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Spiritual or Religious? Why Not Both!
By: Jim & Susan Vogt
Are you religious, spiritual, both or neither? Does it matter? Many young (and not-so-young) adults these days are distancing themselves from the Catholic Church, claiming they’re spiritual but not religious. To understand this phenomenon better, we talked with several 20-somethings. Here’s one conversation:
Q: So, Jeff, what’s your take on this “spiritual vs. religious” debate?
A: Many of my friends would say they’re spiritual but not religious. Most of them grew up Catholic, or at least Christian, went to church on Sundays and to Catholic school or CCD. Now that they’re on their own, making time for organized religion just isn’t a priority. Many do volunteer work, but going to church isn’t on their radar. They believe in God, know that there’s more to life than accumulating wealth, and try to live moral lives.
Q: But what about you? You go to Mass with your family on Christmas, Easter and special occasions, but what about the rest of the time? Do you still consider yourself Catholic?
A: Yes, I’m Catholic. I believe what Christ taught, and the essential ideals of the Church make sense to me. I filter some Church stuff through the lens of common sense, though. The Catholic Church often seems archaic to me—all that medieval pageantry and language. The sexual abuse scandal and Church politics don’t help. I buy “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Blessed are the peacemakers” and “Whatever you do for the least, you do for me,” but I get fed up with rules like only unmarried men should be priests and restrictions about marriage and Communion. But I figure those are human rules and not the essence of Catholicism.
Q: So if you agree with the heart of Catholicism, are you a practicing Catholic? Do you attend weekly Mass?
A: I go to Mass, but not weekly. That’s not where my social network gets together. Your generation has friends, neighbors and other people your age to see at Mass. I’ve already got a good group of friends and I wouldn’t see any of them at Mass. I go when I need it or when there’s a special reason.
Q: Hmmm, but Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He was giving us a way to stay close to him on a regular basis. Does this mean anything to you?
A: Well, you’ve got a point there. Maybe I am spiritual but not religious. It’s just that I believe in a loving God and don’t think God is going to send me to hell if I lead a good life but don’t go to Mass every Sunday. Maybe when I get older or hit a crisis, it will be different. Maybe it will change if I marry a Catholic. Then I would have someone to go with.
This conversation may be disconcerting to practicing Catholics. What we hold dear isn’t part of the culture of many young adults—even thoughtful, idealistic ones. Their reasons might sound superficial or immature to our ears. Still, surveys tell us that only 52 percent of adults practice the religion of their upbringing. This isn’t just a Catholic phenomenon, but a societal one.
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Are these 20- and 30-somethings a generation of heathens? Are society and the Church about to collapse under the weight of the I-can’t-be-bothered-with-Church generation? If they’re not attending Mass, does this mean they’re leading immoral lives? Why should all this matter to believers?
To many people, it matters because they’re our sons and daughters. To everyone, it matters because they’re the future of our Church. Before we lay it all at the feet of young adults, however, consider the national survey done by PARADE magazine. It indicates that, of the 79 percent of adults who profess to practice a religion, only 30 percent attend religious services weekly—regardless of their age.
What can we learn from this? Perhaps the primary lesson is that we each need to examine the depth of our own faith.
If it’s only tradition or fear of hell that holds us to the Church, we must dig deeper. Catholicism can bear the weight of this scrutiny. We believe in God who created the world, loves us and asks us to spread this love to others. The means for spreading God’s love is gathering in community in Christ’s name.
Can you and I do anything that will make a difference?
• Challenge your own faith. Often the path to a deeper faith comes through the powerful experience of meeting Jesus on the margins of society. Like the Good Samaritan, we can move beyond our comfort levels and see the face of Christ in those who are ignored or hurting. The eyes of faith bring the gospel to bear on our experiences and help us see beneath the surface.
• Challenge the faith of young adults. Young adults are especially ripe for discovering the face of God through powerful spiritual and human experiences. Help your parish design opportunities for volunteering their talents to lend a hand to those in need. These experiences call young adults to stretch themselves for the gospel.
• Don’t fear crises; use them. Nobody seeks a tragedy, but, in time, enough naturally come our way. Recognize hardship as an unwelcome time of potential grace. It’s often through crisis that God breaks into our lives.
