Stinking Church Thinking

Recently I gave a talk to some young people about the three philosophies in the book Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly that lead to what Matthew calls, “stinking thinking”. The philosophies are individualism, minimalism, and hedonism, and each one plagues our country in different ways.  I have heard talks about these three philosophies and have read much about them in the past and I thought I had grasped a full sense of what they were all about, but now I realize they have affected more than just the world but sadly also our Church. 

For example let’s look at hedonism, which is the philosophy of, “if it feels good, then do it”. The ultimate goal of hedonism is pleasure and comfort. One form of comfort in the Church is staying within our walls and not going out to spread the joy of Christ to others!. It’s so much easier to just stay inside our comfort zones of what we know and never challenge ourselves to go out and tell others about Jesus and His amazing offer of salvation and love! In a sense we are being hedonists whenever we pass up opportunities because we want to be comfortable. One of the great battle cries of Pope Benedict XVI was, “the world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness!” and I think he was speaking against a philosophy of pleasure in the Church like this.

Another philosophy is individualism. The philosophy of the individualist is, “What’s in it for me” or “What do I get out of this?” In some ways as a Church we have become individualistic in how we think. It seems like pulling teeth to get parishes to work together on things sometimes! Why? Because everyone is afraid of getting their “flocks poached”, basically afraid that parishioners will leave their parish if they see another one. We are one Church! Christ is not divided. What happens to one part of the body affects the rest. We have to not be so “self-referential” as Pope Francis often says in the Joy of the Gospel, full of envy for how other parishes do. We’re on the same team! When we throw up walls between our parishes we are being a Church of individualists. 

Finally the philosophy of minimalism is “what is the least I can do and get the most results?”, basically a principle of mediocrity. In many ways we practically ask ourselves, “What is the least I can do and still keep my job? What is the least I can do and still stay healthy? What is the least I can do to keep my girlfriend or boyfriend happy?” and the list goes on. In many ways we as a Church have not tried to put forth the effort and resources needed to thrive. We have not put effort into making people feel welcome, or having music that sounds good, or creating programs that will nourish many parishioners. It’s been in maintenance mode. God calls us to be all we can be. We are being a minimalist Church when we ask “What is the least I can do?” 

We should not get down or sad when we look at these struggles we face though. No we have been through similar struggles before and by the love of Christ we have been victorious! Yet we should all look starting with ourselves at how we can dig out our bad habits and philosophies for those of Jesus Christ who has called us to an abundance of life. I pray that we all take time to consider where God is calling us this day as Church  and what our response will be.