The above statement is one that we hear too many times in society. It is the times that it goes left unsaid but is acted upon that is really disheartening. “It’s just religion, or faith, or church” is born from an understanding that matters of spirituality are to be easy, enabling, and unobtrusive in our lives. Faith, especially the study and practice thereof, are regulated to a low priority. It is a co-opting of the culture in which we live that marginalizes faith altogether; a culture that Dr. Stephen Carter called “The Culture of Disbelief” . This culture has thrown God out of our public institutions. God is not allowed in our public schools. He is not allowed in the public square. This has gone on for so long that most Americans have also pushed Him out of their lives. What happens? We get the gratingly inane “I am not religious, I’m spiritual” (aka : “I do what I want and God will have to just rubber stamp it…I don’t take orders from God or some church…I give them“) Take a look at what is happening in our country. Watch it crumbling. It is nothing new. In the Old Testament, Israel rotted from within as it pushed God to the periphery. They relied on their wealth and power (sound familiar?) and pushed God’s protecting hand aside. Without that protection, they fell apart, were crushed by their enemies, and all the power and wealth in the world could not save them. We are on that same path. Did our power and military might spare us 9/11 or the two subsequent wars that happened as a result? Did our wealth stave off this prolonged recession? Push God away and we push His protection away!
What is true in the macrocosm of society is equally as true in the microcosm of our parish and our families. Our pursuit of the secular has practically wiped out the pursuit of the eternal. All too often the pursuit of the eternal is regulated to one hour (or shorter) on Sunday. That is only if something else doesn’t crowd it out. Education? That’s another subject altogether. If we think that 4-5 hours of religion class, IF the child goes to Catholic school, and 1 hour if they don’t, suffices for their training, then we are fooling ourselves and essentially answering a good part of the reason why our youth lose interest and wander away in disturbingly large numbers. It’s hard to have a deep abiding relationship with someone you barely know. Is there any parent who believes 1 hour of science a week suffices to help their child? How about 1 hour of math? How about one hour of spelling? Or English? Or History? How then, is one hour in class enough when it comes to the teachings of our faith? Of course not! Let me go one step further. Religion ’class’ is not like other classes. In the other classes, we are not giving them information so that they can have a personal relationship with math, science, or any of the other disciplines. In religion class, or PSR, or confirmation ‘class’ we are more about telling them how God has revealed Himself over the ages so that He might be known, served, and loved at least to some degree to which He knows, serves, and loves us. In all of these ‘classes’ we are dispensing knowledge so as to lead to a relationship with God. Just because ‘it’s only religion’ does not mean we can give it a minimal effort.
Our Christian development and education do not end once we have ceased ‘classes’. If they do, then we can expect nothing but a minimalist attitude towards faith and the application of faith to our daily lives and on how we set priorities in our lives. “It’s only religion”. whether spoken or unspoken, will lead to an eventual turning away from the faith. We cannot reject that relationship with God here and now and expect that somehow all will be just peachy in the afterlife.
So what does this mean? Let us start with what is the parish’s responsibility. The parish has a responsibility to provide the material, the teachers, the time, the space to help parents teach their children how to develop that relationship with God. The parish has a responsibility to make sure the materials and solid and truthful. It is our job to provide opportunities. However, as I said during the homily on Good Shepherd Sunday , while it is my responsibility to make sure that the fields the flock are nourishing from are the fields of the Lord, I cannot make anyone attend anything. You have to want it because you recognize the necessity for a deep abiding relationship with God and the equally pressing need to pass on that same fire to your children. We have provided classes for our youth in both the parochial and public schools (in which under the best of circumstances we can only show them the tip of the iceberg), for our high school students in confirmation.
We tried to provide classes for our Freshman and Seniors. Both failed because of lack of participation from the youth who had other things to do. I have provided most Wednesdays to have adult education. I used top notch programs and books. I am no slouch as a teacher. The response was minimal at best. I am offering a bible study using, again, top notch material. 21 people out of 400+ families we have this parish signed up. Am I to believe that the other 400+ families are biblical experts who know the Bible so well and are able to defend their faith so well that they do not need help? We brought in one of the foremost speakers on evangelization this Spring when Patrick Madrid came in. Fewer than 80 parishioners showed. Am I to believe that all the others know their faith so well and are so practiced at evangelization that they didn’t need help? We have a well stocked parish library by the women’s restroom in the back of Church, it has been there for over a year. I have stocked it with solid materials, surrendering hundreds of books from my private library, all in the hopes of providing educational resources for my parishioners. I have repeatedly spoke about the opportunities we have in the diocese for our youth to spend a week coming to know that relationship with God better. The same goes for the Mission trip. The response has been underwhelming. If it seems I am complaining a bit, I am. It seems like there is always something else to do…some class…some sport…some practice…some game…something else that is more important on the food chain of our lives. We are trying to live up to our responsibilities to provide both material and opportunity. This is a common problem in all parishes!
What is your responsibility? To respond positively. To admit that we need help in understanding. To purge this horrid ‘it’s just religion’ when it comes to how we respond, how our youth respond, and each sets their hierarchy of priorities. After all, it isn’t just religion, it’s our eternal relationship with God in the balance. Relationships take time and effort, they challenge to change for the better. If God doesn’t say ‘it’s only humanity’ when it comes to us, how can we say ‘it’s only religion’ when it comes to Him