Thursday, December 06, 2007

A few thoghts about being spiritual but not religious

I heard on the Busted Halo Podcast #30 a few people help me to understand with greater clarity the distinction people make between being spiritual and being religious. I have always thought someone who was religious was committed to belief in God while someone who was spiritual was rather uncommitted. In fact, I thought someone who was "spiritual" rather than "religious" was one step away from being "agnostic" because, if you don't practice something and keep thinking about it, you will abandon what you have already learned.

But, according to the people they interviewed, being spiritual is more about making your own path to God while being religious is more communal but also more possible to be corrupted. They cited all kinds of rules that get in the way of their spirituality as an example of religion being corrupted. And, while this is very possibly true, I would think there is just as much corruption in personal spirituality as there is with communal. Perhaps one could argue that personal spirituality has less potential for large acts of aggression as a more communal, religious attitude.

The easy response that I have is that this presumes both are dependant on human creation of the religion and don't take into account the presence of God. I mean, if faith is faithful than it demands that God be more than a passive agent. God is the author of faith, after all. If God plays anything more than a passive role in faith, then it should involve more than just the two of us. Healthy relationships are ones that involve more than just two people. The relationships that scare the heck out of me for marriage prep are when a couple think that they'll get married and won't need others to be part of their relationship. That basically means that everyone else becomes either an obstacle or a compartmentalized component of life, both attitudes which are problematic.

Religion should be a more open experience in common with God. It means that God is not simply a passive component to my life nor a compartmentalized component that has nothing to do with the rest of my life. God is not your imaginary friend. Religion gives us the space to bring the integral relationship we should have with into conversation with the rest of our relationships.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The feeding of the 5000 and the Exodus

I have a feeling I'm the not the first to notice this and that I'm stealing this from someone but here goes....

Today's readings reminded me of the story of the giving of the manna in Exodus 16. And here's why...

2 Here in the desert the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
3 The Israelites said to them, "Would that we had died at the LORD'S hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!"
It took the Israelites grumbling for God to give them bread. In the gospel, Jesus anticipates their need and freely gives them bread.
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.
So, this is a test: Will they take more than they need because they don't trust that God will supply the amount that they need tomorrow. Or will they follow God's word.
5 On the sixth day, however, when they prepare what they bring in, let it be twice as much as they gather on the other days."
In the Gospel, God gives them SEVEN basket's full extra. Here, they are only given one extra portion on the sixth day to prevent work on the sabbath. In Christian typology, Easter (of which the Eucharist is always our connection) is seen as the eighth day, the day of recreation. I think this is pointing to this. God only gave his people extra on the sabbath. But, on the eighth day, the Lord supplies overflowing amounts.
6 So Moses and Aaron told all the Israelites, "At evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt;
7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, as he heeds your grumbling against him. But what are we that you should grumble against us?
8 When the LORD gives you flesh to eat in the evening," continued Moses, "and in the morning your fill of bread, as he heeds the grumbling you utter against him, what then are we? Your grumbling is not against us, but against the LORD."
They will know that it was the Lord when he gives them his flesh to eat. This is why, as Catholics, we maintain the eucharist as our focal point of worship, because God gives us HIS FLESH and, through that, we know that he has given it to us.

On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Spe Salvi

The Pope has written a new encyclical with the above title on the topic of Christian hope. I sat down and started to read it and made it a while but, much like many of this present Pope's other writings, I find myself pausing often to think about what he is saying fairly often. Here's just one example from paragraph 4...

"We have raised the question: can our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened his heart be for us too not just “informative” but “performative”—that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses? Before attempting to answer the question, let us return once more to the early Church. It is not difficult to realize that the experience of the African slave-girl Bakhita was also the experience of many in the period of nascent Christianity who were beaten and condemned to slavery. Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation like Barabbas or BarKochba. Jesus, who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within."

There are so many things that the Holy Father is saying in this paragraph. The first deals with salvation. As Catholics we don't really have certainty of personal salvation like the evangelicals claim to have. We have "hope" for salvation. The Pope is setting up this encyclical to address what that means.

