bishops need to start being leaders and expecting and asking for more from all parishioners. Why not preach tithing, I mean 10% tithing, not fake tithing. I suppose that’s as bad as preaching about abortion, though, so not likely.

  • Becky

    “Get into the Honor Society!”

    I went to the freshman parent information night at my boys’ Jesuit high school a couple of years ago, and listened to all the speakers tell us how to get ready to parent our children as they made the transition into high school. The best and most important question I could think of, that had not been answered that night or in any school materials was, “How does hot lunch work?” So I raised my hand. Luckily, I was not called on. The first, second, third parents all asked about what they had to do to get their child into the National Honor Society. I felt so embarrassed. I put my hand down. I figured out the hot lunch process later.

  • B Riggs

    My diocese has opened 5 super large parishes in the suburbs in the past 25 years, while the Cathedral parish and other inner city parishes struggle. The “need” for these new parishes is the result of successful Catholics moving to these “melanin-free” zones along with the rest of the upwardly mobile population. I feel that an incredible witness has been lost. What would have happened to the inner city if Catholics of means remained there, maintained their properties and showed Christian love to the poorer people around them. Somehow, I think that Jesus would not have moved to a gated community to escape the lower classes.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      good point

    • Raquel

      B. Riggs, I think you may be romanticizing poverty a bit. Sometimes poverty also brings crime to a neighborhood and to neighborhood schools. When that happens, people are afraid to even go outside in their own yards. Not that I’m advocating gated communities, but let’s not criticize people for wanting to live in safe neighborhoods or send their kids to schools that are safe.

      • B Riggs

        As a person who remained in a small historic house district surrounded by poorer neighbors, I understand the downside of living in a poor area. I also realize that if we had school-age children, I might have become part of the exodus as well. That said, should Christians remove their salt from inner cities, sprinkling a little here and there with a check to a charity and a night or two occasionally serving in a soup kitchen? The very essence of Christ is to insert his love into the whole world, not to run from it to enhance our own safety. My question remains, what would have happened in cities if newly successful Catholics had stayed around to be Christ to their neighbors?

    • Ryan

      I’ve tried living in the slums. I got tired of having my car stolen and the one attempted carjacking. So-called “white flight” has much more to do with crime than with race.

  • AM Trausch

    I can’t recommend highly enough the novel “Morte D’Urban” by J.F. Powers, which deals in part with this phenomenon precisely.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I second the motion. It is an excellent and much under rated work.

      • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

        Me too. It’s something I reflect on almost weekly.

  • keith

    I see it in all churces. The bigger churches seem the worse. Baptists seem worse than catholics around here… but around here baptist churches are bigger.

  • keith

    A rich man going to heaven is like threading a camel through a needle.

  • Laura Reilly

    Spoiler alert: I think the guy having his neck crushed under to boot of his foe whilst he dies inhaling the muddy water of his fate in the opening scene of “Lincoln” aptly summarizes my current mindset. So, what is an American Catholic to do when her “shiny” citizens come at her with the heavy, burdensome moral yoke they think is so swell? Do I, the Catholic breadwinner, acquiesce to the yoke, directly spending my money on the immoral practices others’ demand, retaining health insurance for my husband and family? Do we say no with the net result, in time, being bankruptcy and being a part of those receiving welfare, funded by high-dollar-deficit-spending? Do we snap our fingers and move to another country where things are better (Where might that place be?). Perhaps, to some, I look like a “shiny” successful Catholic, but looks are deceiving. It would be easier, IMHO, to pick up a shield with Our Lady on the back and a spear and take an obvious stand for Our Blessed Lord’s teachings. In this place, that doesn’t seem likely. It seems I can look forward to being slowly asphyxiated by sin, greed and blind materialism, all battled out in a courtroom by lawyers. God save us!

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      From your reply it doesn’t sound like you fall into my ‘shiny’ category.

  • David

    Celibate, childless priests, whose income depends on a collection basket, often convey a cluelessness as to why people spend so much time seeking “success”: (1) obtaining decent housing, good education (maybe even Catholic schools–dare to dream), healthcare for a family is extremely costly–and you have to work for that, not just pass a collection basket around; (2) given the stagnation in our economy, many people reasonably fear real downward mobility absent extraordinary achievement: (3) for men, commercial success is frequently an utter prerequisite to their access to sexual companionship, for women are as incurably aristocratic as men are carnal. In other words, forget about the “trophy” wife–a wife and kids is not only a blessing from the Lord, but frequently a blessing mediated through alot of hard work.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      You have misunderstood the post completely.