• Prepare teens. While teens are still living at home, prepare them for the day when it will be up to them to shake off the inertia of sleep and society to seek God’s presence in community. They’ll have to decide what’s important in life and seek a circle of friends who supports their values. Make sure they know that the door to the Church and God’s loving presence will always be open to them.
• Recognize the importance of friends. Parishes must be creative about finding ways to connect younger adults with networks of friends who care—about each other and about gathering in the presence of their brother, Jesus.
Religious or spiritual? For Catholics, this is the wrong question. We should be both.
Permission to Publish received for this article, “Spiritual or Religious? Why Not Both!” by Jim and Susan Vogt, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 2-18-2010.
By: Frank Frost
Movies that deal with religion are often not concerned with authentic spirituality, and many films are spiritually rich yet avoid mention of organized religion. So it’s a pleasure when spirituality and religion come together as they do in The Apostle (1998), starring Robert Duvall, who also wrote and directed it.
■ How do you define “spiritual” and “religious”?
■ Where do you think one’s relationship with the faith community fits—on the side of spiritual, religious or both?
■ What will you do to more fully integrate faith (both spiritual and religious) into your everyday life?
Duvall plays Sonny, a passionate Texas preacher who feels he has a direct line to God. And from the first scene it’s apparent that he’s sincere. Coming across an automobile accident, he stops to pray over a young couple who are seriously injured in one of the totaled vehicles. He has nothing to gain from it but the satisfaction he later expresses with exhilaration to his mother, “Mama, we made news in heaven this morning!”
But Sonny is a complex man who is perfectly capable of using religion to his selfish monetary ends, and to satisfy his wandering eye. Nevertheless, it’s his wife’s infidelity that brings down his house and triggers a moment of drunken rage in which he bludgeons her lover, striking a blow that leads to the man’s death.
In reaction to his crime, Sonny flees. Totally leaving his past and everything he owns behind him, he begins an interior pilgrimage that will lead him to re-baptize himself and become a new person with the name “The Apostle E.F.” His new ministry builds on his ever-ebullient energy, but with a new humility and a special spiritual concern for the poor and people of color.
In Sonny’s former life, he was primarily a religious person. In his new life, he achieves an interior spirituality that makes it possible for him to give up the new life he has built to pay for his earlier crime.
Next time you watch The Apostle, ASK YOURSELF:
By: Joan McKamey
How an individual defines “spiritual” and “religious” is significant. “According to other people’s definitions, I’m probably both religious and spiritual. But because of the way I define ‘being religious,’ I can’t be both,” says Adria Tyler of Waterloo, Iowa.
■ Is Sonny’s initial love for his religion based more on interior conviction or the theatrical high it provides?
■ By the film’s end, what’s the most telling sign that Sonny’s spiritual commitment trumps his external religious career?
■ How can I judge if my religious practice reflects interior spiritual conviction?
Adria shares her definitions: “To me, being spiritual means having a personal relationship with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and seeking to live a Spirit-led life. I define religious as having a legalistic mind-set—like the Pharisees and those who do certain acts to gain God’s favor. I can go to Mass because I’m led by the Spirit or because I feel I have to. The difference is in why.”
Adria’s spiritual quest led her to the Catholic Church eight years ago. Baptized and formed in the Lutheran Church until early grade school, she later explored other Protestant Churches, became disenchanted with the divisions within Christianity and even spent time exploring the New Age movement.
While in her 20s, Adria saw an ad for Good Friday services at a Lutheran church. She tells Every Day Catholic, “This was like the Holy Spirit saying, ‘Come home. I’m waiting.’” She and her husband joined the Lutheran Church and later moved to another Lutheran parish.
“This Church referred to itself as ‘reformed Catholics,’ which made me curious about what the Catholic Church teaches now that’s ‘wrong.’ I started watching programs on EWTN and became convinced by what I learned. So we joined the Catholic Church.
“One year later, I went to my first charismatic Mass. I felt the presence of the Spirit. All the best things from my Lutheran, evangelical Protestant and Catholic experiences were present, all rolled into one.
“After joining the Catholic Church, I discovered that it’s also divided within. This frustrates me, but I can’t leave the Eucharist, the sacraments, the Lectionary. I’m fed by those things as well as by charismatic expression in worship.
