Read it all here...
Francis Cardinal George has a provocative column entitled: I'm religious but I'm not spiritual...
It’s somewhat fashionable these days
to describe oneself as “spiritual but
not religious.” This is supposed to
mean that one is open to an experience
beyond the commercial or the political
but not tied to “institutional” religion.
One claims an experience of transcendence
that is bound by no one else’s
People can always make claims to any
kind of experience. The question is always:
Who cares? Why should anyone
care where someone else gets a spiritual
high? Because no one really cares, the
claim to be spiritual but not religious is
always safe. It’s never a threat and can
be dismissed quite easily. The claim to
be religious is different. It is a claim that
God himself has taken the initiative to
reveal himself to us and tell us who he is
and who we are. Religion binds us to
God according to his will, not ours, in a
community of faith that he has brought
into existence. Being religious can therefore
Being religious as a Christian starts
with the belief that Jesus Christ is risen
from the dead. Faith in Christ’s resurrection
is central to Christian religion.
Jesus is not just someone’s personal idea.
He really exists in a real body, now
transformed by conquering death itself.
Those who are “spiritual” often deny
Christ’s resurrection as a physical event,
something that makes its own demands
when you bump into it. They prefer a
Christ who is safely an idea in their
minds, made in their image and likeness.
By contrast, the risen Christ, the real
Christ, breaks into our experience and
personally seeks those he calls to be religious,
to believe what God has done for
us, much to our surprise.
Meeting the risen Christ spiritually
therefore depends upon believing in him
religiously. We are given the gift of faith
in the sacrament of Baptism, in which
we are configured to the risen Christ.
Faith perdures, even when there’s not a
lot of spiritual tingle in our lives! “Lord,
I believe; help my unbelief,” is the cry of
a religious person who asks Christ to
take him beyond his own spiritual experience
into a new world where bodies as
well as minds share in God’s grace.
Faith takes seriously everything that
comes from God. The faith-filled person
is sure of God and distrustful of himself.
Unlike faith in God, experience is often
wrong in religious matters.
While I might not have written as the Cardinal has, I get what he is saying. It is fashionable to think of one as being spiritual -- an untethered and unbounded spirituality which is, as we say in Nebraska, like the Platte River -- a mile wide and a foot deep. There is great breadth to this loosely defined spirituality which embraces ideas for all kinds of sources, often in conflict with each other, but which find reconciliation in the peculiarity of the individual who defines and decides them. This spirituality is an Alice in Wonderland approach to "faith" in which words mean what I say they mean -- nothing more and nothing less. To say you are spiritual is to use a term so broad that it means little at all.
In contrast to that, the good Cardinal is surely suggesting that faith and true spirituality is deeper than the moment and wider than the individual. It is not a made up entity defined by the "spiritual" person who is his own guru. True spirituality has roots and a foundation, built upon the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone (to quote a spiritual leader named Paul). True spirituality is not untethered but is anchored in truth that endures. It is a deep river with a long past and a long future, that flows not aimlessly but purposefully to its appointed goal. It is the Church, the ultimate religious institution, that is the mother of such spirituality by providing the womb of baptism, instructing in the Word that endures forever, and inviting to the nurture of the Table a world lost in darkness and error.
Yeah, I get it when people say they are religious and spiritual but do not want to have anything to do with the organized church or religion. When the church of your imagination is but one soul wide and deep, it is easy to control it, to justify it, and to excuse its flaws. When the Church of Jesus enters the picture, it is messy, filled with sinners, led by flawed and failed people, and shows its warts all the time. Organized religion may not be pretty but it is a whole lot more substantial than the dream world inhabited by spiritual people who are not religious.
As one who cringes under my own flaws and failings as a sinner and who laments the sinful humanity and flaws and failings of the whole of the baptized people of God, I understand the desire of those who seek a spirituality unbounded by reality. But I would have the Church with all her flawed and sinful members and leaders before I would exchange real truth for the what ifs of a dream that can only ever be a dream.
Christianity is helped by having a few dreamers but the nature of the faith and of the Church is that we have mortal men and women, sinners in thought, word, and deed, who lament their sin but find that the good they should, they do not, and the evil they shouldn't, they do.... But Christ is still there... forgiving, restoring, binding up, and sending them forth... as the people of His promise -- though certainly not perfect or holy apart from Him. No, I dream of a pure Church but the Church of my choice is real -- filled with real sinners saved by a real Savior who died a real death and rose to impart a real life... and who still comes to us through the real Word of the Gospel, through the real splash of water in baptism, and in the real bread and wine that is His body and blood.
Cardinal George and I may not have much in common but we both find more to hope for in a real church than in the dreamworld of an untethered spirituality only one person wide and deep.