      • Ethir

        Perhaps you should write a clarification. At first I was ready to give you a hearty “Amen” to your post, but after reading the comments in the com box, I’ve made a complete reversal. Both sides have great thoughts. Thanks.

    • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

      I can’t think of anyone in my extended family who has sought success as I understand it, yet they all are happy and fairly unstressed considering the fallen world we inhabit.

    • Ryan

      Amen!

    • Thomas R

      “for women are as incurably aristocratic as men are carnal.”

      Nice bashing of both sexes there. I think you can find women who aren’t that focused on material success in a man. Granted I think most women probably do want a man who makes as much, or more, money than she does but that doesn’t necessarily mean aristocratic. And even then there are exceptions. (Plenty of women intentionally want a poorer guy, I’ve certainly seen this, because they think he’s more colorful or in some cases will be less able to dominate her)

  • Daniel John

    Father, were you ever a songwriter? Did you write “Little Piggies”, the Beatles worst song? So our real Catholic problem is the well-dressed churchgoers? Hmmm. I’ve been focused on the 42% of regular church-attending Catholics who heard and participated in the Liturgy weekly and still voted for anti-subsidiarism and cooperated in promoting intrinsic evil and grave moral error. Maybe they heard sermons that were like your rant and were left unclear as to the clear teachings of the Church and Her Holy Spirit-guided magisterium. The HHS mandated was a challenge. The American clergy ignoring canon 915 was seen as a weakness. The Party of Child Sacrifice wagered that the Church in America was weak, split, and unfocused. They were right and you, Father, are an exemplar of the current state of American Catholicism.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I think you may be reading far more into the post than is there.

  • Pingback: Those "Successful" Catholics | Access Catholic

  • Alex

    Will do. My apologies. Thoughtful blog, excellent twitter feed. Just gets me thinking.

  • Thierry P Wersinger

    guess it is this unique American collision of Calvinism and consumerism which results in this shallow approach where niceness is the goal not goodness. The root cause is ignoring the mystery of suffering. Without the Cross there can be no true happiness! In Europe this is less of a problem because of the mass exodus of nice successful people out of the Church when the social stigma of being unchurched vanished mostly in the 60ies / 70 ies, earler in countries such as France a little later in Southern Europe and Ireland. This is one of the main factors in the big difference between an apparently still vibrant religiosity in the US and its parallel implosion in Old Europe.
    The way I see it the proportion of people who really get it is not much different across the World: between 5 or 10% of the population. I understand this is about what it was when the Church became institutionalized in 4th century Rome. The bottom line, we have a lot to do and it starts with our own conversion from trying to be nice successful Catholics.

  • http://lexanteinternet.blogspot.com/ Pat H

    Very fine article.

  • http://lexanteinternet.blogspot.com/ Pat H

    To add just a bit, I think the wealth equals favor with God view, or that wealth is a temporal award for Christian behavior, or in its extreme version “do these things and God will grant you wealth” dates back to Puritan influence in the United States. How it spread in recent times to Catholics, however, is an interesting question. It’d make for a detailed post in and of itself, but there was a big shift in Catholic economic prospects following World War Two, after which for the first time the US Catholic demographic could easily attended university in the US. Prior to that, most Catholics did not, and most worked at blue collar occupations of one kind or another (with certain exceptions). After the war, with the GI bill, Catholics started really attending college for the first time in the US.

    Following that came the Catholic President, JFK, and a general view amongst Catholics that they’d really arrived in the mainstream, to be followed by the chaos of the 60s and 70s, overlapped by the changes that either came from Vatican II or seemed to come from Vatican II. With all that, my guess is that the original strongly held Catholic views on wealth not necessarily equaling favor with God became muted.

  • Daniel John

    Your title is a paraphrase substituting “successful Catholics” for “evil.” What exactly have I misunderstood? If I’m reading too much, is it more than Evil? My point is that your presumptions about SUV driving Catholics is at best a distraction from the Evil Elephant about which you ought to be messaging.

  • Pattie, RN

    Father, I think that many of the comments here have been written by cultural Catholics, whose religous education and deep participation in the life of the Church ended with their confirmation at age 14!

    And yes, we have bought into the Evangelical claptrap about prosperity, health, and a shiny, happy family being appropriate measures of God’s favor. We want to turn away from the fellow Catholic who lost his job, the single woman living in a trailer caring for elderly parents, the family dealing with cancer or mental illness; often wondering what they “did wrong” and being glad it is not US. There is nothing wrong with being rich, nor is there any stigma in being poor. I beleive that Father’s point is that we are SO obsessed with being the best in everything, having the “right” job, home, car, and kids; that we simply forget Who we are here for, and what He wants us to do in our lives. If your strength, your happiness, your security, and your focus are on anything EXCEPT Jesus Christ and His loving plan for YOUR life, then you are worshipping at the altar of a false god. The old saying is true….we are here on earth to love people and use things, and most of America has it backwards.

