I really don’t think I’m being cynical, but I’ve decided that one of the biggest disasters is the Utopia instinct. This is the instinct in the human race (and part of our fallen condition) to create perfect little worlds. Someone comes along with an ideology which will solve all our problems and we go trooping off to join him and his mission from God.
We’re suckers for politicians who feed us a dreamy lie. We’re suckers for the advertising and media men who sell us a dreamy lie to get us to buy a particular product or a particular way of life. We’re suckers for religious leaders who give us a dreamy lie about the new life and the wonderful community they have on offer.
Now this is tricky because if we follow Christ we really do believe in a new kind of life–a life that is abundant and free. However, any kind of political or religious leader or any kind of political or religious method or community who offer this to us is very often offering us some kind of easy way to the new life, and easiest is rarely best.
What troubles me about new religious communities or a particularly charismatic priest who is setting up a ‘movement’ (like Marcel Maciel and the Legionnairies) is that too often they will attract people who want to believe in the dreamy lie rather than the hard reality that the spiritual life really offers. Of course, there are many for whom a movement or a new community provides a way to take up the cross of Christ. Nevertheless the dangers are real, and often dismissed or ignored.
Utopias are ultimately disappointing. The hopes of the devotees are so high. The reality is so low. They find that the leader had feet of clay. They find that the charismatic priest is a stinker. They find that the other leaders of the group are seriously flawed and the whole thing collapses in a mess of confusion, fear and recrimination. The disappointment is high because the expectations were high.
Have you ever noticed that the gospel never promises any kind of utopia and Jesus never tells his disciples to go out and create a new community that will be a paradise on earth? No. he says his kingdom is not of this world. He founds a church but he does not found a utopian community. He promises a new kind of abundant life, but it comes with a cost, and the cost is a cross.
If you come across any church or religious community or action group or fellowship group or any such which seems too good to be true. Guess what? It’s too good to be true. Any group or community or movement in which everyone is overwhelmingly smilingly nice and sincere and warmly welcoming and flattering and smooth is something to beware. They’re promising too much and they can’t deliver.
This is why the most authentic religious communities are austere. They don’t promise the novice anything but blood, sweat and tears. They don’t promise bliss. They don’t promise happiness here. They don’t promise anything but a cross. But in that cross they do promise a new identification with Christ, and that is something that will last forever. The best of the new ecclesial communities in the Catholic Church are like that. Furthermore, if they are wise, they do well to continually refer their members back to the ultimate community of Christ, which is the church–warts and all.
But that’s tough because, the utopias are soooo seductive. We so much want them to be true. We want that perfect parish. We so want that perfect priest. We so long for that community where all live and love in perfect harmony. But remember ‘Utopia’ means ‘Nowhere’ and we are not destined for a perfect community here. That’s because we’re destined for it hereafter.
Just don’t try to make that heaven on earth because what you’ll end up making is hell on earth. This is because the person who wants so much to create the Utopia will impose his Utopia on everyone else. It has to be his beautiful dream and, in the end, you either buy into it and become a loyal devotee or you’re out. Thus cults are born and people are destroyed.
Instead live simply. Try to pray more. Don’t look for an earthly Messiah. Be suspicious of those wonderful priests and charismatic leaders and perfect parishes. At the same time, don’t condemn them when they fail. Don’t lapse into cynicism and disappointment. You were never supposed to have a kingdom here anyway. Look to your own sins. Laugh at your pride. Plead that your sins will be overcome. Look to Jesus the author and finisher of the faith. Ask to be conformed more and more to his likeness, then live that love you’ve been given for others.
Then, maybe just maybe, you’ll begin to live a little bit of heaven on earth as you get yourself ready for your second home.
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