I found myself in a foul mood today because some of the glittering successful people snubbed me. I was in their world, but I walked out on it, so they erased me from their history. OK. I deserved it, but it got me thinking about the strange games we play in the world of religion.
We try to make our religious organizations–parishes, schools, religious communities–whatever–shiny and “successful”. In America we are so enchanted by the glittery god of success and shiny wonderfulness that we try to make our religious communities like that too. So Father Wonderful presents himself not just as Jesus but as the handsome, suave, Mr. America–not only totally successful but hey! I’m holy too! Or a founder of a religious order makes all his young men comb their hair and shine their shoes and says “Yessir! Nossir! Three bags full sir!”
We’re all running around trying to make ourselves religiously wonderful and shiny and perfect and in the meantime we’re giving ourselves the equivalent of spiritual boob jobs and botox. It’s all fake. I don’t believe any of it. I especially don’t believe it about me because hey, guess what, I’m in the game too. I have publishers who want a glossy image of the writer to adorn their books. I have people in parishes who want a glossy “celebrity Catholic writer” to lead their parish mission. I have conference organizers who want me to be the wonderful convert priest who comes to tell his story and thrill their audience.
That is very seductive. It is not only seductive for me, but here is the creepy part–it is seductive for the audience too. You see, they want a hero. They want a plaster saint. They want Father Wonderful to be up there on his pedestal so they can worship him rather than God. They collude with the whole artificial religious Disneyland because that kind of religious world (and it happens in Catholicism and Protestantism, in traddy groups and trendy groups) is safer, easier and more comfortable than real religion.
Real religion is grit not glitter. That’s why I don’t trust the glitzy, glamorous, glittering examples of religion. I also don’t trust the phony religious people who parade their poverty and brag about how they live on just a few dollars a week while everyone who thinks it through knows they get a house, a car, a phone, utilities, an insurance policy and a retirement plan, a job for life and all expenses paid. I know plenty of working Dads who would be happy to have that kind of poverty.
Give me the graft and the grit of authentic religion–the humble hard working priest who never complains or the simple sister who spends her life serving the poor. Give me the authentic heroic virtue of the saints.
I may never reach that summit, but that’s the mountain I want to climb.