  • http://gilberthouse.blogspot.com Miki Tracy

    I am the co-foundress of a Catholic Worker house. We’ve been up and running for eight years. The roof on our house not only leaks; it rains on occassion in our dining room. We run our house–raise food for those who need it, put people on busses to get away from abusers, let abused teenagers, women and girls surf our sofa, call our place home, raid our frig…we go out in the middle of the night during the winters to find the homeless we know are out there, bring them a thermos, get them out of the cold–we run our house on less that 20K a year. Right now, we’re a month behind on the mortgage because, well, we have *work* to do. Next week, I’m adopting one of our “kids” in a court of law not just because I love like my own daughter, but she *needs* that bond for her own mental health and well-being….The cost of running our house just got a little steeper.

    I used to have “a real job.” You know–one that came with a cushy cheque and a nice 401k matching policy. And then it dawned on me: the Gospels say something else.

    I’m no Commie Cafeteria Catholic. I’m towing the line, and everyone who knows the work of our house knows that much–and that fact alone has cost us dearly when it comes to the support of others in the work we do. You know who volunteers at our house??? Young, bouy-less anarchists looking for a cause in life. You know who donates clothes and blankets and winter gear to our house??? Single mothers with deadbeat exes. You know who sends/ monetary support to our house most often??? With the exception of one lone curmudgeon who actually has bank, all of our outside financial support comes either from friends who are just barely getting by themselves, *or* it gets dropped off in sweaty wads of cash (usually Washingtons) by the “illegal” Mexican migrant labourers who all work their asses off at the big dairy farm up the road–including the one Catholic family who sends their 11 year-old-daughter in to do the talking because she “knows English;” the same Catholic family who attends “church” at our local Watchtower Society Kingdom Hall because the people in our local Catholic parish treated them so coldly….

    …But when I’ve actually *asked* the wealthy to support our cause–especially wealthy Catholics??? You’ve never seen contempt on such a grand scale.

    I’d love to go to a Catholic village in some far off place, where subsidiarity is not only understood, but practised. But my calling is here…and I’m surrounded by shiny Catholics and Protestants on all sides. Goats to the left!

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Beautiful! Thanks for your words. I have found the same working in a poor parish…

    • Ryan

      The illegals (no quotes needed) don’t have to pay income taxes. Of course they have money to donate.

  • Daniel John

    Further, I take no pride in not being “shiny” by your judgment. You do not know me just as you do not know the hearts of the “shiny” ones. But you do know the hearts of those who form policy & vote against our Church while claiming to be amongst us. Your message is just misplaced given our current situation and does not help us in our next battle. Are we to be Nineveh or Gomorrah?

  • Liesa Gonzalez

    @Bob, my husband took “that promotion in which he has to travel more and spend less time with his children”, because we have six children to support on one income. We live a very modest life (though we have been blessed to provide some extra luxuries for our children occasionally). Money is tight. We have zero in savings and we live in trust that God will provide. We tithe and we do what we can for the poor. In this economy, my husband really had no choice. He is 52, and getting a different job is not a good prospect. Jobs are not plentiful these days and the competition is fierce.

    • Bob

      I said he took that job to keep up with his peers. He needed it to pay for a house beyond their means. Your situation is different your needed that job to get by of course you take it and I pray that God will bless your family. What I was saying is we need to be careful what is our priority God or money. Everybody has the right to whatever is necessary to provide for their family but when it becomes to get that larger house at the expense of family we are going into dangerous waters.

  • Bill

    David

    Father is a married man with kids. So the broad generalization on celibate priests backfires here.

    Many others just aren’t getting the point. I agree with the posters who say American Catholics have Protestant DNA. Mark Shea refers to this as a land where everyone is a Protestant, even the Catholics.

    The Protestant work ethic, like all heresy, has truth and goodness wrapped up in error. It’s noble to have productive labor. It’s not holy to get lots of stuff.

    • Ryan

      How much is lots?

  • Mariusz

    The best antidote for this pathetic infatuation with status and stuff is repeating at least three times a day “Memento mori” – remember that you are going to die. We are all mortal and we certainly can’t take any of these allures with us. If really understood and mentally assimilated, this absolute truth has a truly sobering effect.

