‘Offer it up for the Holy Souls’, ‘there’s another angel in Heaven’, and ‘God only sends you a Cross you can carry’. These are examples of phrases that whilst having some little kernel of wisdom in them, are also examples of the types of phrases that can really annoy and upset people. Granted they may well be offered with the best of intentions, nevertheless they can irritate. Somehow they appear just a little too neat, too trite. It reminds me that at times we say things that get religion a bad name. It’s worse when we propose to speak for God. It’s worse again when we attribute things to him that truly could never be part of God. ‘He took their baby to test their marriage’, or ‘He sent her the cancer to test her faith’, would be good examples of what I mean. That is not to say of course that the death of their beautiful little baby would not strain their relationship, nor of course that the cancer would rock her faith. However to attribute these terrible events to God is a different story altogether. For me this is a contradiction. The occurrence of cancer, suffering, sickness and infant death are all horribly painful things that do not originate in a loving God. Sometimes we can be sloppy about how we speak of God. Sometimes God is the convenient catch all. What would we do if we had not God to blame? Sometimes at a funeral Mass I can slip into another catch all type phrase, ‘ Ah sure your granny is in Heaven now!’ Now she may well be. Indeed in my experience of grannies I think there is a lot of them in Heaven, but the truth is Heaven is not mine to give. One would hope that there is not such a lack of humility in the priest that he confuses himself with God! Just another little example of religious sloppiness.
So how can we avoid pious piffle? How can we tighten up and avoid this tendency towards religious slop? I think we need to be a little bit more questioning. For example when we hear others, or indeed hear ourselves begin a sentence with ‘Jesus said’, it might be helpful to ask, ‘when did he say that?’, ‘to whom did he say that?’ Actually did Jesus say it at all? Sometimes it’s not Jesus, it’s the Church. The Church is often used as another catch all. People will oftentimes use the phrase ‘the Church says, the Church teaches’, willy nilly. Again we can be sloppy. ‘The Church says people in a second union are not welcome in the Church’. She does not. ‘The Church says gay people are evil’. She does not. These statements are worse than sloppy as they do serious damage to the Church. Worse than that these statements are contrary to the essence of the Gospel. They both lack compassion. Both are far too loose, once again too ‘catch all’. They fail to name the core of Church teaching on Communion for all of us, not just those in second unions. The other failure is to tenderly invite, again all of us, not just gay people, to an ever deepening awareness of our sexuality as a beautiful gift from God.
Apart from being more questioning , what else can we do to avoid this increasingly prevalent laziness with regards to both Gospel and Church? I think a core question in this regard, might be, what is our source? What is our foundation? For me, the Gospels, the sixteen basic documents of Vatican II, and the Catechism are what form the firm foundation on which we can safely build. I tend to avoid excessive reliance on devotions as I do private revelation. The reality is that the world is becoming a more hostile, a more dangerous place and with it people are more lost, more hungry than ever. This hunger is a deep spiritual hunger. The satisfaction of this hunger lies in Jesus. I believe there is no other way to cope in this rapidly changing world, indeed not only cope but to thrive, that is as deep and lasting as having a personal relationship with Jesus. The pious piffle only gets in the way. It is a distraction. Anytime I have spoken of having a personal relationship with Jesus in addition to those who are at least curious about it, there are also those who are cynical about it as even a possibility. How can one
have a relationship with someone who ‘died’ over two thousand years ago?
In the study, in the reading, in the prayer and most especially in sacred silence my relationship with Jesus grows and develops. There are glimpses in other places: music, nature and people. The relationship with Jesus is like any other relationship in that it is not always easy, at times requiring hard work. The rewards are enormous though. His presence in our lives, once we open up are hearts to him, saves, heals and restores relationships, brings peace, builds bridges.