Ritual Not Enough

REFLECTION - Ritual Not Enough: By Greg Schlueter

"Free at last!" the college freshman exclaimed, as her parents drove away after helping her get settled into her college dorm.  Thus Sara's first breath of adulthood was marked, a birth into a complete ownership of self before God, the world and herself.

After years of being under the proverbial "parents roof," this is the breath we all must breath, the step we all must take, and perhaps the biggest step we'll ever take. And while it's true that parents could do everything "right" and still face the tragedy of a morally and spiritually prodigal child, it's also true that this first moment of "adult freedom" often reveals the measure of a child's parenting. Up to that point they can fairly well "go through the motions", so to speak, play the game.  It's in this new sky that it's often determined: Were they given a moral and spiritual compass? Was it integral, personal and relevant?

As a diocesan director of youth and young adult ministry I was immersed in the lives of numerous families over many years.  There I observed examples of parenting styles, and the results as the kids left their homes.  Perhaps the most striking irony was among the very intentionally religious homes... those whose walls and shelves showcased saints, where Sunday, if not daily Mass, was observed, catechisms were memorized, rosaries were prayed.  In short, truth be told, a house like our own... except with some notable exceptions I'll explain here.

While these kids were raised with a distinct sense of "holy other," for many this formation lacked that "incarnate" sense of integration in the world. The lines of the holy and profane, of goodness and evil, were sharply drawn to separate the secular/cultural and specifically religious.  One cultivated a fear-dominated conscience that resulted in external behavior compliance.  Clearly, the antithesis was something to be feared-- a culture which promotes an unbridled openness to "anything goes." Yet faith has rarely been about a reaction to something, so much as it has been embracing a positive good revealed by Christ. And here it is important to add, a good entirely resonating with the human nature God fashioned.

God is in the very fabric of human existence. Indeed, much of our Catholic faith is a baptism of the pagan... not simply feast days, but defining philosophy.  In short, by virtue of the fact that God is Creator of all, all bears a mark of His Image. There is good in the material world.  This belief is central to our sacramental faith.

What I most mean to suggest here is that while formation must involve availing ourselves to revealed truths and patterns we may or may not understand, if one is ever to breathe the breath of adult Christian life, they must recognize the Person at the heart of the Pattern, the Relationship at the heart of the Ritual.  The norm is quite simple: Jesus Christ. Beyond cliche, beyond external patterns, rituals and forms... do your children, do you.... know Jesus Christ?

This is a challenge to us Catholics in particular, as we've been raised with such a reinforced association that observance of ritual, our external behavior compliance, equals relationship. But seriously. Do we know Him? (I'm always asking myself!)  What's worse, I think many of us have been formed with an unspoken suspicion of relational expression of Christ. We're concerned that the associated feelings or emotions associated with a relationship just might be its definition. We recognize that as a fleeting anchor. As a result though, are we automatons? Has religion become a mere component of our existence?  Is that what Christ intended?  Are we throwing the baby out with the bath water?

I need transformation. We need transformation. We need the Holy Spirit, the vital Love of the Father and the Son, to enter our lives and transform us... the way we see the world, the way we see God, ourselves and others. We need to discover the kind of personal dynamism with God the same way one might discover it in their beloved spouse,  in their child, or in a beloved friend. God is present to us. He is real.  He does speak to us, interact with us.  And here another word for the devil, "Beelzebub," is instructive.  It means "Lord of the flies." Satan has no power, but which of us in intimate conversation have not been distracted, annoyed, at a pesky fly buzzing about. Pesky flies have the power to break communion.  There you have a metaphor of our modern world. God is present and desires real intimacy with us, yet Beelzebub is buzzing about... through our cell phones, computers, televisions.

Silence. Surrender.  Turn off the electronic stuff so we can tune into God.  In silence become aware of the primal beat of heaven that holds all creation in existence, the very heart beat of our Savior. He knows us personally. He desires so much more than to communicate with us, He desires to commune in us. This requires surrender of our five senses so we can cultivate the inner, spiritual sense... of His indwelling Spirit, the Holy Fire within.

When we come to know and love Jesus Christ, we will see all else is vanity. We won't be able to help but structure our homes to be places where He is known, encountered, experienced, loved, worshiped.  We will not look upon the world with such sharp lines so much as see the world, as Frank Sheed suggested, as "God bathed."  Every human person was fashioned for His indwelling Spirit.  Every encounter is an occasion of making Him known. And we know the secret: knowing God, not just knowledge of God, is the deepest desire of the human soul.

I"m confident if we really humble ourselves, open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, allow Him to flood our lives beyond ritual, our homes will become places where our children are literally saturated with the presence of God.  We will speak of Him. We'll speak to Him.  We'll see His Presence alive in our world.  More than simply knowing moral and ethical norms, we and our children will literally become the very Love that is God.

We all fall short. That's where we need a Savior... where He enters. Let's be in prayerful communion with one another in striving for it.

Please join us for our next Catholic Men's and Women's Gathering.

God bless you this day.

Greg Schlueter