Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies


5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Joseph Palermo
May 18th, 2014
Year A

I continue to hear people make this statement:  “I don’t go to church.  I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.”  “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious” seems to be a frequent mantra of our time.  It denotes some belief in God or a “higher power” or some “spirit,” but not a belief in organized religion.  Organized religion is seen as the enemy.  Organized religion makes too many demands and has too many rules, and too many of the people who are members or leaders of organized religion are sinners and hypocrites.  So the philosophy goes:  I’ll just practice my faith by myself – just me and Jesus, or me and my higher power, or me and my spirit – and I’ll be nice to people.  So that’s what it’s come to?  The Son of God came down from heaven and became incarnate in human flesh and died on the cross so I can relate to him “alone and by myself” and be nice to everybody, and that’s it?  What exactly is the justification for that belief?

The gospels show us that Jesus assembled a community of disciples during his lifetime:  many people from a variety of places with twelve of them forming the inner circle of leaders.  Jesus hung out with a community of disciples for his three years of public ministry:  he ate with them, prayed with them and ministered with them.  Although Jesus certainly interacted with people on a one-on-one basis, most of his teachings, healings and miracles occurred in groups or crowds.  None of the four gospels record Jesus saying or hinting that he came to earth to promote a “me-and-God” spirituality or only to ask people to be nice to one another.  Jesus came to establish a church, a community of followers to teach, preach, comfort, forgive and heal in his name.

Jesus’ disciples clearly understood his call to be a community of believers because they remained together as a group after his death.  Common sense would suggest that they would be safer from the authorities if they scattered and went off by themselves.  But Jesus’ disciples understood that He wanted them to stay together and work together as a community for mutual support and for the common good of spreading the gospel.  The Acts of the Apostles shows us how the early church community gathered together regularly for prayer and Eucharist and how they regularly shared food and resources and grew together in faith.

Today’s reading from Acts highlights a problem that the early church experienced because it gathered in community.  The Greek-speaking members of the community complained about the Hebrew-speaking members of the community that their widows were being short-changed in the daily distribution of food.  Nobody said in response to this problem, “Aha, there’s tension in the community.  This proves we can’t make it together.  Let’s separate; let’s stop trying to live together, pray together and work together; let’s seek God on our own.”  No, no, no!  Instead, the community found a solution to the problem.  The apostles realized that they needed more hands on deck to deal with this task.  In order not to neglect their vital ministry of prayer and preaching the Word, they appointed the first group of deacons to take care of the distribution of food in the community.  In other words, the community’s leaders put on their thinking caps and solved the community’s problem.  That’s what communities do; they work out problems.  To separate and go it alone because of a problem or tension was unthinkable.  And what was the result of having deacons lead the ministry of charity?  The passage from Acts goes on to say:  “The word of God continued to spread and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly.”  The result of the community working together was harmony in the community and evangelizing success.

In today’s passage from the Gospel of John, we hear a teaching of Jesus from the Last Supper.  Jesus tells his apostles that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Jesus is pointing to his primacy in God’s plan of redemption; there is no salvation apart from Him.  And it was Jesus who established the church to keep us on the Way with Him.  Interestingly, the first community of Jesus’ disciples wasn’t called Christians; they were called the “Way” in honor of the Lord who was the True Way to God.  The “Way” was a community name, not an individual name, which confirms the disciples’ understanding of the communitarian model that Jesus asked them to follow.

So the mantra, “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” isn’t biblical.  Those who follow this philosophy typically don’t want religious creeds or doctrines because they see them as restrictive, but actually, creeds and doctrines help us to understand God better.  Similarly, adherents to this philosophy generally don’t want rules and regulations to live by because they see them as impinging on freedom, but actually, rules of right conduct help us to live well and be truly free.  Surely that is why Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the commandments, but to fulfill them.”

Finally, adherents of the “me and God” spirituality often are turned off by all the sinners who are part of a community of faith, including those who actually lead it.  But Jesus was perfectly well aware of the sins of his apostles – after all they denied, betrayed or abandoned him – yet he kept them in leadership roles in spite of their infidelity and weakness.  Jesus understands that we are all weak and sinful but, with God’s grace, we can do great things for God.  And so, Jesus never did promote a “me and God” spirituality.  He called us to love and care for one another and spread the gospel in community:  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he said. “Whatever you do for others, you do for me.”  “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”  “Go out to all the world and proclaim the good news.”  There’s no “me and God” spirituality in Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus calls us to journey together as a community of faith.  He asks us to pray and worship and have Eucharist together, to serve and minister together, to address and solve problems together, to care for the sick and suffering together, to defend human life and biblical visions of marriage and sexuality together, to forgive hurts and reconcile differences together, and to journey together toward our final destination with the Blessed Trinity and the communion of saints in heaven.  

Alone and separate, we can do some good, but without a community to support us and nudge us, the path is ripe for confusion, self-centeredness and loss of faith.  United, as the Body of Christ, we can do much to spread the gospel and make a difference in the world.  May God grant us the grace to understand and live the communitarian nature of the Gospel of Jesus – to be both spiritual and religious!









Fr. Joseph Palermo is a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Louisiana.
He serves serves as spiritual director at Notre Dame Seminary and spiritual advisor for the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers Association.


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