Also, by using the phrase "political liberation" and not citing the (principally) South American "Liberation Theology" movement, he seems to be addressing the kind of false hope that they put forth. Instead of citing Oscar Romero or one of the Jesuit martyrs, Pope Benedict points to an African slave who was freed by her Christian owners and went on to be a very effective witness to Christian liberation sans Marxism. The reference to Bar Kochba reinforces this. Bar Kochba led the second Jewish revolt by which they were thrown out of the entire country of Israel and their hopes for a renewed Temple were dashed for good. He thought he could, militarilly and politically, bring about a change in status. But he could not. The Pope is asking us to consider that Christ came to liberate us through a holy encounter.

Homily podcast

We've decided to make our homilies available via podcast. So, if you're tired of reading them, you can hear them now here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Expectant waiting

When you are waiting in a line, are you the type of person who sits and hopes that everyone else will somehow be moved out of the way and you’ll get through or someone who hopes that somehow a new line will open up that is exclusive to you; The Father Dennis line at the gas station. You might know what I mean if you tried to go to a grocery store on Friday. That was the day that everybody in town realized that the storm was coming and that it was time to store up food in case we are stuck in our houses until mid May. So, you may have found yourself four or five people deep at the front of the store with an apple and a can of beans waiting while the person ahead of you has an overflowing cart unloaded on the conveyer belt and the poor cashier, who is doing her best to get people through as quickly as possible, has to find out if that was a braeburn apple or a red delicious.

I think this is kind of similar to the dilemma in the readings today. We hear the first reading about God establishing the Temple Mount as the highest mountain. And, since all gods lived on mountains, the one true God is establishing his as the most important of them all. Then all people will know who the real God is and stop worshipping false gods like Baal and Zeus and Ai. Of course, as Christians, we see in this an image of what heaven will be like. We take comfort in the idea of a time of unparalleled peace; swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, nuclear weapons into space ships. Ironically, this is often what atheists will most fault us for. They say this “pie-in-the-sky” theology amounts to escapism, the notion that we will eventually conquer the forces of oppression but only when we are in heaven. They criticize us and say that we have no stake in the present world because we are constantly obscuring the view of the future.

This, it seems to me, is countered in some measure by the first part of the gospel when Jesus seems to say, not that we need to wait for a more peaceful, hopeful heavenly future but that we need to wait when God will wipe away all the evil from this world. In the days of Noah, people were living their sinful lives, doing what normal people do, and then they found out that God was coming to remove them from the equation, if you will. This is the way it will be when Jesus comes again. People who think they are prospering and living lives without acknowledging God will simply be removed from the equation. That’s what’s truly regrettable about those “Left Behind” books. They’ve completely missed the point of this passage. Jesus isn’t saying that the ones that are taken are taken to heaven. In fact, in context, they are going to be just like the unfortunate people during the time of Noah. They’ll be the ones taken to that place of torment whose name we don’t mention in pleasant company. So, an uncritical reading of Jesus message could be that we need to “be ready” or get prepared for h-e-double right angles. This, of course, leads people to a different type of criticism. Namely, people say that this leads more to a dread of condemnation than to actual faith. And, certainly Jesus doesn’t want to see forced conversion out of fear of punishment. The God who is love would never want someone to be forced to believe simply because they don’t want to be tortured. That’s the way a terrorist organization operates not a God who has given us the free will to choose him.

So, where are we? We don’t want to be pie-in-the-sky Christian simpletons and we don’t want to be hunkered down in fear either. How are we to be prepared? I would suggest that, far too often, people fail to appreciate that the preparation itself is the point. We aren’t simply working toward heaven. We are experiencing God in the here and now, albeit in an incomplete way. The master of the house is exhorted to be prepared, to stay awake and be prepared to keep the thieves out of his house. It seems to me that one of the ways that we do this is to prepare ourselves during this season of Advent. To paraphrase Paul in the second reading: Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies, drunkenness and other abusive excesses, not in promiscuity, lust and other sexual abuses, not in rivalry, jealousy and other abuses of relationship.

Being a Christian is not simply standing in line waiting for some better life ahead. Nor is it a life of trying to find the path of least resistance in order to avoid the pains of hell. There, I said it. Being a Christian means being prepared all the time. The preparation itself has meaning. “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”