Bishop’s Reflection: Don’t Be Afraid to Be “Religious”

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

I think it is fair to say that in today’s secular culture there is a bias against religion. Maybe the bias against it has always been there, but it is certainly more pronounced. How often have you heard a celebrity, friend or even a fallen away Catholic say, “I am spiritual, but not religious”?  It comes across as a statement that infers the spiritual path is the “higher path” and a person has somehow grown beyond religion.  This has become such a regular statement that to some it sounds profound, but I think it is just another way of stripping GOD more and more out of our culture as a binding truth.

It is true that there have been many sins committed in the name of religion, but the problem lies with individuals, not in our religion, our Catholic Faith.  The meaning of the word religion, (re-legio, Latin root) is to bind again. In the context of faith, the highest purpose and meaning of religion is to bind us back to God. In faith, we reorder our thinking so that our morality, our virtue, our prayer, the very ultimate meaning of our lives is grounded in the belief that God is the author of life, the great architect of creation and that He sent His son Jesus as the very revelation of who He is.

Often times in the business and temptations of life we forget this truth.  We may say that we believe in God, but can at the same time become functional unbelievers, stripping God out of our lives as our center and guide. We begin to act without regard for others in the attainment of success or wealth; to seek pleasures without respect for others, our own dignity or even our sacred vows. We find ourselves becoming more allied with the values of the world – becoming vain, judgmental, self righteous, envious and self-centered.  When we then stop praying and going to Church, we reach a moment when we need to ask ourselves a question: If there is no place for God at the center of my life, then what is the new center of my life? Is it my job, my search for success, my desire for more money, popularity, influence, pleasure, avoiding old age…? Whatever it is, it will not be enough.

How do we break out of this empty life, this functional unbelief?  The answer is simple: go to Church! Begin to seek out God as the center of your life. Get back into the religious practices that put you back in contact with Jesus, to help rebind yourself back to God, to remind yourself of what is good and true.  Your Catholic faith is your way to reorder your thinking and life in light of your faith in Jesus and belief in God. We do this by reconnecting with the sacraments, the teachings of the Church, the reading of scripture and prayer. We need to discover God not from within, but in the Body of Christ, the Church. It is there we will rediscover our authentic center and truth.  Some will suggest that this is an old-fashioned approach and a more spiritual approach is better and purer.

When someone says they are spiritual, and not religious, there is an unspoken assumption that they can discover God within themselves. I don’t think a Christian can make this statement.  Just think of how God revealed Himself.  The Word became flesh in Jesus Christ. The apostles had to listen to Jesus, come to know and love him, to allow Jesus to reveal to them WHO GOD IS! Jesus is not a fabrication of the human heart. He is the Revelation of God who comes from outside ourselves and reveals the deepest truth about the human heart and our identity as Children of God. To re-center ourselves we must allow God to reveal Himself to us once again.  We do not do this as simply a spiritual practice, but as a religious one, re-connecting with the Body of Christ, the Church, who continues to make known the truth and revelation of Jesus in the sacraments, the scriptures and the tradition of understanding coming from the apostles.  Once we find Jesus and discover who God is, we then begin to see spiritually the truth of Jesus revealed in our very being, finding joy, peace and a truth that resonates in our hearts.

I am aware the Church can be at times an imperfect reflection of Jesus in the everyday encounters we may have with parishioners or pastors.  Religious practices can become empty and at times self-serving.  But the heart of the Church is Jesus Christ and here we will find the true teaching and encounter with Christ. Stop worrying about being religious. Draw strength, inspiration and hope from your faith, from your religion as a Roman Catholic.  Come back to church to encounter Christ once again and reorder your life with God at the center.

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