“Sometimes liturgy can seem boring and repetitive. At other times, the repetition is comforting. I love the liturgical seasons, Advent, Lent, incense. These help me worship with all my senses.
“I’m drawn to Dominican spirituality. There are parallels between St. Dominic and me, particularly in his preaching and sharing his conviction and experience. I’m a speaker on topics of Catholic spirituality.
“I hope my three daughters find that they can be spiritual and be fed by the liturgy, that they can experience it all within the Catholic Church, that they can worship with their hands raised or not. I want them to have a personal relationship with God through the Church.
“Each person’s spiritual journey is individual. We need to let God meet people where they are without judgment. In the Catholic Church, all spiritualities fit under one roof. I feel most comfortable in the Roman Catholic Church, but first and foremost I’m a servant of Jesus Christ.”
Adria may define herself as spiritual but not religious, but she didn’t balk when I told her that, according to my definitions, she’s clearly and authentically both.
By: Jeanne Hunt
The Sunday morning argument rages in Clare and Anthony’s kitchen. Fifteen-year-old Jonathan doesn’t want to go to Mass: “Why do I have to go? They just read at me!”
Jonathan claims to hate the Catholic bells and smells. As his parents push him out the door and into the family car, he mumbles under his breath, “I think I want to become a Buddhist.”
In a culture where young people are encouraged to seek a personal spirituality, formal religious practices can seem like affronts to individual choice. By keeping open the avenues of good communication, parents lay the foundation for discussing questions of faith without condemnation.
Too many adolescents feel they can’t be honest with their parents concerning how they feel about the Church or their relationship with God. The important thing is to show respect for questions of faith and to listen and respond with understanding and knowledge.
Here lies the greater dilemma: Parents must be well informed concerning their faith. Too many of us don’t understand the reasons Catholics do what we do. Perhaps our children’s questions can be moments of faith formation for us as well.
Parents should also be living witnesses of faith. Passing on the faith isn’t done through talk; it’s done by example. Parents must walk the discipline of active Catholic living. Sunday Mass, prayer, participation in parish life and service lay the foundation that brings ongoing life.
It’s also important to set boundaries for young adults. Certain behaviors, activities and people should be off-limits. Participation in the occult and anti-Christian groups and activities are not to be tolerated. Sunday Mass and reception of the sacraments are not negotiable as long as they live in the family home. Every young adult needs to examine his or her own spirituality. A parent’s job is to guide and protect them.
Three Sundays have passed with no morning rage. Clare, Anthony and Jonathan have agreed to disagree. They came to this conclusion after a heartfelt talk that now follows every Sunday Mass at Jonathan’s favorite café. Going out to eat after Mass was a sort of bribery, a compromise that has turned into a grace.
Brunch and good talk have gone a long way toward bridging the gap between religion and spirituality for this family. Jonathan remarked that the Mass seems to be continuing at the café table. Clare thinks to herself, What a deep insight for my renegade son.
By: Jeanne Hunt
(for praying alone or with others)
Preparation: Fill a tray with sand and place a brick or large stone in the center. Place this tray, a candle, an open Bible and seven votive candles on a prayer table.
“Deep Within” (or similar hymn)
Breath of God, deep within our hearts lies a hunger for your presence. Deep within our hearts lies a yearning for understanding. Deep within our hearts lies a desire to live in you. Draw us to yourself and allow this desire to be enhanced by your word, encouraged by your sacraments and strengthened by your divine touch.
(Play some quiet music.)
Religion and spirituality find no better partnership than in our sacraments. Here, the outward signs of faith proclaim deeper meaning. Here, the touch of God transforms religion into grace. Let us spend a few moments thinking about times when these seven touchstones became gifts of spiritual life.
As I proclaim the names of the sacraments, I invite seven of you to come forward to light votives from the prayer candle and place them around the brick or stone:
Baptism—“I have called you by name.”
Confirmation—“Come, Holy Spirit.”
Eucharist—“I am the bread of life.”
Reconciliation—“Sin no more.”
Marriage—“The two become one.”
Holy Orders—“Do what I have done.”
Deep within these religious rites, God’s heart and voice speak to us heart to heart. (Pause.)
“Deep Within” (or similar hymn)