Over the last 10 years, 22 percent of the population and 30 percent of those between the age of 18 and 29 have baptized themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” This self-branding label not only affirms their desire for the good, the lasting, the divine, but also guiltlessly absolves them from any community form of faith or worship. It frees them to do their own thing.
“Not religious” is just another way of saying that faith is something between me and God. No doubt faith is a question of me and God. But is it really only me and God? Here is the heart of the matter. Is the seeking of God merely a private affair?
As a religion, Catholicism has a treasure of wisdom and reflection that span centuries and cultures. Deep insights. Practical advice. Moral guidelines. Much can be said for digging deep down into this tradition and coming up the richer. Why, then, is it so easily jettisoned?
Catholicism as a religion makes demands. Hard demands. Unpopular demands. Generosity. Love. Compassion. Fidelity. Chastity. Practical deeds. Acceptance of truths taught by the Church. Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. These are not just words. They are the way of life required of a practicing Catholic. They demands require effort. They require sacrifice.
It is all too easy to simply dismiss religion as dry dogmas and antiquated rules. Isn’t it more comfortable to make one’s own rules, fashion one’s own truth, live one’s own experience of God? Is “spirituality…without religion … a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community”? Is it “plain old laziness”? (James Martin SJ, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Harper One, 2010, p. 50). Perhaps, in some cases.
This ever-increasing popular opposition of “spiritual” to “religious” obscures the inherent coherence of spirituality and religion. Religion, particularly Catholicism, is a way of spirituality. What makes Catholicism unique and distinguishes it from any self-chosen form of spirituality is its origin in divine revelation. It is God’s gift for humanity, not so much a way for us to seek God, but the way to be found by God who is seeking to enter into a relationship with each of us in Christ.
As St. Augustine taught, the word religion derives etymologically from the Latin re-ligare, i.e. re (again) + ligare (connect). It means “to reconnect” (cf. City of God X.3). Thus, Catholicism, as a religion, reconnects us to God. But it does so, not according to our will and our preference, but according to God’s will and God’s truth as revealed in Christ and through his Church.