Breaking from Seductive Sentimentality

We all tend to speak, at times, in pleasantly sentimental terms. Out of sympathy for someone’s loss, we may choose to soften the truth: “Your brother passed away last night.” But the current cultural tendency is to invent and redefine words in ways closely connected to sentimentalities detached from both faith and reason.

Ideologues invent and redefine many words to carry out cultural subversion. The popular meaning of the word “racism,” for example, is so contested today that it’s become almost useless, except for purposes of defaming people.

Other terms and phrases deliberately distort and even deny reality. For example, candidly explaining that churches are closing because of the declining practice of the faith is a fact too hard to bear. So, when a diocese is shutting church doors, it presumably feels better to speak of “reconfiguring” and “renewing our faith communities.”

Honest statements of fact are shocking to the hyper-emotional and politically correct. The other day, I received a message from someone objecting to my remarks on the parish website about the Fairfax County Transgender Pride day. (“Fairfax County School Board: Two days of school, but Transgender Celebrations for All!”)

I called it “child abuse,” and the person objecting called my description “inappropriate and unnecessarily incendiary.”

“Inappropriate” is another of those sentimental terms that keeps people from having to say something is “wrong.” But unnecessary? There is no such thing as “transgender.” It is an engineered term designed to disguise the reality of psychological and sometimes physical mutilation. When public authorities promote such sexual perversion in schools, it is indeed child abuse. The uncritical acceptance of LGBTQ nomenclature helps advance a radical sexual agenda.

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Much of our contemporary verbal engineering disfigures authentic human love and reduces Catholic faith and morals to pious sentimentalities. But without reference to the central fact of our faith – the Cross and Resurrection – it is easy to manipulate human emotions and redefine terms. An emotional “faith” is adrift from God’s commands, devoid of meaning, and, ultimately, dangerous.

The Cross and Resurrection are two sides of the same coin. Sacrificial love is the foundation of Christian joy. We balance our devotional and intellectual life by continually flipping that spiritual coin, with the image of Jesus Crucified on one side, and His glorious resurrected features on the other.

It can be harmful to gaze upon the crucified face of Jesus without reference to the Resurrection. This danger recurs throughout history. Rigorist heresies, such as Jansenism and Calvinism, undermine Christian joy. (Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque’s devotion to the tender Sacred Heart of Jesus – meek and humble of heart – countered the spirit of Jansenism during her time, occasionally in overly sentimental in its own way.)

But we more commonly emphasize the Resurrection without the Cross and neglect the Commandments as the foundation of love. Love and joy detached from God’s law lose their sacrificial nature and become squishy emotionalism, hostage to constantly changing human moods. Driven by our volatile affections, we define love in emotional terms, not according to God’s will.

This dysfunction affects our moral and religious development. Parents sometimes love the affection of their children more than their children as God’s gifts. The result is an emotionally out of control child – a “spoiled child.” Clergy, too, can love the affections of their people more than they love them as created in God’s image and likeness. So instead of offering them spiritual tools for salvation, priests may become pious entertainers, pandering to the emotions of parishioners.

The same lawless sentimentality that sets faith adrift also sets reason adrift. Who needs critical thought if we live for the capricious consolations of human affection? Human emotion, not reason, begins to drive the definition of some words and to banish the use of others.

Except for the veneer of Christian piety, there isn’t much difference between superficial religiosity and Godlessness because both are, to a great extent, adrift on emotions alone. Without a firm grounding in the Cross and Resurrection, the Commandments, and the whole of the tradition, it is only a matter of time before we – or our children – abandon the façade of Christianity. Detached from faith and reason, the culture increasingly becomes ill-educated, arrogant, and vicious.

A return to sanity begins with rediscovering the inseparability of the Cross and the Resurrection, balancing our faith, and sharpening our thinking.

There are hints throughout the Gospel that prefigure the Cross. Jesus teaches us to love Him above our families, and that if we do not take up our crosses and follow Him, we are not worthy to be His disciples. (Cf. Mt. 10:37-42) Breaking away from self-will and our inclination to sin is hard work. Christian love that challenges unholy attachments of human affection, even within families, is painful.

There are also hints throughout the Gospels that prefigure the Resurrection, which is the joyful fruit of sacrificial love. So Jesus teaches us the joy that comes through union with Him: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:28-30)

In the Gospel of John (Cf. Jn. 15:10-11), we see the same teaching, the Cross and Resurrection, in pithy terms: The Cross: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” The Resurrection: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

We can break the vicious relativism of verbal engineering only by an honest examination of conscience, measuring our lives against God’s law, and taking responsibility for our actions. When we resolve to love Him above everything, even at the price of losing the affections of those we love, with God’s grace, we will break the bonds of seductive sentimentality. And we will rejoice in the saving power of Jesus, meek and humble of heart.

 

*Image: Sacred Heart by Juan Samsó, c. 1900 [Museo del Prado, Madrid]

Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.



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