Many years ago, I heard the story of a beautiful summer day in a downtown, when a truck pulls up to the side of the road. Two guys get out and dig a hole. Then two other guys get out and fill in the hole. They get back in the truck and drive forward twenty feet. The first two guys get out and dig a hole, and then the second two guys fill in the hole. This goes on for a while. Finally, people ask, “What is going on?” They said, “We work for the city. The guy who plants the trees is sick today.”
You can have a lot of activity without accomplishing your primary purpose. This leads to a key question for Church work: Are we fulfilling our primary purpose? Having a lot of good activities does not, in itself, answer the question. Of course, to do that it would help to know what that purpose is.
I have asked a number of practicing Catholics “What is religion?” Many have a hard time coming up with an answer. Some say it is a belief. Some say it is a set of practices. Is that all it is?
I suggest that religion at its core is a love relationship with the God who loves us very much. Everything is about that. A love relationship is different from anything else that is, and nothing can substitute for it. A collection of beliefs and tasks is much, much less than an all-transforming love relationship.
Some people have told me that their relationship with God is one thing, and their religion is something else. But then what is religion? If it is not our relationship with God, then why do it? If we do it to please God, to express our love, devotion and obedience to Him, to encounter Him, then is it not our relationship with God? There may be aspects of our relationship with God that are informal and don’t directly involve Church, but I suggest that in religion there is love relationship with God, and there is nothing else.
According to Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples, only 60% of Catholics believe in a personal God at all, and most Catholics are not certain that they can have a personal relationship with God. If so few Catholics understand what I had thought was the most basic of truths about the faith, then how well have we been communicating the faith?
If we are bringing people into the Church and getting them involved in activities, that is good. But if we are not leading them to an all –transforming love relationship with God, then I suggest that we are not fulfilling our central function. Our tree planting guy is sick.
According to Forming Intentional Disciples, only 30% of those raised Catholic in America are currently coming to Mass once a month or more. Maybe people have stopped coming because they have not found the Church to bring them to a love relationship with God. In any case, these numbers suggest to me that we need a serious re-examination of how we look at Church and how we do Church. What do you think?