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Religion and Spirituality

During the parish mission that we had this week at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, our mission presenter said something rather interesting about the idea that one can be spiritual but not religious.  One would be hard pressed to hear people say exactly what each word means and how they are different.  Usually, the person seems to say that they believe in a higher power but they don’t follow an “organized religion” (is there such a thing as unorganized religion?).

Our presenter, Mike Patin, was able to frame it another way.  When someone says that they are spiritual and not religious, they mean they don’t need others to connect to God.  If I am spiritual but not religious, I do not see the point of joining any church or group.

When Catholics profess the creed, they say that they believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  The Catholic Church is apostolic because she believes that all that she knows about Jesus, she has received through the preaching of the Apostles.  In other words, everything that we know, do, and say in our faith has been handed down to us over the centuries by the Holy Spirit, through the apostolic church community…through others!  And together we preserve, live and hand on that faith.

Pope Benedict once said that we get to know God by getting to know the people that know God.  Not only that, in some way the human race is like a prism through which God sends his divine life.  And each human person displays a unique color of that divine light.  So, in every person we can see God’s light and certain characteristics of God.

In some way, we can say that we cannot be spiritual without also being religious.  Which is to say that we cannot have a spiritual relationship with God without having a religious relationship with each other.

Lifting Heavy Burdens

How many times have you and I felt like the laws of the Church were like heavy burdens?  The scriptures allow us to see more deeply into this experience.

On October 12, we read from Luke 11:

The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”

Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”

It seems almost comical when the scholars of the law draw attention to themselves.  Without missing a beat, Jesus chastises them as well.  With their words and teachings they imposed heavy burdens but did nothing to help them.

We who know the law, who know what is evil and what is good, also know what it is like to carry the burden of the “flesh.”  On October 12, Paul mentions in his letter to the Galations that we know the works of the flesh.  When he mentions “flesh,” he is referring to that part of us that is sinful and at war, as it were, with that better part of ourselves that wants to do God’s will.

The burden of this war can weigh us down and even crush us.  Those who go to confession with the experience of confessing the same sins over and over again can really relate to this.

The scholars of the law were guilty of making these burdens heavier by failing to acknowledge the great difficulty of living according to God’s will.

Jesus, who is the chief teacher and the law giver, has every authority to impose whatever burdens he wishes upon us.  Yet, he knows our weaknesses and our strengths.  His deep compassion for us moves him to lift more than one finger.  He allows his entire body to be lifted up on a cross to touch the hearts of every single one of us.

In this way, in the words of St. Paul, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5).  Jesus lifts us up with him and helps us carry our burdens so that they do not crush us.  Rather, they become occasions to lean on him.

We can also do this for others by looking for those with burdens and lending a helping hand.

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