Spend ten minutes watching the news, searching the Internet, or reading the paper and one is likely to become disgusted and discouraged. Our response can be simply to give up, accepting things for what they are, losing hope that things can be better. Sadly, this mentality of mediocrity and settling can readily transfer into our spiritual lives as well. This mediocrity can easily slip into our spiritual lives without our awareness. However, what we need today are Christians willing to act with heroic courage. By living with heroic courage, we will be fully alive.
Spiritual mediocrity is a complacency with who we are and where we are in our spiritual lives. It is a desire for life without having to bear the cross. It is feeling lukewarm about our relationship with God.
In our world today, mediocrity comes under many guises. It appears as inclusiveness, popularity, tolerance, cheerfulness, broad-mindedness, and even charity. We are told to be accepting of everyone and of everything they might do. We are told that what matters is the acclamation we can receive, whether that be in titles, promotions, or social media likes. We are told that we have the right to choose what we want without the consequences. We are told that we can do whatever feels good without any reference to what is good.
Mediocrity issues a tempting siren song because it appears as the comfortable, easy path, a way which does not make waves. Answer the call, however, at your peril for it is like trying to sustain life on cotton candy; it cannot be done for very long before you realize something is very wrong. This often feels like a lack of purpose in one’s life or feeling dry and unfulfilled. While these feelings can be an impetus for change, it can be easy to simply anesthetize the pain, slowly drifting away from the spiritual life. Slowly the joy of Christ is taken away. Jesus tells us that this is exactly the tactic of the devil: “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy.” (John 10:10)
Settling for Mediocrity?
We might not actively be aiming to be mediocre in our spiritual lives. We do often, however, make excuses for the ways we fail to aim towards holiness.
One of the main ways this happens is that we buy into the notion that our faults are just part of our personality. As a result, we see these tendencies not so much as faults which we should be striving to correct but instead as aspects of ourselves that make us “unique.” Take a look at almost any personality assessment. Part of what distinguishes different personality types are things such as inflexibility, being easily bored, difficulty forgiving others, insensitivity, or overconfidence. But are these traits which we really ought to celebrate as making us unique? Or ought we to strive to root out these tendencies to respond more like Christ in those situations which challenge us the most?
Another way we fall into mediocrity, even while engaging in good, holy actions, is to refuse, either intentionally or indirectly, God’s invitation to go deeper. We may think that we are doing all the right things: going to Mass, praying daily, performing acts of charity. What if God is asking more of us? God is not content with having us be partly holy. As St. Therese said, “You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” God calls us to step out of our comfort zone and grow even closer to Him.
Called to Greatness
God does not want us to settle for mediocrity. He has made us for something greater: to share in his divine life. He calls us to be holy in the context of our individual lives, here and now.
Perhaps St. John Paul II put it best in his message for World Youth Day in 2002. He exhorted:
Dear young people, do not be content with anything less than the highest ideals! Do not let yourselves be dispirited by those who are disillusioned with life and have grown deaf to the deepest and most authentic desires of their heart. You are right to be disappointed with hollow entertainment and passing fads, and with aiming at too little in life. If you have an ardent desire for the Lord you will steer clear of the mediocrity and conformism so widespread in our society.
What St. John Paul II knew was that, even in an increasingly secular society, the interior desire to seek the fullness of life, to strive for something greater cannot be entirely stifled. Holiness makes us fully alive and fully reflect the glory of God.
To shake off spiritual mediocrity requires a heroic courage. Our society and communities discourage us from even acknowledging the existence of God; to act in a contrary manner is not easy. As Pope Francis remarked in his homily on April 24, 2016, “The path to holiness takes courage.” Indeed, to pursue holiness, our courage must involve a heroism of infinite consequence for our spiritual lives have eternal impacts, for ourselves and for others.
Heroic courage leads us to pursue magnanimity which, as St. Thomas Aquinas explained in Summa Theologica: “Magnanimity makes a man deem himself worth of great things in consideration of the gifts he holds from God.” The confidence and fortitude of heroic courage allows us to seek greatness even if it is difficult or involves suffering. It involves overcoming the feelings of unworthiness even when we feel like God is calling us to go deeper in our relationship with him.
The more we are able to trust in God’s love and providence for us, the easier it becomes for us to step out into the deep when he invites us to do something that makes us uncomfortable. As we read in the letter of James: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) By drawing near to God and trusting in Him, we can grow in heroic confidence to shake off spiritual mediocrity and pursuing holiness.