My brother recently went on a job interview, and, at the conclusion of the interview they asked him a final question: “Who is one contemporary celebrity you admire?”
He answered without hesitating: “Miley Cyrus.”
A quick follow-up question (with a bit of confusion): “Why?”
Because, he explained, she began as Hannah Montana, but as she got older there was no way that she could continue to market herself as that character. She needed to find a new niche. And she did just this, with incredible success.
In other words, she went from this:
And conformed herself to market conditions.
The interviewers bought it; my brother got the job.
But what does this have to do with Saint Augustine? A lot, actually.
In Book 10, Chapter 6 of the City of God, Augustine writes about the importance of the Eucharist in the life of a believer, precisely because it teaches us the reality of proper sacrifice: those ultimately directed toward God, whether or not the immediate receiver of the sacrifice is our neighbor or God. What is more, Augustine suggests that believers ought be “re-formed,” to God, rather than “con-formed” to the present age.
This is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, the sacrament well-known to the faithful where it is shown to the Church that she herself is offered in the offering which she presents to God.
(Augustine of Hippo, City of God, X.6, trans. Henry Bettenson)
Perhaps, pace Miley, Augustine has something to teach Catholics about the natural instinct we have in our own lives toward cosmetic rebranding in accordance with the times. In other words, rather than seeking to conform our lives (or our parishes) to what we think sells, Augustine might suggest that we ought first engage the really difficult internal work that true discipleship requires: reformation and conversion of our lives (and, by extension, our parishes).
And if we do that, perhaps then we could truly become spiritual wrecking balls.