A Culture of Irreverence



When I began reflecting on three words that popped into my mind during the 2020 Christmas Season (words, burdens, & irreverence), a seasonal search for Christmas ornaments on the Esty fueled the third word: irreverence. When I began reading Alice von Hildebrand’s By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride a couple years ago, her description of the Tabor vision metaphor and reflections on the threat of irreverence pervasive in society, especially as per irreverence within relationships, stayed with me beyond when I finished the book. When I observed the male and female genitalia Christmas ornaments for purchase on Esty, I realized in that moment how irreverent our society has become. What is sacred is desecrated and what is profane is celebrated. Irreverence is edgy, accepted, and popular. Treating nothing as sacred transforms society into a base, crass, and uncreative culture in which sacred relationships become jokes, natural design and law a farce, people items of use and abuse, and things more sacred than persons but all disposable nonetheless. An irreverent society is an unsophisticated society and certainly not a virtuous society.

Our increasing irreverence as a culture permeates every aspect of life and living- every nook and cranny of society. Alice von Hildebrand wrote: “The failure to recognize the inner nobility and worth of persons and things which leads to a failure to treat them with the deep, tender respect that is due to them. One of the most ominous symptoms of our contemporary age is its lack of reverence- for people, for sexuality, for the mysteries of life, for death, and last but not least, God. Lack of reverence is so much a part of modern society that we must constantly be on guard lest we, too, unconsciously be infected with it.” Alice nailed it. Irreverence infects us. Our consciences become blind and dulled to irreverence. If I spent ample time reflecting on the ways irreverence infects my life, family, relationship, friendships, community, profession, education, country, religion, science, government, sexuality, and the world the list world stretch for miles. The more I reflect the more I realize the many ways I too have become desensitized in ways I may subconsciously or consciously fail to recognize irreverence or the gravity of irreverence in thought, word, and deed.

The concept of purity of thought, mind, heart, and deed fills the Sacred Scriptures from the Old Testament through the New Testament from Genesis to Revelation. In the beginning, this attraction to irreverence was not so because irreverence is a slap against the goodness of God and God’s creation and design. Irreverence degrades human dignity and the dignity of creation, goodness, truth, and beauty. In many ways, the thousands of years of Salvation History is a School of Love and a School of Mercy. This gradual and deliberate process restores the distortion of original sin that exists in our hearts and minds that threatens, detracts, distracts, and degrades our relationship with God- a loving God. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

In the New Testament in St. Pauls’ letter to the Philippians, he writes “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) If we fill out minds with what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise, that leaves little room for the irreverent. However, even pondering all these virtuous and godly concepts will not remove all temptations or near occasions of sin. For those moments, we must develop our conscience, develop an arsenal of prayers and petitions to preserve us in our moments of weakness and defend us in our Spiritual battles, and avail ourselves to the many graces of the sacramental life of the Church. We need to develop our spiritual muscles and endurance amid this Battle for Souls.

Even various Saints provide colorful & memorable insights into the threat of irreverence which many times takes a form of impurity. One of the most targeted and profaned victims of irreverence is sexuality, the conjugal act, marriage, children, and family. My own experience with dating relationships reminds me how proactive modern couples striving for a virtuous relationship must be against the onslaught of irreverence. It’s easy to take for granted the intrinsic dignity of the other person within a relationship and use that person as an object for self-gratification and personal gain instead of their rightful due as an object of love. The slippery slide into irreverence is a breath away for most of us whether in-person, sitting in our own homes, or online addressing, acknowledging, or interacting with loved ones, children, spouses, parents, friends, coworkers, classmates, neighbors, parishioners, strangers, etc. St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, stated, “The man of impure speech is a person whose lips are but an opening and a supply pipe which hell uses to vomit its impurities upon the earth.” St. Clement of Alexandria stated, “Filthy talk makes us feel comfortable with filthy action. But the one who knows how to control the tongue is prepared to resist the attacks of lust.” We must exercise and strengthen our spiritual endurance and develop our spiritual acumen.

During this season of Lent as we approach Holy Week and the Easter Triduum, may the Holy Spirit transform our hearts and minds, our thoughts and our actions, our bodies and our deeds. The more comfortable with and desensitized to irreverence we become, which rears its ugly head in the most obvious and elusive places, the more enslaved to irreverence we are. Our ability to be pure of heart diminishes damaging our relationship with God and others. Irreverence robs us of the beauty, goodness, and love we are capable of. The love for which God designed and destined us for in this life and the next. An 1856 newspaper in England published a lecture which included this phrase, “You sow an act, you reap a habit; you sow a habit, you reap a character; you sow a character, you reap a destiny.” Or the expanded 1885 version, “Plant a thought and reap a word; plant a word and reap an action; plant an action and reap a habit; plant a habit and reap a character; plant a character and reap a destiny.”

Holy Family, increase in me the desire for purity of heart, thought, mind, and deed. Please, be my model and guide throughout life. May the Holy Spirit illuminate the areas of my life that are shrouded in irreverence and the tendency towards the irreverent. Bring these areas of my life into the light of Christ and transform my irreverence into reverence and a holy sense of the sacred. Help me to develop a Holy fear of irreverence and the effects of irreverence; that I may never separate myself from the sacred and reverent love of God- my most loving and merciful heavenly Father. St. Joseph, most chaste and Terror of Demons, I humbly beseech you to defend me now and at the hour of my death from all onslaughts of irreverence as your defended the Holy Family. May the Blessed Virgin Mary protect me within the folds of her starry mantle.

Amen.

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