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The Emptiness of Religion?

Religion

Devotional Thought of the Day:

9  but the LORD himself takes care of Israel. 10  Israel, the LORD discovered you in a barren desert filled with howling winds. God became your fortress, protecting you as though you were his own eyes. Deuteronomy 32:9-10 (CEV)

Consequently, in our efforts to work out the theological and anthropological basis of prayer, it is not a question of proving the validity of Christian prayer by the standards of some neutral reasonableness. It is a case of uncovering the inner logic of faith itself, with its own distinct reasonableness.

Yet the mass was not instituted for its own worthiness, but to make us worthy and to remind us of the passion of Christ. Where that is not done, we make of the mass a physical and unfruitful act, though even this is of some good.

I have often heard people criticize the church by saying the Christianity is a relationship, and not a religion. I have to disagree, or at least qualify it.

If by religion you mean something man can study as an observer, measuring its logic, finding ways to make it more productive through analysis and basically controlling it, I agree. I think this is clearly the point Pope Benedict XVI made, when writing back when he was a Cardinal

If by religion you mean doing things for their own value, and not because they interact with God, then, yes, religion is nearly worthless. Luther makes this point clear with his comments about the worship service, what he calls the mass or gathering.

But neither would define “religion” that way, as if it could be simply studied by anthropologists and statisticians. They would, despite their differences, define religion, true religion, as the relationship God arranges for us, and draws us into, a life with Him.

Prayer then, isn’t something to be dissected, in order to prove the validity of it as a practice. It is something we engage in, a discussion with the One to whom logic and reality are a creation, and more than we can understand. It is beyond the ability to study, this form of divine communication. One can’t measure the peace it brings, or the comfort given by God, as we dialogue with Him.

In the same way, a mass or worship service is worthless when we expect it to be special on its own, we we simply become spectators, listeners, those who can critique and make value judgments on it, as if the congregation was an Olympic medal judge, and the pastor and other leaders were competitors. ( which means i have to be careful asking my wife to “grade” my sermons! I should know better!)

Prayer and worship matter because of the interaction, the conversation where God makes us worthy to interact with Him, the interaction when we hear Him respond as we pray and meditate on His word. As we realize His care, His nurture, His was of guiding and protecting us, even in the hardest times.

These times are precious, because He draws us out of our life and into His, even as He invades our life, to create in it something wonderful, something that is so awe-inspiring that He is glorified. This is the religion He formed, the practices He has given us to make sure we know that He is active in our lives.

Without His active presence, spiritual disciplines and gathering together around the Him and the blessings He bestows in the sacrament is nothing. Yet, the ironic thing is, He is active even when we are not aware.

Religion, the Christian Religion, is not empty and worthless, we just need to open our eyes… and see the One who has drawn us into it.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 18.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 8.

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