WHEN I was studying for my first bachelor’s degree, I was very active in university-based cause-oriented groups. I was part of the student movement. But at the same time, I was equally active in Church activities. I started as a member of the junior presidium of the Legion of Mary at the age of 10 then was recruited by some community leaders to be an altar server for our chapel. From there I progressed on becoming a reader, choir member, organist and youth and community leader.
For me, being an activist and active church member was a normal thing. That is why I was surprised when a university friend of mine expressed his amazement that I did both.
Nowadays, I find it intriguing at the least when I hear people say: I AM SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS. For me, what these people are actually saying is that they may believe in some transcendental being or state but they don’t want to belong in any organised religion. For people who have a Christian background, what this really means is that they believe in God or in Christ but not the Church.
However, Pope Francis said recently this line of reasoning makes no sense. Francis, quoting his predecessor Pope Paul VI, says: “…it is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to be with Christ at the margins of the Church. It’s not possible. It is an absurd dichotomy.”
In a sense one cannot call someone a Christian–or claim to love God or Christ–if that person separates himself or herself from the Church. Because as the Pope says in his homily: “We receive the Gospel message in the Church and we carry out our holiness in the Church, our path in the Church.”
Some would defend this position by stating that they cannot possibly let themselves be identified with a religion or a church tainted with scandal, abuse, corruption, etc. One of the inquirers in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) group I coordinate asked: “How can you say the Church is holy if we can plainly see sinners even in the hierarchy–priests abusing children or having affairs, and bishops covering them up?”
But the Church–the people who are gathered in the name of God and Christ–does not claim to be perfect. It acknowledges its own imperfections and strives to overcome all these. We can say that the Church remains holy because her origin, her source and her sustainer IS holy–God himself. The Church is holy because her mission is the pursuit of holiness.
And one cannot do this alone. One cannot achieve holiness by himself or herself. We need others to do this. We need each other. As Pope Francis says we carry out our holiness in the Church–and I would add, WITH the Church.
I would dare to say that to claim to be spiritual but not religious is, in fact, to mask our self-centeredness; our refusal to take responsibility and our fear to share ourselves with others–the real meaning of LOVE. Because to belong to a Church is to give or to share something of ourselves. And we have Jesus himself as our example. Because by dying on the cross, Jesus gave us the ultimate model of total self-giving.
A more accurate statement therefore is that I AM SPIRITUAL BECAUSE I AM RELIGIOUS. MY LOVE OF CHRIST MAKES ME BELONG TO A CHURCH.
Find the related article here: http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/santa-marta-31673/