Cringe is that inner embarrassment and turmoil you feel from something someone else says or does. This makes you pity them and want to flee their presence.
People in the 21st century are hypersensitive to cringe. Part of this is fueled by the excessive sense of irony that many millennials and Gen Zers aim at older generations or politicians who behave in cringey ways.
But anyone can be cringey — including Catholics. And it’s something you should strive to avoid. Here’s how.
1. Cultivate basic self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-forgetfulness
A big problem in our spiritual, political, social, and family lives is thinking we’re something that we’re not.
You need to know and accept who you really are in order to flourish as a human being. If you’re always rebelling against, or overshooting, your true self, you’re going to be a constant source of affliction for everyone you live, work, and hang out with.
No one is talented at everything and that’s okay. You don’t need to be a sports superstar or musical virtuoso. You are the fruit of God’s love. That is enough, even if you stink at millions of other things.
Be open to your real life and seek to be reconciled to it.
2. Just get out of the way
People shouldn’t have to contend with your holiness. In other words, your pursuit of holiness shouldn’t be an obstacle to other peoples’ devotions.
This happens a lot among Catholics. For example, many of us know someone who mumbles their prayers audibly during Holy Hour. But while they may be engaged in a deep moment of spiritual communion, they really shouldn’t be disturbing other people who are trying to pray in silence.
Or maybe you want to kneel on the bare floor instead of a kneeler during Mass to make a small sacrifice. That’s fine, unless you’re sharing the pew with someone who wants to use the kneeler.
3. Leave room for mystery
Many Catholics behave in subtly cringey ways while trying to be helpful. For example, well-meaning greeters in the parish vestibule may be overbearingly helpful to people walking in for Mass who simply want to find their pews.
Then, there are the generally pointless introductory remarks before Mass about who the celebrant is, how happy the church is that visitors are there, etc. This can become excessive and interfere with people’s attempts to encounter God through the rites of the Mass itself.
Mass should keep an aura of mystery and not feel too much like a social club. The Mass itself should shape the people who attend; you should avoid trying too hard to shape the experience in your own image.
4. Strive for genuine humility
While you don’t want to hide your faith, your pursuit of holiness should be a private interaction between you and God. Otherwise, you may start doing it for show. Strive for spiritual simplicity and eschew opportunities for virtue signaling.
Avoid saying things such as “During Holy Hour, Jesus said x, y, z to me.” You may inadvertently be making your listeners depressed over the fact that Jesus has never spoken that personally to them during Holy Hour.
Here’s another example. When someone praises you, don’t give a long speech about how “It was all God and I’m a nobody.” While, in a certain sense, that’s true, it’s hard to speak that way without sounding proud about your “humility.” Rather, simply respond with “thank you” and leave it at that.
We are all called to evangelize through our words and actions. But these cringey behaviors can interfere with that mission. Commit yourself to overcoming them now, so that the light of Christ can shine more brightly for you.
Ultimately, He is what matters.