By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
More and more Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and seek to find God in sunsets and walks along the beach.
While God is present in the nature he created, Dr. Carmina Chapp told faithful during “Truth: What the Catholic Church Really Teaches” that being devoid of religion, ritual and doctrine may prolong their entrance into heaven.
Chapp, program director of Online Theology Programs at St. Joseph College, Standish, Maine and co-owner of Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm, Harvey’s Lake, led the informal discussion “Spiritual but Not Religious,” with more than 50 people Nov. 14 at the Diocesan Shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux, Nesquehoning.
“I am always striving in my spiritual life,” she said.
“But if I say I don’t need religion, I become my own God. I am no longer accountable to God, to morals or to others. If I believe God likes me just the way I am, then I don’t have to change or grow. There is a real danger to that.”
She pointed to ceremonial aspects of the Catholic religion and said rituals like Mass create a bond with other people.
“Because we are human, we are drawn to things that bring us together. In our rituals we aren’t simply coming together to hang out. We come together to have an experience with God such as talking to him and meeting him. Our rituals as Catholics bring us together with God, the communion of saints and with those who come after us,” said Chapp.
Rick Dooley, assistant director of the Diocesan Office of Adult Formation, then asked Dr. Chapp to explore why the Church is needed since it is imperfect.
“The Church is Christ himself,” she said. “That’s our religious belief. Our spiritual life has to strive to embrace that part. That is very hard to do today with all the wounds in the Church.
“The Church is indefectibly holy because of Christ – not the people who failed Christ,” said Chapp.
In their spiritual lives, she told the faithful, they need to know what they are striving for – such as trying to be like Christ and emulating the saints.
“We need the Church because we need to know what it is to be a true follower of Christ. If we truly know who Christ is, then we can recognize what Christ is not,” said Chapp.
The Catholic faith, according to Chapp, believes in the incarnation of Christ – meaning Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh and is the only religion that has the Eucharist.
“If one is serious about their spiritual life, they will seek the truth about being a human being, where we came from and where are we going,” she said.
As for the difference between Catholicism and other Christian faiths, Chapp said Christian faiths broke away from Catholicism or rejected some aspect of the faith.
“Our faith is whole. You can’t take a piece out. Our faith is systematic. If one thing changes, everything else falls apart,” she pointed out.
Like the ritual of the Mass, Chapp said when the sacrifice of the Mass is taken out – the ritual is changed and the belief becomes different.
“If I am not shooting to be with God, what am I living for? That’s why we need the Church and the community. If I believe my end is to be with God – I don’t fear being a martyr. We are all martyrs today in the Church. And I am not going to leave because I meet Jesus in the Eucharist. No one else has it,” she said.
In the Catholic religion, she said, faithful experience God more intensely in Mass and are able to see God in others when they go out into the world.
Other rituals in the Church, like the sacrament of reconciliation, bring Christ closer to his people.
“The priest’s words of absolution is Jesus Christ forgiving you,” stressed Chapp.
“God already forgave you before you even came to confession. He is just waiting for us to ‘ask’ for forgiveness and repent,” she said.
“Our confession reconciles us with the Church – not just God. Sin hurts our relationship with one another. Mortal sin separates us from the Body of Christ, and you want to be back in the Body of Christ.”