In the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, priests around the globe would bow their heads during a high point of Catholic worship and whisper: “Hoc est corpus meam.” These fontal words, “This is my body,” was a sign for all who gathered that the bread and wine were no longer bread and wine but a different substance: the body and blood of Jesus. But some priests rattled through the Mass and lots of people who could hear them claimed that “hoc est corpus,” when said quickly, sounded like “hocus-pocus.”
Faith is about surrendering to the immensity of immeasurable mystery, a willingness to fall upward into divine gravity. Religion’s purpose is to provide a structure for faith. When its worship gets viewed as a smoke and mirrors magic trick and its leaders are seen as pretentious or hypocritical, religion loses relevance. When Jesus fed the multitudes, healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised people from the dead, onlookers couldn’t differentiate between magic and miracle; they just knew it was mysterious. We have a tough time with it today, too. Those who desire magic should seek it in games, stage shows, or museums of illusion, not in churches. The church should be the opposite of illusion—a place where truth is sought and found.
Yet Christ, the ultimate truth, is wrapped in mystery. The mystery of faith is experienced in His unending gift to us: “hoc est corpus meam.” Central to my task as a priest is helping people find meaning in the mysteries. I look at three significant levels of mystery: existence, faith, and religion. Religion is the most tangible and needs to be relevant or it shouldn’t be at all. Religion is a vehicle for faith. Faith (or spirituality) is far more important than religion because it is our relationship with God. Religion should provide avenues that enhance the relationship, not hinder it. If religion is not doing its job, it should get out of the way. Unfortunately for churches, many good people have discarded their religion because it became an obstacle to their faith in God.
Though not everyone has religion, everyone has faith. That is because everyone is spiritual. Much as every person is a social being and a sexual being, every person is also a spiritual being—we cannot exist otherwise; even those who claim to be anti-social or asexual are social, sexual, and spiritual. It is in the spiritual realm that we contemplate our existence. Though our existence is connected to something before our birth and after our death—because we are connected with the greater mystery of God—faith is about finding meaning and purpose during our earthly existence. Helping others discover their purpose and develop it is also part of my job as an officer of the church. There is no hocus-pocus magic to it, but it does connect us to the mystery of the Body of Christ that we consume while it also consumes us.
It might be difficult to process all this, but I invite you to do so during our coronavirus year (when God might be telling us to slow down and take a long, loving look at who we are becoming). In upcoming weeks, I will offer a few on-line mini-retreats to our virtual members where we will consider these three levels: our earthly existence, faith, and religion. As regards the first, we will contemplate purpose and meaning, i.e., our vocation, the reason that we are here in the human form. As regards the second, we’ll look at spirituality, the supernatural and preternatural aspects of our communion with God and one another. As regards the last, I will reflect upon the idea that religion must be relevant for young people or we run the risk of it evaporating from their lives.
These virtual mini-retreats will take the form of a weekly four to five-minute message and spiritual exercise. Look for an invitation to opt in during the week ahead. There’s no magic in our relationship with God but it does involve our surrender to His divine mystery working through us, in us, and with us.