One expression I often hear is “I’m spiritual but not religious.”
It’s usually said by someone who does not attend church regularly, if at all.
To be religious seems to mean being part of an organized religion, and some shy away from organized religion whether it be Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
Hearing that someone is "spiritual but not religious” is like scratching a chalk board. If I didn’t think being religious weren’t important, I wouldn’t be a committed clergyman in the Catholic Church. From my perspective spirituality and religiosity go hand in hand.
When Jesus was with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi and asked them who people say the son of Man was, and Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God,” Jesus said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” (Mt 16:18)
Jesus knew that if his mission were to be fulfilled, it would depend on a church that would survive him. Without the church the words and teachings of Jesus would not have survived.
Community is an important part of being a disciple.
From the very beginning after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples of Jesus banded together in community to pray, to read the scriptures and to break the bread.
This weekly gathering occurred long before the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read the early community had their struggles and differences. Yet they continued to gather together in community, support one another, and especially take care of the poor and needy. They needed one another. They were both religious and spiritual.
To be spiritual and not religious can lead to individualism.
“It’s something between God and me," goes the thinking. Or: "I don’t need anyone or anything else.” This type of individualism can lead to isolationism. And isolationism can lead to alienation from society.
Since the recent mass killings in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, many have asked what we are doing wrong. Some look at the proliferation of guns. Others focus on mental illness. Still others point at racism and other forms of extremism.
I will leave it to the legislators to deal with legislative solutions. I don’t think there is one simple solution. However, I can offer my perspective from a religious angle. This is where religion can come into play.
A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal said this about those who were involved in mass killings:
“It is all-too-typical of most of these young male killers who tend to be loners and marinate in notions they absorb in the hours they spend online. They are usually disconnected to family, neighborhood, church, colleagues at work, or anything apart from their online universe."
People become part of criminal gangs because of that need to belong. However, gangs are dysfunctional communities.
The proliferation of tablets and smart phones can draw people into isolation. It is easier to text, tweet, play video games and communicate through them rather than interact personally with other individuals. If you are part of a community that cares for one another, that participates regularly in activities, you will be less likely to become isolated and alienated.
Spirituality is important.
Prayer should be part of our lives. But if our prayer life is confined to a quiet communion with God, we are leaving out a critical element: the community as an instrument of God’s presence.
Prayer should also be a communal activity. This is important to all the monotheistic religions. We pray with each other and for each other. We care about each other. We support each other. We reach out to others when they are hurting and lonely.
In other words, we are both spiritual and religious.
Monsignor David Sork is Pastor of St. John Fisher Catholic Church, Rancho Palos Verdes. Masses are on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. and on Sunday at 7:30, 9 and 10:45 a.m. and 12:30 and 5 p.m. He was educated at St. John’s College, Camarillo, CA (B.A. and M.A.), and Fordham University, New York (M.A. and Ph.D.) He lives on the church grounds at Crenshaw Boulevard and Crest Road and can be reached by email at: email@example.com.