I had a desperate need to be considered cool. In fact, it may have been the thing that I valued most through high school and into college. So when I started college, I absorbed the cultural values of the college campus wholeheartedly. I valued what the cool kids valued. I did what they did and I did it to a greater degree. I partied hard. I chased girls. I talked loud and brash (still working on that one). I hung with the cool dudes who would enable such behavior.
But, I was lost.
When I realized I was lost, it hurt. I didn’t like myself or my life. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have a purpose. I didn’t have real relationships, just drinking buddies. I needed something and didn’t know where to look. I found it in a group of guys that had something I didn’t. They had joy and purpose. They didn’t live like the cool guys I hung around with. They were comfortable being silly. They didn’t party. They had a bit of humility. They were happy and this attracted me to them. They didn’t even necessarily like me, but they knew I needed something more, so they tolerated me. Still, they didn’t allow me to stay the same.
These young men met me where I was and challenged me to go somewhere better with them. I did. Because of these men, I am now a disciple of Jesus! What did they do? They lived in a countercultural way. They didn’t conform to the wider culture on campus (yet were happy than others) and it was the most attractive thing in the world.
This is what we need – Catholic disciples who live in a countercultural way, full of joy.
Counterculture is a subgenre of our wider culture that runs counter to the prevailing trends and ways of living. Many think of hippies or the fringe groups when they think of a counterculture, but I want to go beyond just being a fringe group. So, when I speak of a Catholic counterculture, I am speaking of what it can be within the Catholic Church, not what it is in other parts of the world. A proper Catholic counterculture does not need to be isolated, angry, disaffected, combative, overly political, judgmental, or unyielding. Rather, it is joyful, fun, engaging, deep, meaningful, filled with grace, and good. In other words, it reflects the nature of our God. So, how do we start to formulate such a countercultural lifestyle? We do it in the following things, that should be part of our life as disciples of Jesus.
1 – RESHAPING OUR PRIORITIES
The world prioritizes self, pleasure, money, power, and other worldly desires. The fact is that most self-identified Catholics look like everyone else in most of these pursuits. The statistics prove this. Catholics serve, donate, vote, contracept, abort, etc at about the same rates as most everyone else. Too many Catholics are going along and getting along – all while losing their souls.
What does a Catholic missionary disciple look like? Well, that depends on the person, because we are all going to have different aspects to our discipleship. Just as St. Peter wasn’t the same kind of person as his brother, St. Andrew, neither are we supposed to look like others. Still, discipleship of Jesus shares some common principles and one of them is having our priorities in order. These include – obedience to God, service of others, growth in holiness, sharing our faith, etc.
If we are to truly prioritize being better disciples of Jesus, then we need to recapture what it is like to follow him closely and faithfully. Which means now is not the time to avoid the tough subjects, but to understand them and then effectively communicate them to others, without just trying to beat the truth into them (which rarely, if ever, helps).
Easy Christianity doesn’t work. We have tried it for too long and it has failed us (and the world). Passive Catholicism doesn’t change lives. Selling soft Catholicism means we don’t make disciples, but soft Catholics, who will fade away when things (or doctrines, morality, human sin, scandal, etc) get too tough.
You and I are called to be the salt and light to the world. But, are we? Because if we aren’t, then the world has no chance of salvation, because Jesus doesn’t have a plan B to make up for the failures of his Church (AKA – you and me). We are meant to be the instrument of salvation to the world. If we don’t do it, then the world goes to hell (literally).
We don’t need more people who are somber saints, half-hearted disciples, cultural Catholics, or comfortable Christians. We don’t need more Catholic gadgets, buzzwords, meetings, or documents that nobody reads.
Rather, what we really need is radical witnesses who have died to themselves, so that Christ might live in them. We need people who are great evangelists and disciple-makers. We need saints and prayer warriors. We need people who are willing to die (whether figuratively or literally) so that others might live forever. We need disciples who have their priorities straight.
What about you and me? Have you died to sin? Are you living for God? Are you pursuing sainthood? Are you praying intimately every single day? Are you proclaiming the Gospel? Are you making disciples? If not, then why not? Is your treasure really in heaven or is it on earth – in pleasure, comfort, stuff, power, money, etc?
2 – PUTTING YOUR TIME (AND MONEY) WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS
I fall into a bad pattern every so often. I do my prayer in order to check it off my “good Catholic” list, rather than truly entering into communion with a God who loves me. I am thinking of the other things that will happen in the day. In fact, earlier today, I started my day this way and realized what I was doing. So, I decided to kick my butt (and the Devil’s at the same time), so I went to Confession, Adoration, and Mass. I let God love me a while and it really helped me.
As the saying goes – if you are too busy for 30 minutes of prayer, then you need an hour of prayer.
Where we spend our time and money are the best indicators of what we truly value. If all we give God is a small snip or our time or a tip of our money, then we aren’t truly valuing him. Time and money are resources that we are supposed to be caretakers of. We don’t own them.
Thus, what we do with these resources is really a statement of theology – what we truly believe about God. If we believe God has given us every good gift and we owe it to him to tithe, pray, serve others, etc – then we will rightly order our time and money. If we are afraid to be generous with time and money, because we fear we won’t get them back or that they provide security, then we may believe God doesn’t care enough for us. Catholic disciples who spend time and money building up the church and world are able to help impact it. Tithe. Be generous. Spend time well. Serve.
