Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Desire to ‘Fit in’

John the Baptist

(Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist 2018: This homily was given on June 24, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 49: 1-6; Psalm 39: 1-15; Acts 13: 22-26; Luke 1: 57-66, 80.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Birth of John the Baptist 2018]

“The desire to fit in is the root of almost all wrongdoing.”  That’s the title of a very interesting online article that I came across recently.  The author of the piece is a philosophy professor from the College of William and Mary named Christopher Freiman.

Freiman begins his article by pointing out the fact that many of the greatest philosophers and thinkers over the centuries have taken the position that “wrongdoing tends to be motivated by self-interest” and that “an immoral person is one who’s ready to defy law and convention to get what they want.” 

While he doesn’t deny that this is true in many cases, Freiman says that from his perspective very often the opposite is true.  He writes, “Immorality is frequently motivated by a readiness to conform to law and convention in opposition to our own values.  In these cases, it’s not that we care too little about others; it’s that we care too much.  More specifically, we care too much about how we stack up in the eyes of others. … We ‘go along to get along’ in defiance of what we really value or believe because we don’t want any trouble.”

  • ·    Someone tells a dirty or bigoted joke at work.  You really don’t think it’s funny, but everyone else seems to, so you find yourself laughing along with them.  You want to fit in.
  • ·       You’re in school one day and a controversial subject comes up (abortion, homosexual activity, transgenderism—something along those lines), and even though you believe that it’s wrong, you find yourself supporting it because the majority of the other students in the class are supporting it.  You want to fit in.
  • ·       You’re a teenager, and you start abusing alcohol because all your friends are abusing alcohol.  You want to fit in.
  • ·        You’re with a group of people who are trashing somebody they don’t like, and you find yourself nodding your head in agreement—even though you have nothing against the person they’re talking about.  You want to fit in.

“The desire to fit in is the root of almost all wrongdoing.”

This is a desire, my brothers and sisters, that we have to try to be aware of in ourselves, because under certain circumstances it can affect all of us by leading us into temptation (as I hopefully made clear by the four examples I just shared with you).

Now, to be sure, this “desire to fit in” can also be a good thing at times: specifically, when we desire to “fit in” with the saints and with those who are practicing virtue.  As the old song puts it, “O Lord I long to be in that number when the saints go marching in.”

That’s a good desire.

But all too often the desire to fit in is of this other kind, this bad kind. 

In its extreme form, of course, it can be incredibly destructive.  This is what we see in gangs today—like MS-13: young men, who desperately want to fit in, will rape and kill and do almost anything to be initiated into the group.  This is what we saw during the Second World War in Nazi Germany: seemingly ordinary people who were willing to do horrific things to Jews and others—so that they could fit in with the evil people who were in power.

The desire to fit in was at the root of much of the evil that was done during the Holocaust.

I mention all this today because this weekend we celebrate a feast in honor of St. John the Baptist.  One of the reasons why John the Baptist is a saint, one of the reasons why Jesus called him “the greatest man ever born of woman,” is that, when it came to evil, he had no desire to “fit in.”  Ever.

He didn’t have the desire to fit in, for example, with the materialists of his day.  The Bible tells us that John wore a garment of camel’s hair (which doesn’t sound very fashionable—or comfortable!—to me).  And he lived out in the desert on a diet of grasshoppers and wild honey.  (The wild honey I could deal with; the grasshoppers—I don’t think so!)

Obviously, John was not concerned with getting rich and living a lavish lifestyle.

Nor did John have the desire to fit in with the hedonists of his day—like King Herod, who committed adultery with a woman who was already married to his brother Philip.  John confronted him directly about that.  He told Herod, “It’s not right for you to live with your brother’s wife!” 

Nor did John have the desire fit in with the politically-correct crowd in first century Palestine (yes, politically-correct people were even around back then!).  John was clear, blunt and to the point—with Herod, and even with the religious leaders of the Jews, when some of them came to him to be baptized.  He recognized their pride and their hypocrisy, and so he called them a “brood of vipers”—right there, at the Jordan River, to their faces, in front of everyone!

This, I would say, makes John the Baptist a patron saint for all those who are tempted to compromise their moral principles and do evil.  Which means he’s a patron saint for all of us—because all of us are in that position at various moments of our lives.  And so, whenever you, personally, have this experience—whenever you are tempted to do something wrong in order to fit in with a group of people (your friends, your co-workers, the men and women you socialize with)—ask John the Baptist to pray for you that you may overcome the temptation and do the right thing—as he did the right thing so often in his life.

Let me close now with a prayer to John that I came across during this past week.  I think this ties in well with the message of this homily:

O Martyr invincible, who, for the honor of God and the salvation of souls, did with firmness and constancy withstand the impiety of Herod even at the cost of your own life, and did rebuke him openly for his wicked and dissolute life; by your prayers obtain for us a heart brave and generous, in order that we may overcome all human respect and openly profess our faith in loyal obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ, our divine Master. Amen.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us!