Thus says the LORD the God of hosts: Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches (Amos 6:1; 4)
With Mass attendance suffering, parishes closing, and Catholic belief in doctrine such as the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist dropping off, we must admit that besides a damaging wave of secularism there has been a red tide of complacency in the Church that has brought us to this state. True, we face challenges as great as in any pagan era; however we also bear the blame of being too slow to respond to these challenges and perhaps even too polite in our approach to an aggressive culture intent on stamping out Christ in the world.
This is not to suggest that the Church should become a counter-puncher or a bellicose adversary. It should simply begin to do what it does best when it is at its best: proclaim the word of God clearly and distinctly, without reservations or hesitations, in love, but in perfect truth, without fear or doubt.
Doubt about speaking the truth will always leave a Churchman resting on a couch of complacency. First he avoids speaking the truths of the faith because he does not want to offend or to appear negative or “mean”. He may even come to fear to speak the truth. By avoiding church teaching on “controversial” subjects he may become more accepted by society. This comforts him. He finally rests in this comfort without realizing the he has put the Church and himself in danger; for in the end religious complacency is false consolation, a lack of awareness that the peril one avoids continues to grow in the absence of diligence and true devotion.
To further make this point, our bulletin cover for this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time dons the image entitled The Missionary’s Adventures painted in 1883 by the French Academician, Jehan Georges Vibert.
The subject of this painting is both obvious and chock-full of allegory. Here we see a missionary just returned from spreading the gospel abroad. He leans forward on the edge of his seat balancing on the tips of his toes, pointing to a wound he received; mouth open, eyes and head forward, all indicative of one who is steadfast in the faith and spirited in evangelism. He has an audience of three. On the far left is a cardinal holding a cigarette and a cup of tea leaning back with legs crossed and apparently now asleep. To his left (our right) is another prelate sitting in a casual posture also resting on pillows with a look of skepticism or disapproval. The third person, an elderly priest or religious, wipes his eyes literally bored to tears (or is he wiping a tear in memory of his own missionary days, before he too became comfortable)? Allegorically, this work should stir the conscience of every Catholic.
Now not every Catholic is called to be a missionary or evangelist; these are special gifts. Yet all are called to be disciples, that is, to be pupils and followers of Christ. The priests and the missionary which are here portrayed in Vibert’s incisive painting offer an opportunity for each of us to examine two sides of ourselves: the side that uses the gifts of God for personal gain and the side that uses these gifts for God’s kingdom.
Vibert prompts the disciple inside of you to favor the latter and so he “hangs” above his comfy couch Ribera’s Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew. This painting-within-a-painting is literally the crux of the matter; for the Church cannot witness successfully in nicety and comfort, but only through the loving zeal of the cross of Jesus Christ.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services