Posted by: Thomas Richard | October 25, 2011

Religion: “No”; Relationship: “Yes”?

Forgive me for the deep sadness when I hear – much too frequently, these days – evangelicals and also some Catholics depreciating “religion” in favor of “a personal relationship” with Jesus. There is a contrast made between the old, unacceptable and mere “practice of religion” and the current, acceptable and authentic bond of “a personal relationship” with Jesus. “Religion” is perceived, if not defined, as merely external, institutional, formal and dead. “Personal relationship” is perceived, if not defined, as of the heart, meaningful, dynamic and alive.

Religion is a good thing! The deep sadness I experience when I hear this caricature, this demeaning, of religion is due to the grains of truth in it. People are created religious beings! God made us to seek Him, to find Him, to worship Him and to find life in Him! That quest and journey is the religious life! Yet somehow, many have come to think of “religion” as ceremony without content; rituals without meaning: theatrics sprinkled with holy water. What a colossal tragedy for the Church.

Part of the cause for this false dichotomy – and it is false – is the “grain of truth” that it is possible to appear to be religious when one is not. It is possible to go through the religious ceremonies and celebrations while one’s heart never enters them. It is possible to appear to be in solemn worship of God, when in truth worship has never begun within the person. It is possible, in other words, to be an actor in the weekly religious play, and not a religious man or woman who is in “full, conscious and active participation” in the liturgy of worship.

Part of the reason for the popularity of this misunderstanding (especially among evangelicals) is the false philosophy of individualism prevalent in Western culture. “I can worship God better at my golf course.” I am closer to God in my fishing boat, alone.” I like to read the paper and enjoy a cup of hot coffee Sunday mornings, and God and I have our little conversation.” And so evangelicals who have indeed encountered Christ in their hearts begin to plan a way to draw such marginalized Christians (painfully often, marginalized Catholic Christians) back into a church building for a Sunday experience of “real relationship with Jesus.”

God does seek true worshippers. Jesus said, in John’s Gospel,

Jn 4: 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.

What is “worship in Spirit and truth”? It does require real and personal relationship – the Spirit gathers persons into a communion of holy love in truth, and love is most certainly personal. And because that Spirit-led love is bigger than merely “Jesus-and-me”, He calls us to much more than “Jesus-and-me” in a private conversation. Love calls us to a communion or persons as big as the heart of Jesus, to an embrace as wide as His outstretched arms, to a love as universal and world-wide as His. The full truth of His holy love is defined at the Cross: there, at the Cross, is where we find both relationship and religion.

The Catholic Church does offer the Father true worship, in every holy Mass. We offer the same self-sacrifice of Christ His Son! And in the Holy Mass, to every worshipper is offered a most personal communion in that perfect self-sacrifice of love. There can be no holier or more complete worship! In each Mass, the Cross of Calvary is made present; for every man and woman present in that Mass, the offering of Jesus for the salvation of the world upon that Cross is made present for them individually, personally and collectively to embrace with their own human and personal “yes”.

In the Mass, worship of the Father in spirit and truth is a real supernatural possibility for every man and woman. In the Mass, at the Cross, all men and women are offered their very personal vocations in completeness, to the glory of God their Creator and Redeemer. Jesus has made into one, religion and relationship. In the Mass, all become one.

Ps 85: Near indeed is his salvation for those who fear him;
glory will dwell in our land.
11 Love and truth will meet;
justice and peace will kiss.
12 Truth will spring from the earth;
justice will look down from heaven.

Thomas


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Yes, how we need to appreciate so much more the gift of Holy Mass! Yes, how truly we need to embrace both religion and relationship! By God’s Grace, may we begin anew to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

    Thank you for reminding us, also, of our brothers and sisters who have wandered from the Catholic Church. May our hearts, one with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, reach out to them, by prayer, good example and by sincere invitation to come back home to Our Father’s House.

    Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
    St. Joseph, Protector of the Church, pray for us.
    Jesus, we trust in You.

  2. You are correct in feeling sad when evangelicals and also some Catholics depreciating religion in favor of “a personal relationship” with Jesus. The Church founded by Jesus was meant to be universal thus nothing esoteric but His living body here on earth. Since a body has many parts, it’s a community.

    Pope Benedict XVI address delivered on Sunday JUNE 13, 2005 from the window of his study, before praying the midday Angelus with thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

    Dear Brothers and Sisters!

