Easier to recognize than to define, spiritual worldliness is a hazard anyone involved with religion may encounter. It is dangerously easy to convince oneself that acquiring this or doing that is for the greater glory of God when, in fact, it is for the greater glory (and possibly comfort) of X or Y (where X or Y is either oneself or the institution/organization to which one belongs). It would be lovely if we could believe spiritual worldliness belonged to the past, that the Churches today, being often cash-strapped and frequently not particularly well-regarded by society, were free of its temptations. But how can they be, when they are made up of ordinary men and women like you and me?
Perhaps you want to disagree, arguing that you’re not in a position to seek power or prestige or anything like it and have no appetite for acquisition. Maybe so, but that doesn’t let you off the hook. Spiritual worldliness has a counterpart which can be just as deadly although often more difficult to recognize, unspiritual unworldliness. Being ‘unworldly’ might seem a good thing to be, especially in the light of what I’ve just said, but linger for a moment over that adjective, ‘unspiritual’. It is possible, as St Paul reminds us, to divest ourselves of everything, ostensibly for a good purpose yet in a totally loveless and therefore unspiritual way. Unspiritual unworldliness is just as seductive as spiritual worldliness and equally destructive.
Unless we have already attained purity of heart, we probably incline a little towards the one or the other, according to temperament or personal history. Is there any help? There is no quick fix, I fear. It is only through regular recourse to prayer, sacred scripture and the sacraments that we can find an antidote. The Church will have to battle these temptations to the end of time — which means that you and I will have to also.