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Why the Spiritual, But Not Religious?

Ever wondered why many people in our society today claim to be spiritual, but not religious? Much research has been about this, but I think it’s actually fairly simple–people no longer have adequate fear of the Lord.

What is fear of the Lord? According to Blessed Fr. John Hardon, SJ, fear of the Lord:

“… inspires a person with profound respect for the majesty of God. Its corresponding effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of His help. The fear of the Lord is not servile but filial. It is based on the selfless love of God, whom it shrinks from offending…The gift of fear comprises three principal elements: a vivid sense of God’s greatness, a lively sorrow for the least faults committed, and a vigilant care in avoiding occasions of sin.”

Spiritual without being Religious

When we look at our world and society today, our lack of fear of the Lord is evident. There is no sorrow or contrition for living lives that violate what is good and true and beautiful; there is no attempt to avoid occasions of sin; but most of all, there is no sense of God’s greatness and majesty.

Yet, our hearts and minds still search for our Creator. As described by Conor Flanagan, our souls have a “God-sized hole” that only He can fill, or as St Augustine wrote,

“Our souls are restless, Lord, until they find their rest in you.”

Although there is an acknowledgement by many in our world that there is something more, religion is viewed as a hindrance and restriction for being able to experience the good, true and beautiful in our midst. Additionally, religion is viewed by many to a less than reasonable method and lacking in intelligence for understanding and finding meaning in our modern, and technologically advanced world.

This is the essence of what it is to be spiritual, but not religious.

The Problem of Empty Religiosity

Prior to his resignation from the papacy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI addressed this situation when he said, “the true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God,’ the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity.”

Fear of the Lord gives us the ability to be open to see, hear and enter into the life of God. It is through this gift of the Holy Spirit, that we then are fully open to experiencing all the other gifts, graces and blessings that our Lord wishes for us.

Without fear of the Lord though, we are simply practicing a bunch of rules and tend to see church as just another human institution that does some good things in society and where Mass is primarily a social gathering. Even worse, Jesus no longer is our Lord and Savior, but is just another good guy from history who has some nice suggestions about how to live life. Anything of the majesty and power of the supernatural is gone, and miracles and grace are viewed as either ignorance or superstition.

This is the reason we need a New Evangelization.

For it is this “empty religiosity” that convinces so many in the world today to walk away from the Church, believing that it is possible to be close to Jesus without some “formal religion.”

Yes, God can work in all lives regardless of religious affiliation, and this path can lead a few to holiness.

Yet, you have to consider the reality that Jesus gave us His Church for a reason. Because He knew (He is God after all) that human nature needs the assistance and guidance and support that the Church offers each of us through the intercession, teaching and community of its members.

(And for those of you who think that you are “above” needing that assistance, guidance and support, I ask you to reflect upon the reality that the first sin committed against God–and the tendency of ALL humans–is towards pride. And then humbly pray with our Lord about your issues with any “formal religion,” but particularly the Church.)

This is one reason why I blog, because so many people are in pain, suffering and despairing in our world today– and they have turned away from the very person who will bring them healing, peace and hope in their daily life. Because they have accepted the lies given them in the world that God doesn’t exist, or that God doesn’t love each and every one of us beyond measure. And this unnecessary suffering breaks my heart.

What to Do?

The irony of sharing the Good News is that God will most often permit us to be the very instruments that open the hearts and minds of others to His presence in their lives. And we can do this by cultivating a fear of the Lord in our hearts and minds so that we are empowered with His grace, and are able to banish the shadows and doubts that occur from seeing empty religiosity, or “white-washed tombs” as Jesus called them, into the minds of those who look, but do not see with the eyes of faith–yet.

It is so vitally important that those of us who profess belief in Christ as Lord and Savior WITNESS through our very lives the love and mercy of God. That we give a reason for our hope, and share the reason for our joy.

Live the Way, my brothers and sisters. Live it in such a fashion that all may be drawn ever closer to Him in “whom we live and move and have our being.” Ultreya!