Religion in a Culture of Science, Skepticism, and Do-It-Yourself Spirituality
Having given up on religion as irrelevant, many people nonetheless are aware of a spiritual hunger within themselves. However, they do not look to the Church or to religion but seek to construct their own spirituality. People want to be spiritual without being religious.
And yet their quest for spirituality confirms what religion teaches. In its opening paragraphs, the Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims, “The desire for God is written in the human heart” (27). It goes on to say that only in God will we find the truth and happiness we continuously seek. In this quest, the seeker ought not neglect or ignore the wisdom of many others throughout history who have pursued the same quest. Otherwise, the seeker may be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Nor should the seeker pursue the quest alone, neglecting the supportive company of others. It is easy for a spiritual seeker traveling alone to lose his or her way. Religion provides that accumulated wisdom of the ages and the contemporary companionship of others on the spiritual quest.
Catholic Tradition is particularly rich in this regard, with a long history of spiritual writings from the incisive sayings of the early desert fathers and mothers to the deep mystical insights of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and on to the little way of love described by Thérèse of Lisieux, as well as those of countless others.
And this spiritual wisdom is not just a thing of the past. Spiritual seekers may be surprised at the wise and helpful guidance they find if they take time to visit a Catholic parish, shrine, or retreat center and talk to that “irrelevant” priest or sister they meet there.
Those on a spiritual quest soon discover their need for silence, and the quiet of a Catholic church or chapel provides a much-needed environment for meditation and prayer. Catholics believe Christ is present there in a unique and special way, waiting to welcome the seeker. The One we seek is already seeking us. Jesus Christ offers himself to us first in the Incarnation and then again and again in the Blessed Sacrament. Those who take time to pray to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament may discover just how relevant he is to their questions and desires.
Scientific advances have made religion more relevant, not less. The Catholic Church proclaims Christ as the answer to the human quest for meaning, an answer that remains ever relevant, even in this age of science, skepticism, and do-it-yourself spirituality.
John L. Gresham, PhD, is associate professor of systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. Originally from an Evangelical and Pentecostal background, he was received into the Catholic Church in 1996.