So many of the pilgrims I encounter are wonderful people who seem to have an aversion to any form of organized religion. Our conversations are positive and interesting, but I wonder how God wishes me…us… to respond? It’s almost a badge of honor to be able to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” as if adding religion to the equation means one is not truly enlightened and free. I love my “spirituality,” and know the Spirit can unite us beyond religious teaching, practice and tradition. But I also love my religion and don’t know how I could possibly be spiritual and not religious. The word “religion” means to bind together opposites: body/ soul; heaven/earth. How can I ever commit myself to a particular faith community and be a part of its life, being formed and transformed by its teachings, if I refuse to value religion?
This entire Camino infrastructure was built, not just with spirituality, but with religion and religious faith. The beauty of specifically Catholicism is that the human person is part of a LIVING PEOPLE with a past rooted in every culture and language. The rituals, sacraments, saints, seasons, social justice teachings, music and architecture are meant to embrace each and every human being in their DIGNITY given by God alone. Each person is “planted” in this communal, spiritual AND religious SOIL so that they will flourish and blossom.
The worst thing we can do as a catholic people is force the religious tradition on others…even our children. For too many years, centuries, parents left it primarily to the schools, nuns and priests to form their children in the faith. But Children need their parents to teach them and show the Way. Each house becomes a domestic “church” with the supper table, at which meals are shared, connected with the Eucharistic table, at which the meal of the Body and Blood of Christ is shared. In order for parents to do this, they have to become adults in the faith, learning and studying scripture and the catechism; they have to develop a daily discipline of prayer, showing their children that they are believers and don’t rely on religious leaders to do what is needed. And they have to participate at Sunday mass knowing that their life depends upon it.
I know the horrible abuses of religion, especially when it is interewined with political power and prestige. For centuries, the Catholic Church weilded extreme power in what was the Roman Empire. This power created inquisitions and crusades, putting to death countless people seen as heretics. Currently, we are experiencing the terrible effects of the abuse of power on the part of many of our bishops in protecting priests and other church leaders who did horrific things to children and teens. These are realities that need to be faced and dealt with on a continual basis. The Church can NEVER again be the political power of a nation. It always goes bad.
Our church has done many injustices to women, those who disagree, gays and lesbians, indigenous people, and those who have no voice due to some aspects of their background. But our church and its institutions have done countless acts of justice and mercy, both corporal and spiritual. The heart of the Catholic Church is the beautiful people creating a tapestry of color and beauty. And the leaders are a part of this wonderful tapestry held together and strengthened by the Spirit of Christ. As Paul says in today’s first reading from Ephesians, we are all adopted by God as His sons and daughters. A wonderful people, pilgriming in time and space, the priesthood of baptism and the priesthood of the ordained, washing feet in service. We are together, a spiritually religious or religiously spiritual people celebrating in a church which is a hospital of mercy for sinners, who want to become saints…a lifetime endeavor.
Pray that I LISTEN to these primarily young people and respond in a way that might attract them, and not further alienate them.