I have two boys in college.
Last year, my oldest son spent the year living in a frat house. Along with myself, the health department and Fire Marshall were none too pleased with the living conditions.
This year, when both boys moved into their respective apartments on campus, the dirty frat house became the standard of cleanliness to which the apartments were compared. “Well, it’s better than the frat house,” became my husband’s response to dusty floors and grimy sinks. And he was right. The frat house made everything it was compared to look cleaner and brighter because there was a new, lower standard of cleanliness in our lives.
I made an appointment with the priest last week to go to confession. Confession is one of the Sacraments that many Catholics, including myself, don’t embrace as much as we should.
I couldn’t help but think of the frat house when I made that appointment. It reminded me that many of us have lowered our standards to such a degree that we don’t consider ourselves “sinners.” We don’t feel we need confession because, as Monica Cops writes in All Things Girl: Truth for Teens :
Many people might say: “But I didn’t kill anybody, so why do I need to go to confession? I’m a good person, I help my neighbor, and I’m honest and kind.” This may all be true; but there is more to take into consideration than just those points.
Monica goes on to write an Examination of Conscience for teens based upon the Ten Commandments. It occurred to me that what Monica has done for teens (and for adults who thumb through the book) is sort of what the health department did for the frat house: went through a list of items that were either able to be checked and considered “okay” or weren’t able to be checked and needed “cleaning.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput, speaking before an audience in Sydney, Australia where the topic was “Mission Possible: This Double Life Will Self-Destruct,” has warned of an apathy towards our own behaviors and the subsequent “reinventing of Christ.” The Archbishop said:
We can’t live a half-way Christianity. The organizers of tonight’s event were right [those who named it ‘Mission Possible: This Double Life Will Self-Destruct’]. Every double life will inevitably self-destruct. The question then becomes: How are we going to live in this world? How can we lead a Christian life in a secular age? We can’t really answer that question until we get some things straight about what it means to be a Christian. And that means first getting some things straight about Jesus Christ.
This is another one of the by-products of our secular age: we don’t really quite know what to think about Jesus anymore.
A few years before he became Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote something that is unfortunately very true. He wrote: "Today in broad circles, even among believers, an image has prevailed of a Jesus who demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us. . . . The figure is transformed from the ‘Lord’ (a word that is avoided) into a man who is nothing more than the advocate of all men."
We all know people — friends or family members or both — who think about Jesus in these terms. It’s hard to avoid. Our culture has given Jesus a make-over. We’ve remade him in the image and likeness of secular compassion. Today he’s not the Lord, the Son of God, but more like an enlightened humanist nice guy.
Essentially, it comes down to the fact that we have applied secular standards of “cleanliness” to our daily lives and have forgotten that there are eternal consequences. We’ve warmed up to Christ in a way that we no longer see Him as judge but simply as “Mr. Nice Guy.” We consider ourselves sin-free because compared to some of the really bad things that people do, well, we’re fine!
The Way It All Comes Together
I admit that I was surprised and saddened at how many parents shrugged their shoulders and said, “That’s a frat house for ya!” They were willing to let their sons live in squalor by succumbing to the lame argument that this was “just how young guys lived.” That somehow that made it acceptable.
I realize that this is exactly what many of us have done with our own actions as well. Just as Monica points out, we say we haven’t murdered anyone and that we’ve been kind to our neighbors so surely we are “okay” with God and with the world when, in reality, we ought to be very cautious about this complacency. The possibility for our own transformation vanishes.
But consider the frat house. Commitment and hard work changed the frat house. What was considered unlivable became livable. What once couldn’t pass inspection soon passed inspection with flying colors. However, this transformation required a respect of authority, a willingness to listen to what needed to be done and some serious follow-through.
In lowering our spiritual standards, we jeopardize our eternal souls. Instead of being aware and concerned, we become contented and gullible. We give way to a false sense of security that says Jesus is “a great guy” with nary a judgmental bone in His body. In making Him ‘friend’ we have forgotten that He is also judge and jury and that He will be dividing the flock– sending some to the right and others to the left.
We’ve heard it said that people only rise to the lowest expectation made of them and yet we never see it as applying to us, individually. But, like the frat house experience, I can assure you that each and every one of us easily falls into this way of thinking.
If you wonder if this lower standard is applicable in your life, ask yourself one question: When was the last time I was at confession?