  • Beth Murphy

    The post was fun to read initially. I got that “yeah, yeah down with the successful competitive shiny Catholic” feeling.. I was giddy reading the responses. One for shiny wealthy Catholics, one for dirty poor Catholics. fight!, fight!, fight! Gather round family, – should we bet on who will win?
    I need a shower; better yet I need confession. I just remembered why I had stopped visiting blog sites over a year ago. I am repulsed by polarizing people – myself included. We ought to be promoting unity, not disunity. But I guess that won’t get people responding to a blog. I think I need to ask myself what prompted me to come back to something that repulses me? I got some soul searching to do. By the way, if you hadn’t noticed, the same competition you claim to despise – you just recreated it in your beloved readers.
    Sacred heart of Jesus, have mercy on us all!

  • markrite

    On one level, I can scarcely believe what I’m reading, but on another, it’s kind of understandable. For we’re a tremendously BADLY formed bunch of Catholics out there in America, and the closer you get to the younger of the ages of the respondents of this post by Fr. Longnecker, the WORSE is the obviously SHALLOWLY formed of the Catholic. Put another way, years ago I had a very intense conversation with a close relative about WHERE he was sending his kids to Catholic school, and that’s because I checked into said school, and found posted on the wall near its main office, a sentence that flashed inwardly to me: “suspicions confirmed!” The sentence showing on the wall was in the context of a broader statement about the mission of said Catholic school: ” we are attempting to form “UPWARDLY MOBILE CATHOLICS,” etc. (it was a Catholic high school) We shouldn’t be sending our children to Catholic school to be “upwardly mobile,’ we should be sending them to the school to LEARN AND LIVE THEIR CATHOLC FAITH, EVEN TO THE POINT OF MARTYRDOM, IF NECESSARY! If we’re not trying to do that, then WHAT’S THE POINT? Will anyone save their immortal soul by being taught to be an “UPWARDLY MOBILE CATHOLIC”? I think NOT! ESPECIALLY NOW, when the White House has been captured (again) by DEMONIC VILENESS. (strictly my opinion) We’re in CRISIS, people! Wake up and smell the spiritual coffee! The hour is late! And very recently, a “comedian” attending the Soul Music awards referred to the chief propagator of aforementioned “vileness” in the White House as “our lord and savior.” I think he meant it as a slap to all those “flyover” people who voted against Obummer, showing possibly his contempt for ALL the Judeo-Christians, among the 58 million or so who voted to keep the liar-in-chief out of office, but what if Jamie Foxx was DEADLY SERIOUS? Things are really getting scary out there in Amerika, perhaps Blessed Fulton Sheen’s statement made many years ago that there will come a time in America that “the only way to stop the knocking of knees in fright will be to kneel in prayer” (paraphrased) is coming true, faster than we may think. GOD BLESS ALL, MARKRITE

  • Paul Moeller

    This is a brilliant piece. I love it.

  • InformedAndFree

    Wow! I can honestly say I don’t know any trophy wife, botox, mansion-living Catholics at my parish.
    However I do know some with nice cars but then again, I don’t judge people by what they drive. In our parish we do have some wealthy folks but they don’t stand out from the rest of us by outward appearances such as the type Father suggests.

    In our diocese and the surrounding ones we have a Catholics at Work or a Catholic Professional and Business Forum where speakers come and talk about holiness and ethics and living the gospels through their business-life. Again these organizations are not full of trophy wives or the type of people Father describes. But I believe as Father does that the status-loving Catholics are out there.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve been blessed by not seeing these problem people in the few parishes I’ve belonged to over the years, but Father must be surrounded by them – at least enough of them to elicit this very passionate blog post. You have a big job Father. Please continue to be the voice of moderation in a materialistic world.

  • Rosemary Ermis

    I still chuckle when I think of Rosalind Russell’s remark in her autobiography about her Catholic Church she named “Our Lady of the Cadillacs.” One of my favorite lines is from “The Old Rugged Cross” — “I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross, til my trophies at last I lay down…..” I’ve meditated a lot on that line for years.

  • Zwetschgenkrampus

    Wow, Father, judging from the number of outraged responses, reaching nearly, but not quite into “How-dare-you-you-incompetent-swine” territory, you have hit some raw nerves here … If I wanted to dumb your text down, I’d probably sum it up as “They who die with the most toys win – NOT”.

