Sunday 31 May - Sunday Reflection with Fr Terry Tastard

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

Increasingly these days I seem to meet people who tell me that they are spiritual, but not very religious.  What do they mean?  I take it that by ‘spiritual’ they mean that they have ideals that they strive to live by, and that their conduct is inspired by the good and the true.  Surely all Christians could say as much. 

Still, we may wonder:  Is it enough to be spiritual?  Or, to put the question more neutrally, what difference does it make if in addition you are committed in faith to Jesus Christ and the Church he founded? 
The origins of the word ‘religion’ are thought to come from the Latin word ligare meaning ‘to bind’.  In our first reading today from Acts 2.11 we heard a wonderful list of the nations and groups named as those in whose language the works of God were proclaimed, on that remarkable day in Jerusalem.  To be spiritual is good, but you remain an individual, one atom, as it were, in the sea of people.  To belong to a religion is to be bound to many other people in a common faith.  It allows you to belong, it creates an association in which believers can strengthen and help each other.  We call it the Church. 

Then there is the role of conscience.  Some people have too much and suffer from scruples, but more often the problem is that we have too little conscience.  But unless we had a conscience, what a barbarous place the world would be!  Our conscience is one place in particular where the Spirit can be felt in our lives.  This, too, is a binding.  Sometimes it sets limits on what we do, rather like the list given today in Gal. 5.16-25.  But it would be a negative thing if we stopped there.  There is a positive side to this binding, because we can add that the self-control (for which we sometimes struggle!) is blessed by fruits which encourage us:  ‘Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (v 22). 

Finally, we need to wonder whether it is enough to believe in a haphazard collection of truths.  In the gospel today Jesus promises that the Spirit will lead us ‘to the complete truth’ (John 16.13).  To be spiritual, on its own, is to have a basket of beliefs.  You mix and match, so to speak.  But how do you justify what you have chosen to believe?  To be a Christian is belong to the whole.  We are bound together in the truth, which is the knowledge of what God has done for us in Christ.  We inherit Christian teaching of many generations who have gone before us and the fruits of their experience.  We affirm it as the truth to which we bind ourselves, and in this binding we find a freedom, the freedom to live in the life and grace of God which is given to us.
Our culture is one which emphasises freedom.  But freedom without discipline – without that binding we have been thinking about – is simply a kind of selfishness, or even anarchy.  Every athlete and every musician grows in freedom by becoming more and more disciplined.  It is the Holy Spirit of God that inspires us to seek and to find, binding us to one another in the truth.  The excitement and joy which sometimes accompany spiritual experiences need to be balanced with this discipline of belonging to one another and to the truth.

Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Brook Green, London W6.

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