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Protecting Children and the Vulnerable

Spiritual but not Religious

In recent years we have become familiar with the term, “spiritual but not religious.” This refers to people who believe in God or the spiritual realm or the universe, but do not belong to an organized church or religion. There can be many types or degrees of such spirituality.

Some come from families who never belonged to organized religion, but who still show some interest in spiritual things. Some have belonged to a church but have simply drifted away from participation and now vaguely connect with the idea of God or the spiritual realm.

Some others have left organized religion after careful thought and prayer. They may have disagreements with their church, its teaching and practice. They find they are not “being fed” in their personal lives. These can be very active seekers, trying to find meaning and who still may be open to an organized church that appeals to them.

Critics of the “spiritual” people may consider them “flighty” or selfish or wanting to be their own religion. We should be careful in judging. First of all, we who belong to organized churches ought to be careful that we are also “spiritual” in the sense of developing our own personal lives of prayer within our structures. Some of the conscious seekers may be more sincere than some of us.

And we need to be welcoming, when the seekers perhaps approach our church door, that he or she will find the spiritual hospitality they need. There are many paths, many journeys into the truth and light of God.

Brothers and Sisters

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

The main content or theme of Pope Francis’ new encyclical seems to be a reminder of ideas straight out of the Gospels and the spirit of Franciscan thought: we are all brothers and sisters, children of God, and the implications of that reality. We have heard these things before.

But the Holy Father wants to reinforce these basic beliefs as we emerge from the pandemic, whenever that will be! He wants us to learn from our experience in this time of sickness and suffering. How well have we cared for each other, all around the world? How have we not cared for each other and what might be improved to change that?

Among other things, he calls for improvement in health care systems, and to examine why, in some places, so many died and were not given needed care. Part of this always depends on material resources. The poorer people are, the less health care is available to them.

So the Holy Father challenges us in our view of economic forces, and challenges our ways of capitalism and materialism. How do we indeed share the goods of the earth with all our brothers and sisters? Along with this, he also speaks about our care for the earth itself, which recalls his other encyclical, Laudato Sí.

Some of his words may disturb dyed-in-the-wool capitalists, materialists, and so called “free market” business types. Francis echoes the challenges of Popes before him, some of whom we now call “saints.” The Gospels and the Franciscan spirit ask us to re-think our capitalist, materialist, rugged individualist priorities. We are brothers and sisters to each other and to all creation.

Social Distancing

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

The term, “social distancing,” has become part of our language. These days we keep our distance. In church we sit spaced apart from others. In stores and offices we see markers on the floor, indicating where to stand. There are limits to numbers at gatherings.

We avoid familiar human touching. Hand shakes are rare. Hugging happens less. The hand on the shoulder is avoided. Not all the time, but in general we are conscious of life in the pandemic age. At least we do some “elbow bumping” with good humor.

I wonder what this is doing to us. Someday studies will be made of “social customs during the time of pandemic.” Our more severe distancing has taken a toll on families who cannot visit relatives in hospitals and nursing homes. There are many deaths with no family present. Healthy family members choose not to visit each other, just to be safe. Surely this has to affect our mental and emotional life.

I also wonder, then, if all this can be teaching and reinforcing something in us: how much we need human contact and how we need each other. Maybe all this can increase our appreciation of the important people in our lives. For the time being, there can be the effort to reach out with our electronic communications and the written word. Yes, cards and letters!

And when it becomes more possible, we may appreciate even more the handshake and the warm embrace, and to stand right next to the stranger in church.

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