Now, I certainly understand where this idea comes from. In the Gospels, many times Jesus is clearly at odds with the religious leaders. He challenges and exhorts them. He points out their flaws, which usually comes down to the fact, not that they shouldn’t be religious, but that they should practice what they preach. The problem most times was that they were hard on everyone else, pointing out their sins, shunning those deemed to be less than holy. However, when it came to their own lived example, there was still much to be desired. Yet, He never condemns the practices of their religion, in fact, He often challenges them to practice it more faithfully.
Jesus Himself was a Religious Man
One of the most powerful arguments I can think of for the case of religious piety is the fact that Jesus Christ Himself was a religious man. As a practicing Jew He lived out His faith rather religiously as far as we can see in the Gospels.
- He sends the healed lepers to go show themselves to the priest.
- He attended synagogue which for Christians is like going to Church on Sunday.
- He exhorted people to keep the Commandments.
- He prayed before meals.
- He used symbols to teach.
- He validated the teaching authority of the religious leaders, even though they didn’t practice what they preached.
- He taught us to pray and He taught us prayers.
- He fasted.
- He practiced chastity and celibacy.
- He was a student of the Bible.
- He celebrated holy days and feast days.
- He instituted sacraments.
- He chose leaders and a hierarchy for the Church.
All in all, Jesus was no doubt a religious man. It is impossible not to see the religiosity of nearly everything that He said and did.
What I Love About Being Religious
I would submit that it is a good thing to be religious. I actually like being religious. For whatever reason the word religion leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many people. Whether they have had a bad experience with some religious person or religious leader, I don’t know, and I see how that could certainly cause that result. But I think for the majority of people who are against the religious practice of Christianity, it is actually a matter of complexity and comfort.
Rules, Religion, and Relationship
These days we want things quick and easy. Having a relationship with Jesus sounds that way. It’s simple. Yet, many view Catholics as having overly complicated what they consider to be the pure, plain, and simple Gospel truth. Catholics have rules, lots of rules. That’s a fact. But the Church didn’t invent them, God did. God gave us the Commandments. Jesus gave us the Beatitudes and the Greatest Commandment. So rules aren’t a bad thing. They aren’t meant to control us, but rather to guide us “along the right path” (Ps 23). The boundaries set by God for we His children are no different than those parents set for their children. The desire is never to control or take away our freedoms, but rather so that the children may reach their fullest potential. Any relationship requires rules, whether explicitly stated or mutually understood. Any husband would expect his wife to be exclusive, and the wife would expect nothing less from her husband. It’s a rule. And nobody complains about that.
Our rituals and sacraments seem to be purely external, but in truth are deeply spiritual and have a great deal to do with the interior life. It’s the same way Jesus did things. He used stuff—like spit and dirt to make mud for the blind man’s eyes, His fingers in the ears of the deaf man, water for baptizing new disciples, perfumed oil for His anointing, bread and fish, etc. These can all be seen as external acts, but in all reality they are deeply spiritual in nature. Rote prayers, litanies, hymns, and the like are seen as monotonous and pointless to some. These people believe prayer should come straight from the heart, which I would not argue with at all. The emotional aspect of a relationship with God is wonderful, but just like in any relationship it can’t be only about feelings. Feelings come and go. Yes, it’s great to feel on fire, and in love with God. But what about those times when you don’t feel anything or worse yet when you feel down or have doubts? Does this mean you have lost faith? Of course not. And those memorized prayers and other practices can help keep us strong in our faith even when our feelings let us down. It frees us from the need of an emotional response. It leaves the results in God’s hands where they should be anyway.
Sex could be seen as boring and monotonous to some people, but I’m guessing you’re not one of them. It isn’t merely the physical pleasure of it that makes it good, but rather a combination of that, the emotional connection, the spiritual dimension, the unitive and procreative aspects all bundled into an amazing experience. It’s much more than what we see externally as monotonous and meaningless.
For me, the religious practice of my Christian faith is a big plus. It can seem complicated, but I see it rather as the richness of my faith. There is deep meaning behind everything we say and do and believe. The spiritual truths of our faith penetrate into every aspect of our lives, involving all of the senses and giving a real, palpable sense of who God is. We have liturgical seasons that allow us to journey in faith, walking with Jesus through the seasons of His own life, reminding us of the constant need for repentance, forgiveness, love, mercy, patience, joy, etc.
Community and Family
I see the Church as a family, and of course all families are filled with different people with different personalities, temperaments, and forms of expression. This diversity is a gift. And I would feel that for me to keep my relationship with God to myself, just me and Him, would be to leave out a huge part of what it means to be a child of God. After all, through baptism you are made a son or daughter of God, uniting you intimately not only to Him, but all of your new brothers and sisters. So although your relationship with God is personal, it is never private, because we as the Church are a family.
Being religious shouldn’t be seen as a negative thing. In fact, being religious about your relationship with Jesus is a surefire way to grow deeper in love with the God who is love. There are honestly innumerable reasons I love religion and perhaps I’ll have to turn them into a boo someday. But my hope for now is that you have a better understanding of what it means to be religious about your relationship with Jesus.