Is Your religion an End or a Means?

Is Your religion an End or a Means?


Jesus is not shy in rebuking the religious leaders of his day (Go Jesus!). Today’s Gospel is not different. “You wash the outside but not the inside. You fools!”

The main point Jesus is making is our propensity to treat our religion like a job where we punch the clock and meet the minimal obligations of the job description.

The Sacraments are not meant to be an end but a means to empower us and inspire us to “go out” and change the world. Yet, if we are not careful, we reduce faith to meeting the minimal obligations, and then give everything else in our life priority over our missions. Many of these may be noble.

When I was growing up, my parents modeled this for us. Yes, we fulfilled the minimal expectations of our faith – with joy and zeal – and then my parents would, literally, look around to see how they (we) could “help.” We followed mom and dad like little ducklings to every way our parish, community and country needed us. As a result, all of us kids are either in Church ministry ourselves, or among the most active in our parishes and communities.

I’ve been a priest for 33 years, and I have seen it over and over again. A small remnant “gets it,” while everyone else either is in a “punch the clock” type of religion, or not even following the basic obligations.

One striking example of this was when we had a men’s schola formed that was almost 20-men-strong of the most on fire men you ever want to meet. They were so talented, I was looking into us creating a CD. Most of them were just starting their families. At one point, someone inserted the narrative, “Remember, your family is your primary vocation” (I heard that and I was like, “Uh oh”) Well, of course it is. But, this was related in the context of giving license to limit or cease involvement in the schola, because any non-family activity is wrong. Almost overnight, after this narrative was inserted, the schola went down to just a couple of guys. I tried to relate that they were “giving witness” to their children with their involvement in this ministry, but the “narrative” won out.

(I’m hoping to revive the schola. My narrative will be, “For just two hours of your time to practice, once a week, you have an opportunity to give countless witness and inspiration to the world and, most especially, your children.” Please pray)

You can see that the “idea” proposed was that venturing out in ministry to the world (usually through parish voluntary activities) is irresponsible to your family rather than inspirational to your family. According to my parents, nothing could be further from the truth.

Thanks, mom and dad, for helping your kids understand that “sacrifice” for God’s missions, which can mean washing dishes at the pancake breakfast, is the greatest example and teaching you can give to your children (there were seven of us). We’re not called to “punch the clock” with our religious obligations, and then give everything except God’s missions priority in our lives.

And you know what, mom and dad? The lesson we learned was that it wasn’t the end of the world that you weren’t at every soccer practice and game, because of your commitment to whatever mission of God you were involved with at the time. Instead, you taught us that it is far more worthy to join forces with our Christian brothers and sisters to “go out” and change the world. Love you, mom and dad!! RIP.