Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why is There Religion? 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

   A couple of weekends ago one of our very inquisitive teens stopped me after mass to ask a question. Normally when this happens with an adult I get one of the easy ones, you know like “Why do the church hates Gay people?” or “Why are women second class citizens in the Church?”. But, the hard questions, the ones that require careful consideration, always come from our youth, so with a little bit of fear I answered “Sure… what’s in your mind?” to which he simply said “why is there religion in the world?”
   Now you might think that this is a pretty simple question but if you think about it, this is in fact one of the great questions of our times! Let me show you, if we were to look at the most popular beliefs systems in our culture today, we would find two extreme views, in one end stand those who do not believe in God and at the other those who claim they believe in “something”, and like to call themselves“spiritual but not religious”.
   How many times have we heard the first group say “If religion is the cause of so much pain, destruction and death?...Why is there religion?”. On the other hand how many times have we hear believers say “If all there is, is just Jesus and me, if we are OK with just been spiritual...Why is there religion?”
   Now in case you are wondering what my answer was, after frantically searching my memory banks, this is what I said: “The reason why religion exists is because some people are given faith by God, you see religion is just an expression, our reaction to this faith. At its core religion is how we respond to God’s desire to have a relationship with us”.
    For Catholic’s everything we do and how we do it, from the sign of the cross to the way we receive communion is an external sign of our faith. The more faith we have the more significant these simple actions become because by doing them we come closer to God. The collection of all these little acts, the prayers, the liturgies, the songs, the crucifixes around our necks, the statues of Mary and the saints in our Sanctuaries are expressions of our faith. The more we embrace these the deeper we enter into our faith.
     In today’s reading Jesus asks two questions to His disciples, do you remember what these were? “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”.  It struck me that these two questions could be asked from each one of us, every time we shy away from showing our Catholic identity, or fail to embrace our faith publicly. Sometimes we do not like to speak about religion in fact  if you are like me who works for the U.S. Government speaking about religion or even showing your Catholic identity could be a cause for derision and even persecution. Many times like the apostles in today’s reading we let fear of retribution or loss of status in the eyes of those around us control our actions.  But these are the moments in which we should remember these two questions “Why are we afraid? Haven’t we received faith from God?”
   Why is there religion? Because as long as there are  believers in the world,men and women, who are opened to the gift of faith that comes from God, and they allow this gift to inform the way in which they think, feel and act, there will be a Catholic religion, a Christian Church, a church of Jesus Christ to serve as a witness to the truth of the Gospel.  Amen?
Now faith is a funny thing, it is not something we generate, but a gift from God. God gives us faith so that we can develop a desire to know Him. Of course we have the choice of embracing this faith or just ignoring this call. When we say that someone is “Very religious” or that someone is a “Holy Person” what we are saying is that someone has reacted in a positive way to this mysterious gift of faith we receive from God. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Religion is what others see when we engage our faith; the more we embrace this gift from God the more religious we become and the more others experience our religion.

At the end of my homily I added these words:

My intention was to finish today right here, but then I caught myself watching the court proceeding of the poor soul who murdered the 9 people in a Charleston, South Carolina church. I was very moved as one by one the relatives of each of the murdered people forgave the assailant. Why is there religion? Because religion helps us reach down into the better corners of our souls, and gives us strengthen to live the way Jesus lived. God bless you all.