Spirituality of the Readings
Why Go to Church?
Many people today, especially younger people, say they believe in God and are on a spiritual quest, but they do not need an organized religion to help them.
Sunday’s Mass will make the question especially poignant. To put things in the worst light, why would you Catholics go each week to be handed a flat wafer called a “host” and perhaps a small sip of wine? It seems like a lot of trouble, and would appear to have very little to do with the spiritual quest.
As Catholics, we answer that the host is no longer “bread” but has undergone a “transubstantiation.” To put that in simpler terms, even though the host has an appearance of a piece of bread, its substance has been transformed from that of bread to that of Christ’s body. The same goes for the wine.
Non-church believers might reply,
aren’t God and spirituality something interior, something private? Wouldn’t the point be that we should help each other? Why can’t we do it without all the paraphernalia, without all this ‘body and blood’ business?
Let’s attempt an answer.
Christian Catholic beliefs are a direct result of what we believe about Jesus.
He is a speaking-out of God’s love. He and the Father are one, as the scriptures attest.
He died on the cross in a showdown between goodness and the forces of selfishness and greed.
Evil won. But at his depths, Christ was deeper than evil. He was made of something stronger than either life or death. This something endured even though he was dead and buried. What was it? Love, the kind founded on the life of Jesus. He was the direct expression of God-love. Jesus emerged from the tomb because he was rooted in God-love.
Then he ascended into heaven, as we saw. It looked like he left us behind. But he sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who believe so that he would still be present to us. Pentecost was the full expression of this fact.
Fine so far, as our churchless brothers and sisters might agree:
But this Holy Spirit of God dwells deep in the wordless depths of a person. You have proved our point. We do not need ceremonies and ritual.
Are they right?
Not quite. Look at it this way. When you are hungry and you want, say, a hamburger, does thinking about a burger do the job? Since your hunger is internal, why does it need an answer in the material world,?
We human beings do have spiritual insides and they are very important, but we have an outside too. We are not built to just stay within ourselves but in addition to let our spirits walk, play, and even suffer in the material world. The Holy Spirit’s presence at the depths of our being makes us desire to find Jesus with our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and hands.
And that is why we go to Church. In order to find the answer to our spiritual quest, in the real, fleshly presence of Christ. At Mass, a ritual, we find presence given to our senses in Communion. It comes from the exterior, and it fulfills our interior, spiritual and physical yearning.
Are you hungry for Christ? Come and eat.
You are what you eat, you know.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University