Letters to Jesus (Church, Religion, and Sacraments)-13
I am in the midst of a barrage of confusion from many fronts. It has come about from my reading of a biography of Martin Luther. His concern that the church of his time had strayed far from Your ideal and was in need of reform has struck an ominous chord in me. It makes me fear that there are still many salient points of “religion” that need to be addressed and reformed 500 years after Luther. Yet it also makes me ponder the relationship between religion and spirituality.
The credibility of the institutional Catholic Church is, as it was in Luther’s time, at low ebb. If popular culture is factored in, it cannot be seen as doing anything else but getting lower and lower in credibility unless some serious steps are taken. This is a cause for great concern; for while culture and religion each stand alone their influence upon each other is inevitable. Religion and spirituality are also inevitably intertwined, but a mature spirituality may reach a point where it is no longer greatly concerned with institutional religion.
Man’s intervention in the church, since what is chronicled in the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles, has evolved into a lethargic treadmill of internal comfort and convenience that was not, I believe, exactly what You had in mind. To many people who affiliate themselves with a particular religion and try to lead good lives according to that religion’s tenets and teachings, this is what the spiritual life is about. Whole lives are lived never getting beyond this point.
The effect of religious affiliation should be an uplifting of the spirit to heights at which the religion becomes a background to the spirit. The best work of religion is to guide us to the elements of life in the spirit that You taught: love, compassion, forgiveness, sharing, serving, conversion, and union. Because the church operates in a world whose concerns lie elsewhere, it ends up concerning itself with tangential issues that draw attention away from man’s inner spiritual life. It may be helpful, at times, to consider the church as caught in the trap of culture and, in fact, of being human. I suppose subconsciously we all wish the church was purely divine. But if it was, we would probablycriticize it for being unreachable.
The reform that seems most needed now is in the area of internal direction. Many seem to think that this direction should be swayed strongly by popular culture; but I think this direction should come from the emphatic affirmation of the lessons or Your life and teachings as found in the gospels and by the example of the earliest church as found in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. The task of the church then is not so much to be influenced by culture as to influence it. It cannot be denied that the spirit is influenced by our lives and vice versa. Therefore the work of the church or of religion in general should be an instrumentality in the integration of the spiritual and the human and the way to do this has already been given to it by You in Your life and teachings. The pinnacle of success in this endeavor is characterized by the leading of man’s spirit to a point of spirituality that transcends the instrumentality of religion and goes directly to the heart of God.