January 27, 2019

Friends,

Sr. Joan Chittister in her book The Gift of Years (Growing Older Gracefully) says it better than I could.

“ The relation between older generations and religion is a telling one. Surveys in the United States show that in our own time the vast majority of Americans of all denominations, eighty percent of them, believe that the overall state of morality in the United States is bad and getting worse. Many of them doubt the credibility and honesty of their clergy. And yet of ten countries polled, Americans, more than any other people, professed unquestionable belief in God, with the elderly most believing of all.

The older generation everywhere, it seems, knows what younger people do not. They know that in the end it is not denominationalism, it is the spiritual life, it is faith, it is soul, that wins out.

Religion and denominationalism are not the same thing. Religion says that there is a Divine Center from which we all come and to which we will all someday return .  Denominationalism says that my way is the right way to that Center.

Denominationalism, the willingness to assert or maintain the truth of my religious beliefs, wanes with age, however. Truth becomes less clear as we go along. In many ways, it is even less important than it once seemed to be. It is not facts now, dogmas now, doctrines now that we are concerned with as much as it is the nature of life, both here and now and to come. Then our question becomes less about orthodoxy and more about the spiritual dimensions of life: Are we alone in this world, or have we been brought here for a purpose? Is the purpose only personal, only about me, or is it broader than that? Who am I in the world? Who am I meant to be? Are we flies on a pin of random irrationality, or are we here on the planet meant to make it better as we go?

In old age, it is not so much the way we worship, the number of church or synagogue or mosque or temple hours we clock, that counts. It is the awareness that we are all on a spiritual journey and that, however we go about making the journey, it is what becomes of us at the end of it that counts.

Then, the kind of denominationalism that makes religion a battleground begins to dim, and religion— immersion in the Mystery of life—begins to win the day.

Then the argument about who is right and who is wrong, what is true and what is not, begin to give way to questions of what is good and what is not, what is life and what is not, what is important and what is not.

Then, in the later years, religion ceases to be simply a series of rites and rituals, of rules and answers for which I get some kind of eternal points. Religion becomes what it was always meant to be: a search and a relationship with the Spirit Who draws us on. Always on. Even to the point where “on” is unclear.

Religion is not a millstone around the neck anymore. It is the warm, soft, strong, hard awareness that yes, it has all been for something worthwhile.”

Enjoy Life!

Father Coyne

 

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