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Thomas wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • What does it mean to be in the world, but not of it and how does that apply to Catholic's everyday living?

I have heard and seen Catholics use this phrase but I have not been able to flesh out the meaning behind these words and how this phrase applies to Catholics living in the world.

For example, I have recently been reading about the Amish. They say they are in the world, but not of it.

For them this means not allowing the culture around them to destroy their community or their values and so they actively decide what technologies, fashions, and elements of culture to allow, adapt, or reject in their communities so as to preserve their religion, family life, and to serve God in the manner they believe.

  • Do Catholics make such an effort to discriminate in such an active manner with the culture around them?

Thanks for any answer.


  { In lieu of the Amish view, could explain what "in the world, but not of it" means for Catholics? }

Fr. Jonathan replied:


I recommend you read Gaudium et spes — a Vatican II document.

Fr. Jonathan

Mike replied:

Hi Thomas,

The phrase in the world, but not of it means correctly prioritizing various aspects of your life so that instead of focusing on the things in this world, we should keep our eyes focused on our Heavenly goal. When people put money before their spirituality, they live of the world, and not in the world spreading Jesus’ Gospel.

If one is not:

  • renewing their Covenant by going to Sunday Services, or
  • going but not really doing anything with the Gospel Message they are hearing

they can easily be lead, especially in this culture, to be only of the world.

I am not very familiar with the Amish lifestyle but yes, there are Catholics who follow similar paths as they do. Religious monks and nuns dedicate their lives solely to one of prayer, fasting, and good works within what their religious order allows.

For examples, check out my Religious Orders page.

My colleagues may have more to say on your question.


Thomas replied:

Thanks guys,

Sorry for the long reply.

I am interested in the Amish's approach to the world.

  • They reject modern clothing because they see it as immodest and potentially sinful.
  • They reject television, radio, and the internet because they see more harm coming from it (through the pushing of the world's values on them) than good coming from it.
  • They reject cars because they see cars as a major vehicle (no pun intended) of fragmentation to their Christian community which is an extremely important part of their lives.
  • They separate themselves, both internally and externally from the rest of the world because they see the Christian life as one of pilgrimage, not as permanent residents, but on a journey to their true home in Heaven.

Thus they live simply so as not to get entangled too much in a sinful world which, would pull them off that narrow way leading to Heaven and, would instead lead toward the wider road of destruction.

I was reading the letter to Diognetus the other day and it said:

"Christians are indistinguishable from those around them either by nationality, language, or custom . . . and with regard to dress, food, and manner of life, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in."

But to me this doesn't seem sustainable in today's world.

  • Christians are called to chastity which includes modesty.
  • We are called to avoid pornography and all forms of indecency — yet that it what fashion and television shows present to our eyes every day.
  • We are called to keep custody of the eyes, but who can avoid these things on T.V. and the internet and just be out among the world anymore?
  • In a culture of death or so-called post-Christian world can we really afford to be indistinguishable from those around us?
  • Can we really continue in this world without some sort of separation from the world?

Everyone can point to the Amish and say,

They are different; they do not follow the world's ways.

  • Can the same be said of Catholics?
  • How are we to be a visible witness to the world if we cannot be told apart from the rest of the world?
  • Catholicism cannot be a religion of purely internal conversion can it?

Don't we need a Christian culture within families and parishes before we can have a Christian culture in the world.


John replied:

Hi, Thomas —

Certainly Catholics believe in modesty and so forth but we also have to be careful not to call attention to ourselves by going over board in the same way.

We are called to live in the world and that means we live in a society. If we go to the extreme of

  • dressing in a uniform way
  • driving around in horses and buggies, and
  • avoiding electricity and telephones

that's not pointing out holiness necessarily and, in fact, it draws attention to us, becoming too often a source of spiritual pride.

Now some Catholics choose to live as part of religious orders, like nuns and monks but it is a specific calling. For the average lay Catholic, modesty is shown by our dress and keeping with ordinary fashion that doesn't flaunt the body so as to be objectified.

We really need to avoid extremes in these cases, lest we become cult-like in our thinking. These external matters, such as dress and so forth, are minor issues.

Yes, we must live in such a way to reflect the Love of God and we must live the Gospel but Christ is our example. There is no evidence that Christ and His Apostles dressed any differently in their daily lives then the average person of His time.


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