    “The Year of the Eucharist continues, called by our beloved Pope John Paul II, to reawaken ever more, in the consciences of believers, wonder toward this great Sacrament. In this singular Eucharistic time, one of the recurring topics is Sunday, the Day of the Lord, a topic that was also at the center of the recent Italian Eucharistic Congress, held in Bari. During the conclusive celebration, I also underlined how participation at Sunday Mass must be seen by a Catholic not as an imposition or a weight, but as a need and joy. To meet with brothers, to listen to the Word of God and to be nourished of Christ, immolated for us, is an experience that gives meaning to life, which infuses peace in the heart. Without Sunday, we Catholics cannot live.
    For this reason parents are called to make their children discover the value and importance of the response to Christ’s invitation, who calls the whole Christian family to Sunday Mass. In this educational endeavor, a particularly significant stage is the first Communion, a real celebration for the parish community, which receives for the first time its smallest children at the Lord’s Table.
    To underline the importance of this event for the family and the parish, next October 15, God willing, I will have in the Vatican a special meeting of catechesis for children, in particular of Rome and Latium, who during this year have received their first Communion. This festive gathering will fall almost at the end of the Year of the Eucharist, while the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is under way, centered on the Eucharistic mystery. It will be an opportune and beautiful circumstance to confirm the essential role that the sacrament of the Eucharist has in the formation and spiritual growth of children.
    From now on I entrust this meeting to the Virgin Mary, that she may teach us to love Jesus ever more, in constant meditation of his Word and adoration of his Eucharistic presence, and help us to make young generations discover the “precious pearl” of the Eucharist, which gives true and full meaning to life. “

    Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before Thy face I humbly kneel and with burning soul pray and beseech Thee to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith,, hope, and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment, the while I contemplate with great love and tender pity Thy five wounds, pondering over them within me, whilst I call to mind the words which David, Thy prophet, said of Thee, my Jesus! “They have pierced My hands and feet; they have numbered all My bones. (Ps. xxi: 17,18)

    O God hidden in the prison of the tabernacle! I come with joy to you each evening to thank you for the graces you have given me. I ask pardon for the faults I committed today, which has just slipped away like a dream….
    O Jesus! how happy I would be if I had been faithful, but alas! often in the evening I am sad because i feel I could have corresponded better with your graces….If I were more united to You, more charitable with my sisters (others), more humble and more mortified, I would feel less sorrow when I talk with you in prayer. And yet, O my God, very far from becoming discouraged at the sight of my miseries, i come to you with confidence, recalling that “those who are well do not need a doctor but the sick do.” I beg you, then, to cure me and to pardon me. I will keep in mind, Lord, “that the soul to whom you have forgiven more should also love you more than the others!”…I offer you every beat of my heart as so many acts of love and reparation and I unite them to your infinite merits. I beg you, O my Divine Bridegroom, to be the Restorer of my soul, to act in me despite my esistance; and lastly, I wish to have no other will but yours. Tomorrow, with the help of your grace, I will begin a new life in which each moment will be an act of Love and renunciation.

    Thus, after coming each evening to the foot of your Altar, I will finally reach the last evening of my life. Then, will begin for me the unending day of eternity when I will place in your Divine Heart the struggles of exile!

    Prayers of St. Thérèse of Lisieux

  3. I was just looking for some reading material to explain the Holy Mass and offer some insight into what is actually taking place. I believe that sometimes it is hard to really take advantage of this awesome form of Prayer and Worship…if we as Catholics don’t know how much of a treasure it truly is. It seems that not so long ago the Church was encountering a similar indifference toward the Holy Eucharist. It wasn’t until Holy Mother Church began a teaching campaign on the Holy Eucharist, that people began to be much more reverent, and have such a greater understanding for what it is…The Body of Christ.
    Help us to remain in you, Heavenly Father, through Christ Jesus, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  4. Dear Dr. Richard,

    I was just listening to Father Nicholoson who gave a talk about Cardinal Newman in a small town in Nova Scotia. The most intelectual person in his days of England. After years of hating the Catholic Church he discovered that it was the only Church Jesus had established!

    Yesterday I listened to a talk about the authentic apparition of Our Lady in Akita, Japan. We are living in very difficult times spiritually and the surest way to keep on track is by developing a deep devotion to Jesus’ mother by reciting the rosary each day.

    When Japan decided to allow outsiders to trade with them, a Catholic priest was allowed to build a chuch in Akita. One day a group of people walked in the church and they were pleased to discover that he was a genuine priest because they found a statue of Our Lady in a section of the church! The peasants had been underground Catholics for over 200 years and had never been in touch with a priest during this period.

    Yes, Mary always leads us to her son. A strong devotion to her is the surest way to salvation.

    Gene

  5. Dear Thomas,

    how excellently you skewer the false dichotomy made between a relationship with Christ and the practice of one’s Faith within the Church. There can be no more personal relationship than partaking of His Precious Body and Blood.

    As ever, thank you for your insights.

    John


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