Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Why Religion

If you joined us for Mass last weekend, you heard me share the alarming statistic that 9% of Catholics who attend Mass every Sunday have some doubts about the existence of God.[1] While that statistic might seem crazy, I shared how in my junior year of high school I found myself in exactly the same boat. I then shared with you, using science and a little bit of reasoning, how I came to be convinced of th e existence of God and the truth that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Even if you are still struggling with the question of whether God is real, let me lay out a reason to live as though He does exist. Look there are only 4 options. First, God is real and we live like He is real. If that is true then we spend eternity at peace in heaven. The second is that He is real and we live as though He isn’t, in which case we spend eternity in the pain and suffering of hell. Third, He is not real and we live as though He is, in which case we can still have a good life here and then we slip into nothingness. Or, fourth, God is not real and we live as though He is not real and while we enjoy this life we still slip into nothingness at our death.[2] If I were a betting person, it would seem best to place my bet by living my life as though He does exist.

When presented with the evidence, many people become convinced that God is real and that Jesus is the Son of God, but they don’t see a need for organized religion; rather they claim to be spiritual but not religious. At its core the desire to be spiritual but not religious is simply the creation of a religion, all be it a religion that consists of only one member. Yet, unlike our traditional understanding of religion, which is focused on God, the spiritual but not religious religion focuses on oneself. Rather than asking God what do you want, as religion does, the spiritual but not religious say this is what I want God to be; in essence replacing God with ourselves. Rather than pursuing the truth, we replace the truth to life’s deepest questions like, who is God, what is the purpose of life, etc. with our own answers rather than the truth. Since religion serves to set us free in the truth of God, being spiritual but not religious only serves to make us slaves to ourselves and our own ignorance and thus fails to satisfy our deepest desires.

While being spiritual but not religious is convenient, it makes utterly no sense to say I believe that Jesus is the Son of God but then to say that I am not a part of a religion. Look there is no denying that Jesus chose humans to carry out His work and appointed Peter to be the visible head of the Church. After all Jesus told St. Peter “you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.[3] Notice that Jesus says He will build His Church. Jesus is clear that He intends to found a Church. But Jesus doesn’t simply intend to found a Church, He clearly gives His apostles the power and authority to carry out His work in the Church when He tells them “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”[4] and receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.”[5] Not only did Jesus found a Church on the authority of Peter and the apostles and then gave them the power to carry out His work, He commanded them to do so. At the Last Supper Jesus commanded his disciples to “do this in memory of me.”[6] After His resurrection He commanded His disciples to “make disciples of all nations”[7]

The Acts of the Apostles and the letters of St. Paul show us that the apostles headed Jesus command to go “to into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”[8] As the apostles went out many people came to believe in and follow Jesus. The apostles thus handed on the faith and as a sizeable community began to grow they appointed other men to continue on the work, through the laying on of hands, in the local area so they could go on to other towns and villages to bring more people to Christ. If you go into my office, you will see a piece of paper hanging in a gold frame, written in Latin, which testifies to the fact that I was ordained a priest by Archbishop Carlson. In other words it testifies that it was the archbishop who gave me the power to continue the work of saying Mass, hearing confessions etc. From there you can trace Archbishop Carlson back to the bishop who ordained him, back to the bishop who ordained him, and all the way back unbroken to one of those first 11 apostles.

While science and reason show us that God exists and that Jesus is the Son of God, history shows us that Jesus founded a church on the authority of St. Peter and the other apostles and those apostles handed that authority down in an unbroken line of succession on to today. In fact, the Catholic Church is the only church that can claim to have been founded by Christ personally. Even amidst all of her human scandals God continues to rule, instruct and sanctify His people through the Church. So, no matter our doubts or our feeling, if we look honestly at the question, we discover that God exists, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He founded the Catholic Church. Join us next week to answer the question why am I Catholic. 

[1] Pew Research Forum, When Americans say they believe in God what do they mean? April, 2018. Available at https://www.pewforum.org/2018/04/25/when-americans-say-they-believe-in-god-what-do-they-mean/04-25-18_beliefingod-00-00/

[2] For an explanation of Pascal’s Wager see https://iep.utm.edu/pasc-wag/

[3] Matthew 16:18

[4] Matthew 16:19

[5] John 20:33

[6] Luke 22:19

[7] Matthew 28:19

[8] Mark 16:15

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