    Now, people, I am not a US citizen, so I’ll probably get it wrong, but the “pursuit of happiness” granted to everybody by your constitution is often taken to mean “be free to make as much money as you can legally can, and then some”. However, some people beg to differ. One of them was a certain Rabbi, some 2000 years ago, who made a pious and wealthy young man very sad when he counselled him that, in order to be perfectly acceptable to God, he (the pious and wealthy young man) needed to give everything he owned to the poor. The Rabbi did not enquire into the young man’s family situation or other details – he just said that.

  • Deb

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Just sayin’.

  • Nina

    Haha, for maybe once, I actually agree with Father Dwight Longenecker! All I can say is Don Bosco’s little losing streak makes me smirk. Just sayin’.

    You see a LOT of the attitude Father Longenecker is addressing in the northeast Catholic prep schools. Not so much the city ones, but very definitely the suburban ones. Delbarton, Seton Hall Prep, St. Peter’s, Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic, St. Joe’s…yep, I’m talkin’ to you…

    Frankly, the kid I had the most trouble with was the one who went to the Prep and then on to Fordham (the attitude is also prevalent at the northeast corridor Catholic colleges — BC, Holy Cross, Fordham, PC — the “richer” ones — not necessarily St. Joe’s Philly or LaSalle or Manhattan — working class values are the norm there). Took a long time for him to realize the world did not owe him everything on a silver platter. If one good thing came from the economic meltdown, it was that particular kid graduating in 2008 and having the rug pulled out from under him jobwise.

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    I don’t know what is so hard to understand about Father’s post. Catholics, precisely because we are Catholic, can’t measure success from a secular perpective thinking success as the world sees it, is all there is. Is our relationship with God driving our actions and our lives? If so, that’s “success” from a Christian perspective. Father is not saying Catholics should not have careers or live in nice houses or have nice cars, he is simply stating that all these things are not really success if our relations with God and his Church is not a priority.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      You got it.

      • Ethir

        I got it now, too. Thanks!

  • PLynn

    Thank you kindly, Father. I found this post thought-provoking. Surely we are all a little plastic when we put worldly things first. We can all examine our own attitudes even if we are not blatant trophy collectors. When I invite people over, does everything have to be “just so” or is hospitality more important? I also like what one commenter said about keeping the Lord’s Day holy—so many ways to de-plasticize ourselves!

    I have noticed your street-preaching streak lately, and am sure glad to be in the online neighborhood to hear it! Preach away, Father. We’ve had our ears tickled long enough. It is edifying lately to hear many priests speaking truth in these times!

  • R Plavo

    Generally, I have found that Catholics are Americans first, Catholic second, and Christian third (maybe)

  • Anne

    Your reference to the damp lands as if they are a place of refuge from consumerism … have you forgotten how the British are always ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and booking next year’s holiday? People in the States are optimistic – ‘I’m going to work hard and get rich, yee hah’, whereas here they wear a sour expression as they begrudge the neighbour’s new car. They’re currently running ads on the radio urging people to turn in their neighbours for suspected tax evasion; it’s such a negative place. We’re only less materialistic because we have no money left after tax, not because our mindset is different! The Catholic schools are funded by state and diocese, where the RE curriculum considers opinion, atheism and other faiths until the children don’t know which way is up. I sent a couple of my children there. I will not send the others. Great post, but England as somehow, in any way at all, better? I don’t think so.

  • exisle

    Careful, Father, you don’t want to tarnish our golden idol!
    It’s always a hoot to watch the pampered western wealthy Catholic/Christian world do the indignant runaround when reminded of how greedy and superficial we can be. All the good rich folk that do good with those throwaway riches, just bristling at the slightest mention that things may not be as they seem.

    “I know that the Lord will do justice to the needy, and will revenge the poor.” Kind of makes us a little nervous perhaps. And in the end, all the indignant defenses of our pampered lifestyles might not be enough to drown out those words we stuff away in the dark corners of our self-righteous consciences. Try as we might. “I know that the Lord will do justice to the needy, and will revenge the poor.”

    The dogs are out there licking at Lazarus’s sores, but according to Christ’s parable, the likes of Lazarus will have eternal riches, while the rich man in that story didn’t fare so well, eternally that is. I’m writing this on the feast of the Immaculate Conception and am reminded of our Lady’s beautiful words during the Visitation, “He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.”

    Sometimes just have to wonder if we really believe that this life is just a blink of an eye compared to eternity.
    The Church needs just about every wild-eyed prophet it can find these days, so don’t stop Father. You aren’t even half-way wild-eyed yet! God bless.

    Ave Maria.

  • Sophia

    Beautiful article! Makes me think of the Bible-Jesus, John the Baptist.
    “Speak, and do not be silent, for I am with you”.


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