Father Tirso

Last weekend at the Men’s Spirituality Group that meets once a month here at SMM. There was an interesting discussion revolving around the difference between being spiritual and being religious. The topic came up as a result of statements that are heard fairly often where people claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” I would like to share some thoughts on the matter for the benefit of the entire parish, especially as we begin Catholic Schools Week.

The claim to be more “spiritual than religious” can at times be a way to evade the need to commit oneself to any particular religion. Such a statement is an attempt to be free to express one’s spirituality or even religiosity on one’s own terms. As noble as this may sound to some, what ends up happening is that people simply “pick and choose” what beliefs, practices, or customs appeal to them and dismiss the rest. What can end up happening is that people who ascribe to this way of thinking adopt more of a “hodgepodge” manner of spirituality and even religiosity.

Religion, to be clear, is what gives flesh to spirituality. One of the men last weekend described religion as being a “codified spirituality.” I, myself, described religion as the outward expression of spirituality. One’s prayer life or spirituality ought to reach its culmination in the desire to make a particular way of life one’s own. In other words, spirituality feeds into religion as a way to lead us into making a commitment to becoming a follower of a certain way of living and expressing faith.

However, it must also be clarified that one cannot be religious without being spiritual. This can sound like a silly statement but it is too often true. There are people - of every faith tradition - who can tend to be more religious than they are spiritual. For example, these would be people who go through the motions of their faith but their hearts are not transformed. To use our Catholic tradition for example, they will go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation without fail. They will practice all of the rules of the Church. However, their hearts are not transformed by any of it. They may still go around and others encounter them as being among the “meanest of all people.” Although they practice their religion, the practice of it is not actually giving them life and they are not becoming a source of life for others as followers of Christ are called to be. If one cannot be spiritual without being religious, it also is equally true that one cannot be religious without being spiritual.

For us as Catholic Christians, this means that we ought to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Our spiritual life begins when we encounter Jesus - the Savior who is fully human and fully divine. Without that encounter with Jesus, the spiritual life cannot begin. Without that encounter with Jesus, the spiritual life cannot grow. Without knowing Jesus, religion is not fed and nourished by spirituality and it then becomes an empty practice. The point to spirituality and religion is simply to lead all of us to becoming more dedicated and faithful disciples of Jesus. Without that, we miss the point entirely.

This is more important for us to know especially as we begin Catholic Schools Week. The essential goal toward which we strive is to ensure that our young generation grows up not only being good people, not only being spiritual people, but more importantly becoming religious people whose relationship with Jesus motivates and guides them into becoming stronger disciples. Disciples are those who have met and encountered Jesus in a very real and personal way. As a result, their lives are different and they are ready to commit themselves to following in the footsteps of the Master.

As we come together this weekend to celebrate Catholic education, it is essential that we take seriously the formation of our youth into becoming better disciples who are spiritual just as much as they are religious. We must also take it equally serious for each of us to become disciples in the very same way. Let us take this week not only to grow deeper in our spirituality but also grow more committed to the way of life that we have chosen as Catholic Christian followers of our Savior.

Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr.

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