THE DANGER OF COMPLACENCY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Is 2:1-5; Ps 122:1-2, 4-5, 6-9; Rom 13:11-14; Matt 24:37-44]
The Catholic Church boasts of being the oldest Christian institution in history and the longest as well. We are rich in traditions and we have a long history that can be traced to the first apostles. That is why we are proud of our apostolic succession as a guarantee of the authenticity of our faith. Yet, after 2000 years of tradition and with many traditions also accumulated over time, the Church as an institution can become too huge to respond to challenges and changes in our history. We want to maintain the long established traditions and practices of the Church even when they no longer speak to the people of this generation.
This, I feel, is what is happening to the Church at large as well. Simply because we are a big Church, ancient and established, many of us take refuge in that the Church will be able to withstand the test of time. We want to glorify our past, the traditions that we have inherited. We are not willing to change and adapt to the times. In fact, there is a group that seeks to go back to the olden days. Perhaps, some who are nostalgic about those days might feel such ancient liturgy inspiring. But in most situations, many are attracted to join other churches because they feel that their message is more relevant and they feel helped and inspired in their life. We can insist on our traditions and our ancient liturgy and doctrines. But people will be drawn towards those that help them to encounter God personally and have their lives touched and drawn closer to the Lord.
Indeed, this is the danger of complacency when an organization has grown so big and established in a place for too long. We can take our ministry for granted and the mission we have carved for ourselves. We can fall into routine as many organizations do. We take for granted where we have arrived and all the glories and achievements of our founders and leaders before us. Instead of adding on to what they have achieved and making further improvements on past achievements, we are contented to rest on our laurels. We have become so proud and arrogant of our organizations that those who are not happy with us are not encouraged to stay. We will not even miss them, so unlike the gospel that asks us to even reach out to the lost sheep. Here, many of our sheep are lost, injured, wounded and abandoned. But we are adamant. They must repent and come back to us and do things our ways. Otherwise, they can leave us. This is the arrogance of an organization that has become too confident and sure of itself.
This was the case of the Romans. St Paul warned them about their complacency. They were converted to the Lord but they were not living the Christian life. Hence, St Paul wrote to them, “You know ‘the time’ has come: you must wake up now: our salvation is even nearer than it was when we were converted.” St Paul urged them not to take their baptism for granted. Just because they were baptized did not mean that they were living enlightened lives. In fact, many of them were living promiscuously, involved in drunken orgies, licentiousness, wrangling and jealousy. Their lives were like that of the pagans. So although baptized, they had not been receptive to the salvation that the Lord had given to them. It is within this context that St Paul urged them saying, “The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon – let us give up all the things we prefer to do under the cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, as baptized Christians we must show ourselves to be who we are in the Lord, living a life that is true to our identity and calling in Christ.
Jesus warned us about doing the same thing again and again. Routine faith is what destroys us. “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.” Indeed, we are so used to doing the same thing, day in and day out, that we lose our creativity, initiative and adventure. We need to be more conscious of what we do in our faith and in our apostolate and not fall into routine. This is the greatest temptation for us priests and religious because of our set ways, organized schedules and programs. We do not leave room for surprises, initiative and undertaking new things.
We need to be awakened to the signs of the time so that we can be relevant. Sometimes, people want the tradition to be preserved at the expense of connectivity and relevance. We can continue to live in our tradition but who cares! We can say we have the right doctrine, right liturgy but people cannot connect with God. The Protestants lead people to God, give them meaning and purpose and hope. We say, “O their theology is wrong, the prosperity gospel is not of the gospel, their praise and worship is mere sentimentalism and emotionalism”. But for people who are in it, they find these helpful in their lives. What, then, can we say? Our doctrines may be true, but people cannot connect with us or see the truth of what we are proclaiming. If our faith does not serve them, we do not expect them to be interested.
Hence, the message is to stay awake. The Lord urges us, “So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” It means that we must be relevant to the challenges and the changing trends of our people today. This is what it means to be alert when the master comes. In other words, we must be connected to the struggles of our people in dealing with the current trends in the world, with regard to the redefinition of marriage, family, procreation, abortion, sexuality, etc. How are we responding to these challenges?
In some ways, we are happy that as Church we have done well in many areas, especially in our social and pastoral services. We reach out to those who suffer from domestic violence and exploitation, single mothers, children experiencing challenges in their families as well as from disadvantaged households, persons who are trafficked, migrants, refugees, the development of rural communities and youth at risk. We also reach out to people in need of healing, persons with HIV/AIDS and children from low-income families and indigenous groups. Our educational services include daycare, nursery, kindergarten, primary and secondary, college and university education.
But we cannot take these achievements for granted. We must endeavor to remain connected and relevant. Advent is a season of hope and a new beginning. It is the occasion to revive our dreams as well. How do we do this? Gratitude, the memory of our heart is what will excite us to dream the dream of our fathers. The only way we can remain relevant requires that we must first be grateful for the past. Gratitude presupposes that we remember past events and the blessings we have received. Only true gratitude and remembrance of God’s blessings and love can lead us to thanksgiving. When we thank God for all that we are today, we become grateful to Him and this gratitude is always expressed in wanting to share what the Lord has blessed us with others. Thanksgiving in other words, always leads to action. We thank God for our faith and our Church, traditions and institutions. But we also want to ensure that we are responding to the needs and challenges of the situation in our times, a technological, scientific, secular, individualistic and materialistic world.
So today, like the Israelites, we must go to the Temple of the Lord to reassess our strategy and reclaim the charisms of our founders and find new ways to make them relevant to our people whom we serve. We should not be at a stalemate. Rather, we should be moving forward and be like the man with two and five talents who took risks in investing the money the master entrusted to them, rather than the man with one talent trying to preserve what he inherited instead of making it grow. Indeed, we must “go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths; since the Law will go out from Zion, and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Only then can we walk in the light of the Lord and bring others with us to enter the House of God. “I rejoiced when I heard them say: ‘Let us go to God’s house.’ And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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