Spirituality for Today – August 2009 – Volume 14, Issue 1

Simplifying Religion

By Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, D.Min.

Religion can be, and often is, the most complicated consideration in all of life. Surely this does not surprise us. How could we expect it to be otherwise? After all, think of the ideas and issues with which religion has to deal.

To start with, there is the biggest and most difficult thought of all – God. Who is he? What is he like? Where is he? How do we get to know him? Is he involved in our lives? If so, what does he expect or require of us?

Seeking answers to these questions has led to other fields of thought, such as ethics and morality. What is right? What is wrong? Anyone who thinks these two questions are always easy to answer has either not lived very long or else has not thought very seriously about it.

there is the biggest and most difficult thought of all – God. Who is he?

Religion also concerns itself with questions of origins and destiny. Parents of small children are sometimes confronted with a curious little mind and an insistent little voice asking, "Where did I come from?" The wise parent will have available some acceptable explanation.

It goes back generations, where the questions are still the same. Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?

We could go on and on, but there is no use in laboring a point that is already made. It should be plain to all of us that the ideas and issues of religion are not at all simple. Questions pertaining to life and death and God do not yield any answers.

There is one supreme need – not to answer all the questions about God, but to relate to him in such a way as to release his power in and through our lives. Let us remember Peter, who was thinking and feeling something of that same thing in a Gospel reading. He, too, was in a deeply entangled life. Mystery surrounded him on every side. He had seen the problems of evil and suffering at its worst. With his own eyes he had watched his best friend, the strongest, wisest, kindest man he had ever known, die on a cross.

Worse yet, he himself had taken part in that tragedy, denying his friendship at the very end. Can one imagine the shame and guilt Peter must have had by forsaking his friend?

Yet Jesus cut through all of that and went straight to the heart of the issue with one basic question to Peter. "Simon, do you love me?" Three times he asked that same question. There was no interrogation, no disappointment, no anger but a simple question. Peter, do you love me?

Then when Peter answered in the affirmative, Christ gave him one instruction: "Feed my sheep." In this simple conversation lie the basic elements of Christian discipleship – loving Christ and helping people.

That is the right way, the real way to keep religion simple.