Bishop Hartmayer: “I am spiritual but I am also religious”

In Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer’s homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, he says that it is not enough to say that we are spiritual people, but that “Christian spirituality finds its growth and fulfillment in the Church that Jesus founded.”

Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
St. James Church
Savannah, Georgia

August 27, 2017

My dear friends,

Two friends were planning to begin a business. One of the two friends knew someone with the right connections that could help them make a go of their new business. They were seriously considering bringing him on as a partner.

One night, the friend who knew him went out for a drink with this potentially helpful associate and listened as the man called his wife on his cell phone to tell her he was staying late at the office, winking at the friend.

The meeting ended pretty quickly after that, with no mention of the venture or an invitation to be part of it. The friend told his partner, “If he could lie so easily to his wife, how can we trust him?”

What has happened or is happening to our society and our world? The world and national news is just filled with the frightening evidence that there is less and less of a value and respect for human life.

It is true that we receive more bad news more quickly than in the past but I think it is more than that. Something is changing...  something is missing.

I sound like an old man... but this is certainly not the world that I grew up in. I do not have an answer because I am not even sure what the problem is... but I know that something is wrong.

What do people believe in today? What are the values that we are living... and our children are learning?

We are living in an age of information... instant information... whether it is true information or not. There seems to be such a lack of trust in the government, in the Church, in the media, in business, in relationships.

It appears that Virtues and Values are not being seen as necessary and important as they once were. We are careful to not offend anyone or impose our values on someone else so we tend to hide our Catholic identity so that we blend in more easily in the general population.

Our children are confused. They hear one way of expected behavior at home but are over-exposed to an absence of sanctity and respect and holiness in the vulgar music they hear, the internet pornography that is at their fingertips, the violence that is promoted in television, video games and movies and the sheer lack of family values and family life in our society today.

I do not have a simple answer. But I think there is a correlation between institutional religion and a person’s moral behavior.

It is not uncommon today to hear someone say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” I am not quite sure what that means but some people see themselves as spiritual people but they are not practicing members of any particular faith community.

Some will say that the Church is filled with hypocrites. I cannot argue with that... because I am one of them. Because I am a sinner... is all the more reason I should be in Church. I need to hear the Word of God, I need to be challenged, I need to be forgiven, I need to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, I need the support of the community of the Church, I need to have the opportunities to minister and to be minister to.

Jesus Christ knew what we needed. He knew that we would be weak. He knew that we needed direction. He knew that we needed the Grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

That is why he founded the Church... not so much for the saints... but for the sinners.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to decide exactly what we believe and hold as sacred... not just “in front of the children”, not just under certain circumstances, not just when it is convenient nor not controversial... but what do we truly believe... all the time?

If the basis of our faith is the sanctity of all human life, then the rest of our belief system will follow the same suit.

If we believe what we say we do when we profess the Creed, then our behavior should reflect the faith that we profess.

If I believe in three persons in One God, then I will respect what God has made and what Jesus Christ has redeemed and what the Holy Spirit sanctifies.

Jesus Christ came to found a Church where the Sacraments, which are real encounters with Him, are regularly received... where there is a reverence for the Holy... where there is a long tradition of God’s revelation of himself to us and his unconditional love and mercy is available to us. That is the Church.

We invest our Time, Talent and Treasure in that which we believe and hold as valuable. How do we use most of our time? Where and with whom do we share our talent? On what do we spend our money? The answers to those questions will help us define our values and what we truly believe in.

Our baptismal certificates are much more than membership cards identifying us as belonging to a group of like-minded people.

Being a Christian, a follower of Christ is a calling to live the justice and mercy of God, to proclaim to a despairing world the promise of the resurrection and the life of the world to come.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am”?

How would we answer the question: “Who do we say that we are”? What do we mean when we call ourselves a Catholic?

Our love for family and friends, our dedication to the cause of what is right and just, our taking the first step toward reconciliation and forgiveness, our simplest acts of kindness and generosity declare most effectively and courageously our belief in the Gospel and that Jesus is the Messiah and Redeemer.

It is good for us to be Spiritual. But Christian spirituality finds its growth and fulfillment in the Church that Jesus founded.

As a follower of Jesus, we should say, “I am spiritual but I am also religious."

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