Let’s just say it: Jesus is Religion Incarnate. Religion is a virtue belonging to the virtue of justice. One renders to God that which in justice is due to God. Only the Incarnate Son of God, obeying the Father perfectly, obedience unto death, and God Himself, innocent, with no shady motives, no self congratulation, can fulfill the precept of religion, in all justice, of rendering to God the Father what is God the Father’s due.
Non-Catholic and usually non-mainline Christian communities, usually having a hate-preaching preacherman will call “religion” God-damned Satanism, Devil worship: “Damn all those Catholics with their damned Satanic Last Supper! We’re ‘spiritual’.”
Yes, well… Jesus is Incarnate whose heart of flesh was pierced through. But I digress.
It is true that religiosity, the stuff of religion, stuff you do, such as the sacraments, the sacramentals, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, can be manipulated for that which amounts to self-congratulation. The Gospels are rife with Jesus and John condemning such hypocrites. Recall, for instance, the guy who goes into the temple to pray, lifting his eyes to God and saying, “Thank you God that I am not like other men! I’m so holy and nice! I’m better than that sinner guy over there!” Meanwhile, the sinner guy, not lifting his eyes to the heavens, but in all repentance, is begging for mercy, and is going home justified. But the hypocrite guy is on his way to hell. Religion can be manipulated.
People condemned Pope Francis for saying that people can, with all evil intention, hide behind holy things so as to make themselves look good, making an idol of that which is good so as to worship themselves. Of course they can! That’s what the hypocrite guy in the story above was doing and was condemned by Jesus for it.
But that’s all superficial. Obvious. Even if almost no one gets it.
There’s a much more devious manipulation of religion involving a truly insidious despair. It’s where one tries and tries and tries and tries and tries to stay away from sin, but just falls back into sin, and then saying that nothing “works”, that surely one is destined to hell, you know, because the religion thing doesn’t “work.” This is the manipulation of religion, using religion to prove to oneself that one’s sin is stronger than God Himself. “God Himself cannot do anything for me!” It’s the perfect excuse to go on in a life of sin and defiantly, hatefully, arrogantly go to hell.
And here’s where one can choose to try to do stuff that might “work”, you know, coping mechanisms and… stuff that replaces what one chose to use as just the stuff of religion.
Or one can choose to get to know Him who is Religion Incarnate, kind of like now Saint Thomas the one-time doubter. Thomas was all about putting himself forward: “Let’s go to Jerusalem to die with Jesus!” And then, of course, he ran away. How to put this: It wasn’t that Thomas was dedicated to JESUS. It was that THOMAS was dedicated to Jesus. The emphasis tells the story. For Thomas, Jesus was merely the stuff of religion that he could manipulate to his own self-congratulation: Thomas is an Apostle! Pfft. Thomas had not yet had not yet allowed himself to be drawn up into the reality that Jesus is Religion Incarnate.
Thus, Jesus, insisting that he is not a ghost, eating fish with the Apostles after His bodily resurrection from the dead, will also take the finger of Thomas and put it into the nail prints in His hands, and then take then hand of Thomas and put it into His side, into His now beating but still pierced Heart. “My Lord and my God.”
Now Saint Thomas realizes that thinking one is doing religious stuff while instead doing religious stuff so as to be hypocritical isn’t going to save oneself. Only Jesus is the Savior. Of course, we’re still to do religious stuff, but, with the grace of Jesus, not do so so as to congratulate ourselves, but out of God’s charity and truth and goodness and kindness.
Examination of conscience: Do I do anything in the spiritual life with a goal so as to congratulate myself? Or am I just falling to my knees before Jesus thanking Him for being my Savior?
My neighbor to the hermitage and I had a discussion about resolutions for the new year. I said that my only resolution this year is walk in humble thanksgiving with our Lord. All the rest follows after that, all the stuff of religion.