Don’t you get weary with all the religious fighting? I’ve been thinking further about this post on weaponizing religion I wrote yesterday. It seems everywhere we turn folks are arguing about religion, and the arguing is hardly ever a serious search for truth, beauty and goodness.
Instead it is using religion as a weapon to blame and beat the other person who is “wrong” and thereby build up yourself and your little tribe. We do it to members of other religions. We do it to members of other denominations and we do it to our fellow Catholics.
Oh yes, I hear all the Bible quotations about Jesus coming to cleanse the temple and how he did not come to bring peace but a sword. I know them well and I’ve used them from time to time, and of course they’re all true and I have no problem with Jesus using them because it was his power and glory, his goodness, truth and beauty which was the sword and with cleansed the temple.
I’m not really at that pay grade yet, and when I find myself falling into the blame game and weaponizing religion and arguing about stuff I’m afraid I’m not really at the level of holiness that it is done with purity and power. Instead it’s usually done from a position of insecurity and fear, grubbiness, greed and the need for attention and lots of other traits of which I am not proud.
There is also the factor, which I recognize, which means a dogmatic religion, by its very definition, will tend to be divisive because those who follow a dogmatic religion will have some definitions, rules and rubrics, regulations and doctrines which they not only believe are correct and true, but are also applicable to all people. A certain personality type is not content to follow those rules and beliefs themselves. To really be effective they have to impose them on everyone else.
So we fight. We fight about the correct liturgy, the correct politics, the correct beliefs, the correct Bible verses, the correct interpretations of those verse and the correct rubrics and the correct implementation of those rubrics, and we not only fight, but we blame and shame those who do not follow. We mock and vilify and put them down. We wield that sword Jesus talked about with vigor and a certain amount of satisfaction.
Is there any way around it? I think there is.
First of all, we should remember that a religion–any religion is a way of life. It’s a game to be played, an adventure to be lived, a piece of music to be performed, a play to be enacted, a story to be told. The doctrines and dogmas, rules and regulations are the rule to the game. They are not the game. They are the notes of music on the page. They are not the piece of music performed. They are the script, not the play and the map not the journey.
Second, we should bang our heads with the truth that the doctrines and dogmas, rules, regulations and rubrics are important. They need to be correct. They need to be maintained. They need to be properly interpreted and implemented, but we should also remember that they were made for man. Man was not made for them. The doctrines and dogmas, rules and regulations and rubrics are there to serve us not to enslave us.
Third, we live the rules and dogmas by doing just that–rolling up our sleeves and getting out into the real world and living the life of Christ in the rough and tumble of every day life. That’s when we learn that the dogmas and doctrines can actually give life and peace and joy–but in the everyday life we have to learn how to apply them and teach them and make them work. We have to do the work, not just write the theory. The same applies to the formulas for worship and prayer. They come to life and work when we make them work in real situations in real life with real people. This is why, when I am tempted to give up being a parish priest to focus on my head work (writing and speaking) I turn away from it because it is in my work as a parish priest that I have to deal with reality not just theory.
Fourth: For heaven’s sake (literally) keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and Mary. Stay close to their sacred hearts. We Catholics get so caught up in religion that we miss God. Oh yes, I know. I know. It is the sacrament of the church which is Christ alive in the world today. It is the worship of the Mass which connects us with Jesus. I believe all that of course, but that’s not what we’re absorbed with. Would that we were. Instead we get all fussed about this liturgy or that, about this political statement by a bishop or cardinal in Rome, we get ourselves all tied up in knots over this bad music or that Catholic activist who is promoting immorality, this bit of church corruption or that bit of clerical naughtiness.
Can’t we see that this is exactly what Satan wants? He’ll do anything to take our eyes off Jesus and Mary, the cross and his blessed passion, his glorious resurrection and the triumph of his Mother.
Fifth: explore monastic spirituality. It is in my connection with the Benedictine Way that I find the peace, balance and focus for my own life. Monastic prayer sets our priorities and everything else which is so unimportant, clouded, noisy and confusing falls away. I remember that sweet old Evangelical hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”
I will ever forget the time my brother went to Africa to drill water wells. An old lady in England didn’t have any money to give him for his project but she said she would pray for him. He said he would send her a monthly post card with prayer requests. At one point when it was hot. The machinery had broken, they didn’t speak the language and were fighting malaria his post card simply said, “Pray More.”
So that’s my postcard to you today.