The Problem with Sentimentality
I know the feeling, kid.
I love winning and participation trophies are the worst. Participation trophies encourage laziness, create a false sense of entitlement and make remarkable air-rifle targets.
After my mission trip to the UK, I spent a few hours cleaning and going through my room at my parent’s house. I uncovered everything from my GI Joe to old “love” letters. This time spent “accidentally” breaking things, so to have a reason to throw them away, was time well spent. It was therapeutic. It was enlightening. Listen, sentiments are nice and nice is all they will ever be.
Take the participation trophy for example, a nice sentiment. You tried your very best, you displayed good sportsmanship, you … umm… showed up, exedra. These are good things and worthy of praise and recognition. The problem comes when we start relying on external motivation from objects. This undermines the very values the trophy hoped to instill. When everything is done for the sake of something shiny, what is the point of “showing up”?
Or, take GI Joe, “America’s movable fighting man,” for example. Boys don’t play with dolls, so get him an “Action figure”. Thanks, Hasbro. You gave me permission to play with dolls – what a nice sentiment.
The love-letters are an even better representation of what I am getting at. Those sweet, thoughtful – sentimental gestures given for Valentine’s Day and the six-week anniversary. These tiny glimpses of the love we desire do a number to our emotions, so we cling on.
“Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word love is distorted to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Caritas in Vertitate
Ugh! We desire goodness so much it makes us scream, UGH! We cling to goodness because God the Father is the Author of all goodness. Rejoice in the goodness our Father has brought about and set a match to sentimentality. We need to constantly examine what we are living for. Emotions help but do not alone guide us to truth. Mere sentiment is never enough.
So I went to the UK for the sake of evangelization, and they told us we were to help the “spiritually poor” (an interesting concept). Upon our arrival we were asked by the snarky lady at customs, “Why do you need to be on mission here?” Fair enough. The UK is a first-world country and those Americans are a prideful bunch. Besides, a trip to Calcutta will get you a FB profile pic worthy of all the ‘likes’. Listen, lady (at customs), Catholics go on mission due to something greater than the nice sentiment that comes with painting a house or visiting an orphanage. Catholics go on mission to share or to experience a truth that sets people free.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” – Mathew 25:23
We do it for Jesus, alright?! I am going to do it for the Kingdom! It is an extreme blessing to have a ‘why’ behind everything we do. Mother Theresa claims the Gospel can be summed up in five words, “You did it for me.” Jesus’ love for us far exceeds sentimentality and He desires the same in return.
“If It is a symbol to hell with it.” – Flannery O’ Connor
(She is referring to the Eucharist. Hint: Not a symbol.)
So as I journeyed down memory lane that afternoon – dusting the trophies, making GI Joe blow up one more time and reading those letters for a good grimace – I began to think about the ambitions and relationships I need to move beyond sentimentality. Soon, I got to the point where I realized I cannot simply think about it and started praying about it. It is no small task to place a relationship with the triune God at the center of our life. It is possible, and life on earth is meant to be a stepping stone to Heaven. We stumble, but the worst we could do is just show up. We must keep pressing upon the heights. Don’t participate in life, win Heaven.
“All you have done for Him: your prayers, your good impulses, all the acts which, in the course of your life, have been determined by your faith, your hope, and your love; your acts of generosity, your acts of charity, especially which you have forgotten in part but which Jesus has not forgotten, because they are engraved in His Heart. On the day of judgement, with what happiness and what approval He will remind you of all that, in detail, for His own glory, since He is the author of all that is good, but for yours, also, because you will have believed in His love.” – Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbee, I Believe in Love