Sunday, May 05, 2013
Religion versus the Spirit?
Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on the fifth Sunday after Easter
You've been meeting your friend, Susie,
for about six weeks now.
One day, while having tea,
you invite her to come along to Church.
"Oh no," she says, "I am spiritual,
but not religious."
How does that strike you?
Many people describe themselves
but not religious.
What can they mean?
We know that to be spiritual,
we believe that there is
more to life than what we see.
A spiritual person usually believes
in the existence of the soul
life beyond material goods,
money, tellies and the Daily Mail.
On the other hand,
when we say that we're religious,
we mean that we are bound
to a particular way of life,
a particular set of beliefs,
a particular community.
If we say that we're spiritual
but not religious,
then we're saying that
we believe in the spirit
but we're not bound to follow
a set of beliefs.
That sounds okay, doesn't it?
Perhaps we should all be like Susie?
The trouble is,
if you are spiritual,
then you already have a set of beliefs!
You believe in the spirit,
and that belief shapes the way you live life.
You cannot actually be spiritual
and not religious!
So what does Susie really mean
when she says she's spiritual
but not religious?
Many people like Susie,
reject religion because
it takes away the control they have
of their own lives.
They want to make the decisions in their lives,
not some set of rules
that they really don't understand.
So, they make up the rules as suits them.
They decide what's really spiritual.
Indeed, many people
believe in the spirit,
but live their lives as if that spirit didn't exist
so that they don't become
They hear from Christianity,
the truth about the soul,
about Everlasting life
about redemption from all that is Evil,
and they believe it,
because it cheers them up!
But they won't live a Christian life.
St James tells us,
"for if any be a hearer of the word
and not a doer,
he is like unto a man
beholding his natural form in a glass.
For he beholdeth himself,
and goeth his way
and straightway forgetteth
what manner of man he was."
We cannot truly know even ourselves
if we do not practice what we preach.
We cannot know the spiritual
if we continue to live as if
there was no spiritual life.
If we are truly looking for things
beyond what we see,
so that we might escape from
the Evils of this real world,
then it is not enough to listen
and be cheered up
with the fact of life
We have to commit to that hope,
we have to do what we believe
in order to be saved from Evil
We are saved by our Faith,
but not by faith alone.
We believe in God, Father, son and Holy Spirit.
If we truly believe that,
then we have to live it.
Belief is not about some nice ideas.
"Belief" literally means
"hold something dear"
Belief in God is not a theoretical nod
to the existence of a Creator.
It is a commitment
to communicating with Him in prayer
to obeying His commandments
to repenting of sin.
To believe in God as King of the Universe,
means we have to treat Him as the
King of the Universe!
You only have to read the prophecy of Jeremiah
to understand that, at times,
Judah thought of God
as just a nice idea.
"Judah hath not turned unto me
with her whole heart, but feignedly,"
says God to Jeremiah.
There is no commitment to treating
God as real in either
Judah or Israel.
Indeed, this is exactly
how Our Lord Jesus finds Israel
choosing what to believe
rather than really
believing in God.
You can see this in the Church today.
When we cease to believe
that Our Lord Jesus Christ
is really and actually present at Mass
sacramentally in the Blessed Host
and in the Precious Blood,
it stands to reason
that our worship turns into whatever we want it to be
rather than God-centred.
People seem to think that
when "nasty religion" is away
the "nice spiritual people" will play.
This shows exactly the wrong idea
that people have about
what religion really is.
St James reminds us,
"Pure religion, and undefiled
before God and the Father
To visit the fatherless and the widows
in their affliction
and to keep oneself
unspotted from the world."
The Christian Religion involves looking for
the well-being of others,
caring for those
who have no-one else to care for them;
who have lost support and help them
to find peace.
We should indeed apply this
to those who have lost earthly parents
and earthly spouses.
However, it is also true for those
who have lost a Heavenly Parent
and a Heavenly Spouse.
All human beings need love.
Those outside the Church need it
precisely because they are
outside the Church.
Think of Susie,
"spiritual but not religious" Susie
who has lost God,
and can't see where He is.
Should we force her into the Church?
This would deny her freedom to choose,
and push her further away!
Should we persuade her with
but she may feel pressured that
we're trying to convert her
and push her further away again!
Should we persuade her
by showing her where she has gone wrong in life?
Well, would you be persuaded
with a catalogue of your errors?
The only thing that will persuade her
is if she freely sees in us
the God that she seeks
but does not yet know.
If she sees what she is really looking for
in your life
then she stands a chance
of making up her own mind freely.
God always presents Himself
but never forces Himself.
There is always a choice.
If we truly bind ourselves to Christ,
being both spiritual and religious
then we will shine with His light
and radiate His love.
Just how are you going
to help Susie
to see the light in you?