Have you seen the viral video “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus?”
Like those who claim to be very spiritual but not religious, it creates a false dichotomy between faith and religion in a way which is both very disturbing and dangerous. Those who reject religion are in danger of creating a Jesus which is vague, self-absorbed, individualistic, a-theological, and a-historical and, frankly, incompatible with the Sacred Scriptures. There is no question that religion has been and continues to be abused by a few.
As the Body of Christ, we are as strong as our weakest member. Yet it is also true that to assert that belief in Jesus is antithetical with adherence to religion is not only untrue, it endangers one’s salvation.
Spirituality pertains to one’s personal relationship with God: one’s faith. While there are schools of spirituality, each person has a unique spirituality. The Holy Father once was asked how many paths are there to heaven. He replied that there are as many paths as there are people for each of us has a unique relationship to God. Religion is our shared faith. It is those beliefs which we hold in common with others so that we can guide, support and assist one another.
To put it on another way ... on my life journey to God, spirituality has to do with my individual journey. I can go it alone and hope and pray that I don’t get lost or injured or I can choose to journey with countless other people who can guide, protect, help, and correct me along my way. By analogy, I can choose to go north by following the stars or I can take I- 75N. I think the later option is much easier, safer, and surer, don’t you?
Jesus and his apostles were religious. They went to synagogue every Saturday and to temple on the feast days. Jesus affirmed Judaism even as he criticized the hypocrisy of the leadership. More importantly, He clearly intended to form a religion distinct from Judaism based on a belief in a Triune and merciful God. Nowhere in Sacred Scriptures is it written that if you profess Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior you are saved. Instead Jesus said: “You are Peter and on you I will build my Church.” “Where ever two or more are gathered I am present.” He chose 12 apostles, 72 disciples, and sent them two by two. In the Acts of the Apostles, both Peter and Paul clearly ordained men to lead the newly formed communities of faith. The Apostles saw themselves as guardians and protectors of the faith and Peter, Paul, and John wrote to communities of faith with ordained leadership. Scripture describes the beliefs, worship, and organization of the early Church down to the hymns they sang at Sunday Mass!
Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” We are the branches. We are challenged to remain in Him or die. That means we need to remain faithful to His Church. Now is not the time to dismiss religion -- the Body of Christ -- but to affirm that it has faithfully served us well despite our failings and to continue to respond to His call to grow in holiness.
So the next time someone asks you if you are religious or spiritual, proudly say “Yes! I am blest to be very spiritual and member of His Body, St. Stephen Catholic Church!"
May God bless you one and all!