Person A has considerable time set apart for prayer on a daily basis; and is displaying devotional warmth and a noticeably higher level of reverence than the average. But has not been seen beginning new relationships on own initiative, and is very reserved in personal interactions, i.e.. a person of few words and minimal answers.
The question is: how authentic can this be if there is no observable deepening in relationships with others, and no observable outward focus in either service to others or in an intercessory prayer burden for others?
If you recall the galactic analogy, if you place God as the largest star in the centre, and yourself as a tiny star attracted to the centre, then in order to get closer to God you necessarily have to get closer to the other tiny stars; since the closer to the centre of the galaxy you are the more densely packed it is.
Person B has a substantial daily prayer routine with a somewhat regular touch of the supernatural happening.
The question is: how authentic can this be if there doesn’t seem to be a corresponding growth in reverence, in commitment to going the extra mile, and in outward focus on others. General impressions have a focus on ‘why me?’ and ‘what does this mean’?
At this point a personal stock take is necessary. Is there a daily committed time for prayer? Is there service in my life beyond friends and family? Is love and reverence for God growing? Is there any evidence of more patience, trust, gentleness etc than last year?
Person C has a committed prayer life with deep devotion, and a Mary of Bethany type focus in prayer. There is a degree of outward service and willingness to serve.
The question is: how authentic can this be if that outward service is usually either publicly visible, or at least visible to the priest, and people tend to tread on eggshells in this person’s presence lest they do something incurring disapproval and verbal reprimand?
Person D looks like they are walking the talk, have fingers in many service pies, are social to a point, and seem to have a regular prayer life.
The question is: how authentic can this be if you feel like purchasing a lottery ticket when they arrive for Mass on time or two lottery tickets if they are ever early?
Person E is a seminarian yet either comes to Mass just in time; or comes in for personal prayer early and doesn’t greet anyone. Then when Mass is over leaves without any eye contact; or heads off to a private chapel to pray alone rather than in common with others – unless the priest or someone relatively important makes a beeline to talk to him.
The question is: do they train them in seminaries to behave like this? How authentic can training for priesthood be if it actively discourages interaction with parishioners? Where is the balance between loving God and loving others?
Person F is usually a religious or ex-religious who is vastly superior to everyone else, and who can with ease make someone else feel like an insignificant gnat.
The question is: how authentic can a religious life be if it doesn’t possess the kind of humility that helps build others up, or at least treat others as befits their dignity as children of God?
Yet God loves them all, and is infinitely patient with them, always seeking to lead them along the path of greater authenticity of relationship with Himself.
Now for the online conundrums.
The biggest litmus test for these is, have they been written primarily for an audience of one (i.e. God)?
The first one is both insidious and commonplace. You start out reading reflections on a particular passage of scripture, or a written conversion testimony, or something that passes for a written prophetic word, or a topic relevant to living the Christian life. The content is useful and good until you get near the end. Then you get hit with a ‘buy my book’, ‘listen to my podcast’, ‘join my online mentorship group’ or similar. And you feel duped because what you’ve just read has been primarily a sales pitch.
The next one is easier to suspect from the get-go, and therefore easier to avoid. Because they usually have ‘wealth’, ‘prosperity’, ‘financial breakthrough’ or similar in the title. It normally goes something like: if you do X, Y and Z in that order, and exactly as I say, then God will give you everything you want. Some a little more sophisticated than that, but otherwise essentially the same. The truth is that there is no substitute or short cut for developing a relationship with God, and a relationship with God is the ultimate prize, compared to Him riches rank as dust.
After that come the ‘sow a seed’ websites, citing the scripture that says assistance to a prophet earns a prophet’s reward. As you might have already guessed, I have a problem with these. That’s because throughout Christian history God has called some to live trusting completely in His providence, only going out to beg on the streets when things are grim. When God’s ministers are doing good work, the natural impulse is to assist them. There is a significant difference between those who don’t have a ‘sow a seed’ or donation page, and those who do. With the former you know they are trusting in God, and writing as He directs, because there are no kick-backs in it for them. With the latter there’s an aspect of turning what God has asked you to do into an income stream. With that comes the temptation to write to attract donations instead of writing to attract God’s blessing; and the temptation to turn God’s anointing into a business.
The last type is insidious because it appeals either to our curiosity or to our need, making them difficult to resist. The former has click-bait style titles promising answers to satisfy our curiosity about heaven and hell, but which don’t lead us to greater love, awe and worship of God. Will you see your favourite pet in heaven? Did your favourite actor get to heaven? That kind of thing. The latter has click-bait style titles promising to do something God and only God can do, e.g. get the key to release everything the Holy Spirit wants to give you; conquer your demons and love with abandon; get success in petitioning the courts of heaven. That kind of thing. The most anyone of us can do on earth is to tell how God has worked wonders in our lives and in the lives of those we are close to. Frequently that sparks new wonders because those stories raise faith and expectancy in others. But no one can claim that they have a never-fail gifting from God. e.g. Some people are gifted by God with a charism of healing, and many do get healed, but it is always God who does the healing, and the gifted person cannot predict who will be healed and who won’t be.
Can God use powerfully the gifted people who are the catalysts for these disappointing online offerings. Yes He can. But approach them with significant caution and don’t make them your primary go-to websites. God will always speak clearer where the sources are cleaner than where the sources are muddied.