Lukewarmness is an inescapable temptation of the Christian faithful, and every person in every vocation at every stage of life must deal with it at one time or another. It can come as a consequence of making God a central part of our daily lives, a consequence of making God and the mysteries of the Christian faith common, so to speak. It seems quite paradoxical that in giving such a great deal of time and thought to the divine, we open ourselves up to one of the most insurmountable temptations there are. That is, the tendency for us to experience God, with his incredibly profound revelations and mysteries, so often that we can forget what they actually mean for us as his people by becoming unmoved at the thought of his mercy and love or experiencing complacency in the participation in the sacraments.
I see this as sort of a last-ditch effort by the Enemy to keep us from holiness where our faith, often the most central part of our lives, can be turned around backward on us. It’s our natural tendency to want to settle in, to become comfortable, and to be able to control the situations in which we operate; we want to feel like we’ve “got this”. This tendency is used against us in our faith and manifests as lukewarmness. Suddenly, being a Catholic stops being about God and his Church and the intimate union that exists between them with the vast array of sacraments and sacramentals given to the people in order to set our eyes and hearts toward the Trinity. It starts to become about simply showing up and going through the motions without any thought to the joy-filled mysteries being presented in front of us. We experience the joy of faith by the grace of God, not by how well we know the Mass or our prayers.
It could, perhaps, be argued that “The Fall of Man” occurred because of lukewarmness and complacency. Adam, Eve, and God coexisted in paradise with all the flora and fauna of the earth – it was a pretty sweet deal! But, in Genesis 3, the serpent, who was the most cunning of all the animals, asked Eve if God really told her not to eat of the tree of knowledge: a seed of doubt about what God had commanded. Eve was tricked into disobedience by being lured into complacency. In the same way, we are lured away from the joy given to us by God and into complacency by modern apparitions of the serpent. We’re promised wisdom and happiness in worldly pursuits and are tempted to place our faith in them instead.
We are tempted into a colloquial “meh” attitude toward the supernatural matters of the Christian life, about both the good and the bad. As Charles Pierre Baudelaire so correctly stated in 1862, “The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” If we’re persuaded that he doesn’t exist, then there is no real need or desire for God in our lives and thus, lukewarmness is born in our hearts. The Enemy thrives on uncertainty and confusion and manipulates our perspective in order to achieve his goals. He wants us to be blind to the love of Christ and to be unconcerned with the sacrifice of our Savior, out of touch with its reality and power.
No matter how much we surround ourselves with good people, how much we do the good and moral thing, how many times we go to Mass, or how often we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we are still at risk of lukewarmness. All these things are just empty show if we don’t have Christ, who gives meaning and purpose to all those things, truly in our hearts. The cure to lukewarmness is not more of any temporal thing or activity; the answer isn’t, “If I go to Mass five times a week, I’ll feel on fire with love of God,” or, “If I pray the rosary every day, I’ll be able to believe like so-and-so.” If the resolution to solve lukewarmness begins with “If I” followed by an action of our own doing, it’s not the solution. We must turn to the Lord for consolation.
The fire of the Christian spirit comes through prayer and humble thanksgiving. If we give thanks to God for everything, we humble ourselves before him in a display of sincere gratitude recognizing that without him, we are nothing. From this follows reverence for the sacraments and their significance. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we receive absolution for our sins from God which is, without a doubt, something to be thankful for! Without thanksgiving, confession becomes an inconvenient wait in line followed by an awkward encounter with the priest and nothing more, lukewarm to say the least. With an attitude of contrite thanksgiving, however, God’s mercy and love shine through the experience and suddenly, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has a direct meaning and significance in our hearts.
Prayer, which is co-equally the most important thing to combat lukewarmness, yields a personal relationship with God and it is through this relationship that we are given the light of Christ in our own soul. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” In these words, he is telling us how to fight lukewarmness, and even further, how to be a true Christian. Let us not settle for lukewarmness or give in to the temptations of complacency in the presence of God; let us instead ask God to give us the wisdom to understand the condition of our soul and our faith and to show us how to remain fully in his light, afire with love for Christ and for his Church. May the God of peace himself make us perfectly holy and may we entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23).