"Big Four" Highlights


Spiritual and Religious

To reach a deeper level, we must engage the Church

By Jason Godin

Perhaps you’ve heard it said by a family member during dinner or by a close friend over coffee:

“I’m spiritual but not religious.”

These five words, designed to put off talk about formal religion, are loaded with meaning about what modern man values, but also empty of an essential understanding about the nature of the Church. 

Any activity that an individual considers meaningful could be considered spiritual. Consequently, spiritual belief can profoundly transform a person, molding their world view. But unlike religious observance or practice, today’s spirituality tends to take place outside of an organized faith community. This seems to be increasingly and intentionally so among the youngest generations. When teachings or traditions of a faith community conflict with their own understanding of life, liberty and happiness, they tend to move toward an amorphous sense of “spirit” rather than grapple with the possibility of objective truth existing beyond their thinking. It appears that religion for them must be “my way” or “no way”.  

Survey results released late last year seem to support the popularity of subjective spirituality. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, 59% of U.S. adults surveyed in 2014 felt a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week, up from 52% in 2007. But a closer dig into the data also shows 40% of respondents in 2014 were religiously unaffiliated, up from 35% in 2007.

Among Catholics surveyed:

  • 91% agree that churches and other religious institutions bring people together and strengthen community bonds.
  • 89% play an important role in helping the poor and needy.
  • 82% protect and strengthen morality in society.
  • 76% feel a strong sense of gratitude.
  • 52% think about meaning and purpose of life.

To take the above findings at face value, modern spirituality appears largely a collection of relative feelings. It involves senses of peace, well-being, universal wonder and gratitude. Thought still goes into the meaning and purpose of life, but churches and other religious institutions traditionally relied upon to aid in that existential thinking are looked to less often. They’re now seen more as forces for communal gathering and community building, for helping the poor and needy, for protecting and strengthening social morality.   

Viewing the Catholic Church mostly as a force for neighborhood networking, philanthropy and safeguarding a strong code of conduct, however, paints an incomplete portrait. The Church is “both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine. That is her mystery, which only faith can accept” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 779). The Holy Trinity, the entire life of Christ, the liturgy, the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, all present and communicate not just a vague spirit, but divine persons. The Church is incarnational – as Catholics, we value the stuff of creation and venerate the body and blood of the Savior. We cherish every human person, created in the image of God, in both body and soul.

To identify mostly with a “my way” spirituality misses out on these wonderful and wondrous mysteries of our incarnational faith. If people truly seek deeper meaning to life, they can reach those depths by becoming spiritual and religious. No split exists between the two; instead, they coexist, courtesy of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Jason Godin is managing editor of Fathers for Good