A countercultural Catholic disciple will use time and money in a Godly way. A way that glorifies a good God. A way that serves and provides for the less fortunate (spiritually and economically less fortunate).
Remember this – God, relationships, and people matter more than our comfort, ease, or checklists.
3 – COMMUNITY AND INITIATIVE
What does the average Catholic parish look like? If you visit one, do you feel warmly welcomed? Probably not, unfortunately. Most parishes are on cruise control, with little vision, little planning, little change, and they are happy right where they are. In the same way individual Catholics need to live more counterculturally, we need something different than the Catholic culture in our parishes, which isn’t always healthy.
Catholic community is supposed to look more like a family than a club. It isn’t about always agreeing with or getting along with others. It isn’t about always being friends. It is about loving and caring for each other, even those that don’t like you (and/or you don’t like).
This is what the community of the early Church looked like. Look at how believers gathered together in Acts 2. Read the epistles of Paul and imagine spending that much time with other people you go to Mass with and yet wouldn’t dream of being friends with. Paul and his companions argued and yet still served together. Sometimes they parted ways. But, they still supported the mission of the Church. They lived in community, where they met regularly, prayed together, served side-by-side, held each other accountable, and knew one another.
The community of the early Church doesn’t generally look like our parishes currently do. First of all, authentic Catholic community isn’t a bubble. It is supposed to reach out to others. It is supposed to draw others to the Sacraments. It is supposed to be for the good of the world, not just those going to Mass. It also needs more intention. More trust, so we can be accountable to one another.
Going beyond what the norms of the current insider Catholic culture. Part of this includes busting out of the Catholic bubble. How can you evangelize a world that you are afraid to engage? How can you spread the Gospel to non-believers, if you have no friends that are not disciples?
4 – BEYOND POLITICS
If there is one thing dividing our country right now, it is politics. It is even dividing Catholic from Catholic. Yes, there are some things that are clearly right – but screaming at someone who is wrong generally won’t change their mind or heart. Nor will it change their politics.
There is an alternative for Catholics and it starts by being politically active, while not being politically pigeonholed. Catholicism doesn’t neatly fit into a party platform – ANY political party platform. Thus, our identity shouldn’t be Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc. Nor should it be progressive, conservative, moderate, etc.
Our identity should be Catholic. ALL of what it means to be Catholic. We also need to be humble enough to listen to our leaders, faithful enough to conform our lives to Catholic doctrines, and good enough to transcend the toxicity in our culture.
A last thought on politics. If you are more apt to speak boldly on politics than Jesus, there is something deeply lacking in your faith.
The problems in this world don’t start with politics, pop culture, drugs, sex, etc. The problems in this world lie within the sinful hearts of humans who haven’t turned their lives over to God. This goes for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Therefore, the answer is found in the opposite of a sinful heart – a heart filled with God’s grace and mercy. Converted missionary disciples who are sold out for Jesus, who live in a countercultural manner. The Gospel message, our evangelization, and discipleship are the answers God gives us, in Jesus. He doesn’t want to just fix us, but he wants us to die and then live a new life in him.
But, if our lives look like everyone else’s lives, we have no power to help others transform their lives.
To really die to ourselves, we have to get uncomfortable. We (you and I) have to go to the fringes of society with something that can change the world. It isn’t another program, it is the Gospel. It isn’t an event, it is the Gospel. It isn’t another class, it is the Gospel. But, not an easy Gospel, but a tough one. One that Jesus has died for and you and I are called to die for it too.
Jesus risked life, reputation, health, family, relationships, etc for the sake of the Gospel. Many who heard his message hated him.
But, Jesus also respected the free will of others enough to let people walk away. He knew that not all would follow him. They left because they couldn’t accept the message. It was either too radical, too tough, or too countercultural for them. What about us? Is Jesus’ message too tough for us? What about our message to others about Jesus? Do we even have the guts to say tough things to others?
You might say – of course! We are pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-whatever. But, is that enough? Listen to the words of the Master:
“Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” -Luke 14:25-33
Notice the large crowds. Maybe this is the crowds that show up for Mass this next Sunday. I bet the disciples were starting to think, “now we have a movement going. Finally, some real numbers that are showing up to our events!” But can you imagine these words being preached in your parish this weekend? How would they be received?
Some wanted to kill Jesus for his message and yet you and I worry about what others might think about us if we even name-drop Jesus to them.
Why is the Catholic Church seeing rapid decline in the West? Why can’t we reach the masses of people? We might answer these questions with another question. Do we sound, act, look, and live like Jesus?
Jesus had a tough message and that message isn’t meant to be watered down. A message that is meant to transform us and then meant to be lived radically by all who take the name of “Christian”. You and I need to be more radical, more bold, more courageous, more Christian. We need to look and sound more like Jesus did. The world has rejected the soft and easy idea of following Jesus. So, let’s offer something different. The Cross – where the bad news is defeated and Good News ultimately wins.
“An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century” -GK Chesterton
*If what Jesus said was true when he lived, it is true today.
*If what Jesus said is true today, then his followers should live their lives according to those truths.
*If we should live according to Jesus’ words, then why does the Church of today operate, look, and sound so very differently?
Let us return to the Gospel message, the core of our faith, and use the words of God himself to change hearts, starting with our own. Let us be countercultural Catholics.
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