Spirituality of the Readings

Why Church?

Many people today, especially younger generations, say that they do believe in God and in fact that they 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 say it in another way, why would Catholics go each week to be given a flat wafer called a “host,” along with a small sip of wine? It seems like a lot of trouble, and appears to have little to do with the “spiritual quest.”

Catholics answer that the host is no longer “bread” but has undergone a “transubstantiation.” In simpler words, even though it has the appearance of a piece of bread, its substance has been transformed from that of bread to that of Christ’s body. Ditto for the wine.

Non church believers might reply, “God and spirituality are something interior, something private. Isn’t it the point that we should help each other? Why can’t we do it without all the paraphernalia, without all this ‘body and blood’ business?”

Let us attempt an answer.

Christian, Catholic beliefs are a direct result of what we believe about Jesus.

(1) He is the “speaking-out” of God’s love. He and the Father are one, and the scriptures attest to this.

(2) Jesus died on the cross in a showdown between goodness and the forces of selfishness and greed.

(3) Evil won. But at his depths Christ was deeper than evil. He was made of something stronger than either life or death. This foundational “something stronger” endured even though he was dead and buried. What was it?

Love.

Love is the substance of the life of Jesus, since he is the direct expression of God-love. Jesus emerged from the tomb because he is, like the Father, love.

(4) Then he ascended into heaven. Apparently he was leaving us behind without him. But he sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers, so that Jesus would always be present to us. Pentecost was the full expression of this fact.

Fine so far. Our churchless brothers and sisters would like it. “This Holy Spirit of God dwells deep in the wordless depths of a person, you say. You have proved our point! We do not need ceremonies and ritual.”

Uh oh. Maybe they are right!

(5) Not quite. Think of it this way. When you are hungry and you want, say, a hamburger, does simply thinking about a hamburger do the job? Hunger is internal, right? And that should be enough. No need for anything outside your imagination.

Nonsense. Yes, we human beings have a spiritual “insides” and it is very important, but we have an outside too. We are not built to just stay within ourselves but instead to let our spirits walk, play, and even suffer out in the material world. The Spirit’s presence at the depths of our being makes us desire to discover Jesus with our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and hands.

And that is why we go to Church: to find the answer to our Spiritual quest in the fleshly presence of Christ. At Mass, which is a ritual, we find the presence of God given to our senses in Communion, and our Spiritual and physical yearning fulfilled in both. Are you hungry for God? 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

Kristin Clauson