How many have heard the phrase, “I don’t believe in organized religion”? All of us. We hear it from family and friends. Many people, including fallen-away Catholics, say they believe in Jesus but not in the Church. “I’m spiritual but not religious.” “I don’t go to church anymore because I don’t believe in the church.”
Are they right? Is it better to be spiritual but not religious? Because all of us here believe in organized religion (even though we’re not very organized sometimes). Could we stop going to church and still be Christian?
Dr. Tim Gray gives us three questions we can ask our family and friends to make them think about the above phrases, because the truth is we can’t love Jesus without the Church, and it’s not enough to be spiritual.
1) “How can you say that you’re loyal, faithful, loving, and devoted to the king, it’s just his kingdom you don’t like? How can you say you love the king, it’s just his kingdom you want nothing to do with? But you’re loyal to the king, you love the king, you’re devoted to the king, you just can’t stand his kingdom.” The kingdom is His Church.
2) What was the focus of Jesus’ teaching? Many say, “Love.” That’s not a bad answer, but the main thing Jesus taught about was the kingdom. All the parables are dominated by this theme. He doesn’t say, “Let me tell you a parable about the messiah” or about the king—no! He talks about the kingdom. He was born to be king and His mission was to establish the kingdom of God.
3) Why did Jesus live? People are good at answering the question, “Why did Jesus die?” to which the answer is, “To save us from our sins.” But we’re not good at answering, “Why did Jesus live?” We reduce the life of Jesus to His death.
The truth is He didn’t just live to die. If He had, then He could have just died as a baby, when Herod wanted to kill Him. But St. Joseph was warned to flee to save Jesus from death. Okay, then some will object and say that He had to die as an adult. This objection doesn’t work because His first homily in Nazareth went so well that they wanted to throw Him off the cliff. But Jesus escaped through the crowds. Okay, then some say a prophet had to die in Jerusalem. But when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” they picked up stones to throw at Him, and He hid himself. In fact, “Jesus is constantly avoiding capture and death” because He’s not yet ready to die. “He has something to accomplish in His life before He dies.”
The key to understanding why is in today’s Gospel. “Jesus doesn’t speak about His death until something is accomplished, not just a teaching, but an action.” Today we hear that He takes the disciples up North to Caesarea Philippi and asks them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The people get it all wrong and don’t understand who Jesus is, just like many do today. Then St. Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.” There’s the organized religion! Voila! Jesus didn’t just give a teaching or a spirituality. He built a church and it’s undeniable.
And then He gives St. Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” “Notice: kingdom and church are synonymous in this account.” ‘Keys’ does not mean the gospel, something abstract. Rather He’s invoking the story of David the king, who had a cabinet and a prime minister, “the one over the house.”
In Isaiah 22:22, today’s first reading, there’s the account of God taking away the office of prime minister from Shebna and giving the keys of David to Eliakim, and God says, “He shall open and none shall shut” and “he shall shut and none shall open.” Jesus says something very similar to St. Peter, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” So, in the Bible, we have two accounts of ‘keys’ with ‘opening’ and ‘closing.’ Do you think these have a relationship? Absolutely.
Once Jesus establishes St. Peter as his prime minister, it’s only then that He predicts His passion and death for the first time. Why does He wait until after giving the keys to St. Peter to tell His disciples where His story is going? Because He’s preparing for the succession of the ruling of His kingdom.
The prime minister, in Israel’s history, ruled whenever the king was gone or incapacitated. There’s a story of a king who had leprosy and had to live outside the city for 50 years, so his son was made prime minister. The prime minister will rule until the return of the king. Sounds like J.R.R. Tolkien and “The Return of the King.” After this, the rest of the narrative is Jesus heading to Jerusalem, because now He’s ready to die.
This explanation of why Jesus lived is exciting and makes so much sense! Jesus believed in organized religion. That’s why He kept the Old Testament law and started a Church. He started a church… the Catholic Church.
Now, are there problems in the Church? Of course. Remember what we said five weeks ago? “There’s no perfect church. If you find a perfect church, go join it, it won’t be perfect anymore. The Church is holy, because she’s Christ’s body, but her members are sinful.” We have lots of problems. And if you’ve been hurt by members of the Church, then I’m very sorry and I apologize. But if we leave the Church we leave the kingdom.
So why is spirituality so popular as opposed to religion? I think it’s because it’s very light and makes no demands. It never tells us to do anything difficult, like Jesus did: to keep His commandments, baptize, eat the Eucharist, pray the “Our Father,” fast, not divorce and remarry, not to lust in our hearts, die to ourselves, or put God before our families and parents.
I’ve never met a fallen-away Catholic who said, “Ever since I stopped going to Church, I loved Jesus more, I started reading the Bible more, more lives of the saints; I became more patient, kinder, love the Eucharist more, did more fasting.”
Jesus believed in organized religion because we’re a family, and every family has a father, a mother, and brothers and sisters. To love the Church is to the love the kingdom; to love the Church is to love the King.