Humans are spiritual creatures. It is written into our DNA to look beyond ourselves to spiritual truths. History demonstrates our desire for spiritual connection. Although many these days claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” we all have religious tendencies. Left to our own devices, we will find something to worship. We will create our own, individual belief systems by assembling our opinions, our values and our principles into “little religions.” Therefore, none of us are really “spiritual but not religious.” Either we follow God’s religion or we follow our own.
I put together a list that illustrates my own journey of awareness about God’s revelation to humanity. It’s sort of what I perceive to be a “growth chart” of spiritual awakening. There was a time when I considered myself to be “spiritual but not religious.” That changed around number 11 or 12 on the list when I realized that religious people behaving badly did not make “religion” a bad word. I realized it was not only possible but desirable to be both religious and spiritual. It is a both/and proposition, not an either/or one.
I believe lots of people get stuck somewhere on this list. For example, agnostics might be around number one to six. Lots of Christians stop around number eleven. Some may be at number thirteen without knowing they need number 11. Really, we can get stuck anywhere on the list. I’m not claiming to have personally reached the ultimate place in a journey of faith. We’re all works in progress. This list is just a sketch of where I have been and what I’m striving for by God’s grace. It’s not perfectly chronological in order. I’m far from where I need to be. The point is, as soon as we think we’ve “arrived,” we haven’t. Conversion is a lifelong process, not a single event.
Here is the process:
1) Look around at creation and realize it couldn’t have “just happened” without an intelligent designer and call that designer “God.”
2) Realize that God transcends us.
3) Understand that we are eternal beings, but imperfect beings (sinners).
4) Realize that we can’t fix our own imperfection and become like God.
5) Wonder if such a God cares about what happens to us and the rest of creation.
6) Wonder if God knows how it feels to be human, or if God is aloof.
7) Realize that Jesus is God in human flesh.
8) Realize that God does know how it feels to be human because God became human.
9) Realize that through Jesus, God came to seek us out. We didn’t need to climb up to God.
10) Realize that the perfect life, suffering and death of Jesus is the answer to humanity’s imperfection (sin).
11) Realize that Jesus (God) desires us to trust him with our eternal souls and lives, not our own efforts.
12) Understand and accept that, because he loves us, Jesus did not want to leave us to our own devices, so he made sure there would be an antidote to conflicting opinions.
13) Realize and accept that Jesus called his antidote “the Church” and gave its hierarchy his own authority. Accepting Jesus includes accepting the Church, because they are the same authority. The Holy Spirit guards and controls the hierarchy’s teachings and also preserves the written Word. To accept Christ and reject the Church is contradictory.
14) Realize that Jesus did not want to leave us orphaned and promised to be with us.
15) Understand that, in order for Jesus to actually “be with us” he has to be completely with us, not partially with us “in spirit” as if he were on the telephone or a video conference. Jesus still has a physical body and still wants to literally “be with us.” His love for us is that profound.
16) Understand and accept that the way Jesus chooses to keep his promise to “be with us” is by humbling himself in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. The power of the Holy Spirit accomplishes this.
17) Realize that the religion of Catholicism is actually about being with and loving Christ and each other. God is love, and Catholicism is the fullness of God’s religion when lived out in holiness and love as Jesus intended (not as a set of rules to earn Heaven apart from God’s grace).