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Spiritual Maturity and Lifelong Adolescence

  • FATHER GEORGE RUTLER

Insecurity is characteristic of adolescence.


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Those formative years are a time of figuring out how the self relates to others, moving from self-absorption to self-awareness. There are those who live a lifelong adolescence, whose narcissism, like an orchid living off air, lives off the approval of others. Their desire for self-esteem smothers a mature desire for eternal salvation. Instead of "Have mercy on me a sinner," the perpetual adolescent says, "I want to feel good about myself." Inevitably, that "feel good" approach enslaves the self to the opinions of others. It is the opposite of the glorious maturity of St. Paul, who spoke "not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts" (1 Thess. 4).

There is a proper human respect, which is a reverence for others. The immature kind of human respect is a dependency on approval by others. "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10).

Some of the most popular cultural figures are those who exploit people's insecurities and make them "feel good" about themselves. Demagogues know how to flatter the spiritually immature into submission, but their intoxicating charisma is a deadly illusion: "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets" (Luke 6:26).

The simmering danger in our political culture is not the deeply flawed people who often get elected, but the immaturity of the people who elect them. "They pursued emptiness, and themselves became empty through copying the nations round them" (2 Kings 17:15).

Pope Benedict XVI recently told ordinands: "He who wants above all to realize an ambition of his own, to achieve a personal success, will always be a slave to himself and public opinion. To be considered, he will have to flatter; he must say what the people want to hear, he must adapt himself to changing fashions and opinions and, thus, he will deprive himself of the vital relationship with the truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he praises today. A man who plans his life like this, a priest who sees his ministry in these terms, does not truly love God and others, but only himself and, paradoxically, ends up losing himself."

As the Pope practices what he preaches, he is so secure in his service to God, that he does not rely on newspaper editorials or talk-show pundits to craft the Gospel he preaches. What he said to those new priests applies to everyone who seeks spiritual maturity. Self-absorption eventually leads to self-annihilation, but eternal life begins with feeling good about God instead of ourselves. "To know (God's) power is the root of immortality" (Wisdom 15:3).

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Acknowledgement

Father George William Rutler. "Spiritual maturity and lifelong adolescence." From the Pastor (June 27, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.

The Author

Rutler1rutler46smFather George W. Rutler is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City.  He has written many books, including: The Stories of Hymns, Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2010 Father George W. Rutler
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