The People-Pleasing Vatican

One of the catch phrases you hear about and from people in recovery from addiction is the danger of “people pleasing.” It is the old concept from spiritual theology which used to be called “human respect.” The Stations of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori refer to that in one of the meditations, and I try to give a gloss on it during Lent when we pray the Way of the Cross. “Human respect” treated as a negative value is the seeking of man’s approval instead of God’s. This can be because of fear of conflict, or intimidation, or because dissidence means we will not “fit in.”

People-pleasing gets us into trouble because we are more worried about others’ opinions than the judgment of God. It is the old situation St. Peter described in the Acts of the Apostles when the authorities of his society forbade him to preach Christ. His response was clear: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Eventually, this led him to martyrdom.

Constantly seeking the high opinion of others makes cowards and hypocrites of us all. It is also behind the attraction of associating with celebrities, which makes some people ignore the demands of conscience. Celebrity is the fool’s gold of our society, and often fame is strangely misconstrued as an adjunct to authority. C.S. Lewis talks about the desire to be in the “inner ring.” Look at the “influencers” that abound on the Internet. Seriousness is sacrificed to glitter.

But not only seriousness; credibility is also sacrificed. It is sad when leadership in the Church shows star-struck, stage door behavior. That is what I feel about the invitation to the Vatican of hundreds of “comedians” for some kind of vaudeville extravaganza. A night of a thousand stars celebrating their moment in the spotlight in the shadows of the tombs of the apostles.

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