Parentheses are used to de-emphasize. Many claim that our culture has placed organized religion firmly within parentheses. According to this theory, revealed religion is giving way to a notion of spirituality defined by unbridled individualism and custom-designed credos. Supposedly, this trend arises from organized religion's inability to meet the needs of modern society. What are these alleged "needs" and why are the traditional religions incapable of addressing them?
Initially, I believe that one must determine our current age's stance on God and spirituality. One approach understands God's role as one that empowers and enlightens men and women; encouraging them to fulfill their potential and to live a good life as they define these concepts. Another view holds that God has revealed the way to fulfillment and salvation and that these goals are realized by lovingly and faithfully walking that path. The latter perception encompasses the dogma of revealed religion, but, except for the elements of moral relativism, the former does too. The religious ground upon which I stand-the Roman Catholic Church-clearly states that humanity's essential "need" is to love God totally, to love one another, to value our lives as God does, and to worship God in the community of the Church.
Let it be said that I do not wish to impugn an individual's sincere spiritual journey. I find it curious, however, that so much of the spiritual talk in fashion today appears to be a natural outgrowth of the philosophy of the "Me" generation. One is invited to discover the hidden power within oneself and to achieve a spiritual fulfillment that validates one's desires and eradicates one's inhibitions. As one may suspect, there have arisen a plethora of gurus willing to provide the practitioner a sure path to enlightenment. I wish to emphasize that I am referring to the spiritual charlatans and the self-deluded and not to those engaged in an authentic and sincere spiritual search.
Given the times, I feel compelled to warn the spiritual traveler about the tendency of making the "self" the center of the universe, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. This is nothing more than modern atheism. I am not saying, however, that "self" ought to be extinguished or swallowed up by the concept of community or Church or when Jesus teaches his followers to deny their very selves, that he sees the individual as having no value. The Church always has placed great emphasis on personal prayer and meditation as an important aspect of the journey of a soul. As Thomas Merton stated, "When mystics stay quiet in the muteness of naked truth, resting in a simple open-eyed awareness, attentive to the darkness that baffles, a subtle and indefinable peace begins to seep into their soul and occupies them with a deep and inexplicable satisfaction.... What is it? It is hard to say, but one feels that it is somehow summed up in 'the will of God' or simply, 'God.'" Or as one more succinctly, yet no less profoundly, said, "For each of us, there is a desert to travel. A star to discover. And a being within ourselves to bring to life." God became one of us as a member of a family. Jesus formed a family of faith in his disciples. These disciples followed Christ's will in establishing the Church. It is within this gift of the Church that we best can know, love, and serve our God as well as finding and fulfilling our deepest needs.
Finally, then, the quest presents itself as a matter of self-orientation to God or God to self. Is it one's task to construct a spiritual program that allows an approach to the Divine or is one to be receptive to the revelation that God has given to his creation? As a Catholic, I do not believe that God plays hide-and-seek with us, but indeed has walked among us and taught us "the way, and the truth, and the life." Thus, I reject the parenthetical view of religion and all that makes life small. Our greatest treasure is the Church.
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