St Augustine Grove Park
July 7th 1992
One of the reasons why I enjoy coming to Saint Augustine's Grove Park is that I'm really made to feel appreciated.
And that is why I have no hesitation this morning in offering you a new word which I invented the other day. It simply came into my head from nowhere: so you shall be the first people to hear about it.
The word I invented was Comfortabilism and means effectively the Religion of those who put Comfort at the centre of their lives. It conjures up in my mind somebody asleep in front of a television set, and its motto is "don't trouble me: I don't want to know" whilst the tv continues to pour out news and views unheeded.
People sometimes try to tell you that Materialism is the great sin of our time Materialism means putting material things, like food, money, drink or sex at the middle of our lives.
Believe me, materialism is only a pinprick compared with Comfortabilism today either in the damage it does or how widespread it is.
After all, God created us as material beings. He gave us appetites which need material things to satisfy them like food and drink. And he made eating and drinking the way in which the body renews itself day-by-day.
And, praise the Lord, he made these necessary actions to be actions which most people get pleasure out of doing. A good meal, a refreshing drink, a hot bath are three of life's pleasures.
Not only that. God has chosen to make eating and drinking and washing the central actions of our spiritual lives as well, for the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism centre around such material things as bread and wine and water in such a way that Christianity has been called "the most materialistic of all religions" by Archbishop William Temple.
Comfortabilism on the other hand takes things for granted. It lives by the assumption that everything will happen of its own accord. The comfortable person never stops to think what he is doing. If he did, it might upset his comfort by raising questions which are awkward to answer. All that he wants, he thinks, is to be left alone.
But is that really what people want? One of the most painful feelings in life is to feel lonely; and one of the classical descriptions of Hell in Christian teaching is that of complete and total isolation. By his very nature the person who cannot be bothered, the person who says "leave me alone" is isolating himself both from God and man, and their mind incidentally from the only sources of true Comfort that we have.
For if as St Augustine said "God has made us for himself and our hearts are restless till they rest in him" then final isolation from God is the most certain recipe for eternal discomfort.
How does comfortableness overtake a man in such a way that it ends up by destroying him? Surely it ought to be possible to become aware of the great danger we are in before it's too late to turn away?
Well Comfortabilism gets a hold on us in three ways, none of which is conducive to its detection.
It happens gradually. It is addictive. And there's a lot of it around.
It happens gradually. We are born with minds that ask questions, with wills that are active and bodies that grow. Asking, acting, Growing – three's soils in which the weeds of Comfortabilism will not readily grow.
Add to this the fact that all of us have had parents, teachers and guides whose job it 50 to help us develop our bodies and minds and spirits.
Comfortabilism creeps in the moment we stop growing. For some, this is when they leave school though others have stopped growing even before that. Ask any school teacher.
For others it is when they give up the active pastimes like reading books and playing games and pursuing hobbies in favour of the passive ones like watching television.
And Spiritual Comfortabilism begins to set in the moment people stop thinking about God and his purposes for them which, sad to say, coincides for many people with the end of their confirmation preparation.
It happens gradually: it is addictive. Once being comfortable becomes a serious end in itself then of course it won't want to be disturbed. So little by little people switch-off their awareness until they don't notice what has happened to them. Like a chain-smoking and alcoholism, Comfortabilism has become a way of life, difficult and painful to break. Such people are called "Comfortolics".
It is gradual; it is addictive; but thirdly there's an awful lot of it about: that's why so few people realise that it's happening to them.
If you are an addict and live in the company of people who are like yourself then that addiction simply becomes a way of life. You cease to be aware of any other alternatives. To try to break the habit at once separates you from the only sort of society you know. for caffeine
That is why families and groups of friends become addicted to Comfortabilism. And so hostile if one of their number wakes up and tries to be cured of it. "Who does he think he is?" "Thinks himself a cut above us! He's a hypocrite. It will all pass over, one you mark my words" "a Man's enemies" said Jesus "are those of his own household."
Finally then, given that Comfortabilism is addictive, widespread, and destructive how do we avoid catching it; or if we've caught it how do we get cured?
Here are three hints. That's all we've got time for, though of course if anyone wants to know more details they've only got to ring me up – treatment is free and confidential as the advertisements sometimes say!
Firstly prevention is better than cure and the surest way of preventing Comfortabilism from taking us over is to be aware of it as a possibility.
Secondly we need is a regular self-examination. People are encouraged nowadays to have regular check-ups for breast and cervical cancer and tuberculosis. Comfortabilism which is a form of Spiritual cancer can also be detected in the early stages when it is relatively easy to cure.
Finally there is a simple preventive exercise which can be practised in all sorts of times and places. It is called "giving thanks" or "saying grace" ("grace" being the Latin word for "Thanks").
If we form a habit of of saying "Thanks be to God for hot-water" before and after every bath; thanks be to God for books, the gift of sight, the ability to read" every time we open or shut a book; yes, even saying Thanks be to God for television" every time we turn the set on and off; such things will become habitual and we shall have put ourselves morally speaking a thousand miles away from turning into a mindless Comfortabilists. Of course you can vary the formula – "to the greater glory of God", "in Jesus's name" "for thy sake" "all for Jesus" are four popular alternatives to ring the changes with. Giving thanks comes as naturally after a while as exchanging kisses with those we love before going to bed or on getting up in the morning.
Comfortabilism is a wasting disease. Unlike many such ailments, it can be cured especially if nipped in the bud. But if it is allowed to flourish it will eventually destroy not only its hosts but the very fabric of the society they live in.
If you want see the devastating effects of Advanced Comfortabilism you don't have to look far. Its raging all round us in this and other neighbourhoods. Just say the grace, as I suggested, and then open the newspaper or turn on the television and the symptoms of Comfortabilism will immediately be staring you in the face!
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