Living in a Religious Vacuum

Q:  I have been raised as a Catholic and as a child participated in Eucharist and absorbed many cultural images of God and understandings of the faith. Later in my teenage years I began to question the Christian faith and rejected the notion of God and the teachings of Christianity altogether. I started practising Zen Buddhism and enthusiastically began meditation (zazen) and attending retreats. Now some years later I have come to a renewed appreciation of my roots in the Catholic faith. I discovered Centering Prayer and it has helped me tremendously. I have realised that I live in a kind of religious vacuum and I would like to reconnect with “religion” more fully. It feels like my home is in Christianity, however I am still unable to accept Christianity intellectually. I can perhaps go as far as understand that there’s God/presence which I can surrender to in meditation, but all the other teachings regarding what’s in the Bible (about Jesus, resurrection, judgement day, etc.),  practises such as the Catholic rosary or confession, not to mention the social teachings of the Church, some of which I don’t fully agree with, are just beyond me and are causing quite a bit of mental strife. I also suffer from lack of spiritual direction or of a supportive community (though there are churches around, I don’t feel I belong to any of them). How to proceed in this situation? How do I locate myself in Catholic faith and life? Or should I just practice Centering Prayer and forget about the rest?

A:  Thank you for being open to the working of the Spirit within you throughout the years. You must know that a deep yearning has been placed in you through these various chapters of your life. And as you said right now there is a lack of spiritual direction and a supportive community. For these two things I would suggest going to our website where you will find communities that may be available in your area.

Over the last 60 years, some students of religion have said there has been a movement of trying to find ‚Äúreligion‚Äù ‚Äì where is it located? For so many of us older folks we placed religion in a place, i.e., the church we went to in our local community.  It was in a place, with the support of a community, and included ritual and a daily rhythm. As the years went on ‚Äúreligion‚Äù became located in a search ‚Äì the discovery of riches and teaching beyond our place. One found a little of this, a little of that ‚Äì each menu serving a new and perhaps unknown aspect of the spiritual journey. But after a while there was just too much on the spiritual plate and a desire arose to finally settle into one particular menu. So the search led to a commitment to a discipline of practice ‚Äì perhaps to meditation, a daily exercise routine, etc. It became part of our day-in-day-out journey.

This was for many a very rich experience and much was gained from the journey and the practice. For you it was meditation. It affected you interiorly; I am sure it caused deep changes in you. But somehow now there is a yearning to be rooted, to once again re-discover where you came from. Nothing was wasted in this experience, this journey. So here you are ‚Äì looking for, do I dare to say it, a ‚Äúplace‚Äù if not a location. But you are not going to initially find it in a building or a structure. You need to find it in a ‚Äúperson,‚Äù and for Christians it is Jesus Christ.

I highly encourage a continued commitment to the practice of Centering Prayer and other contemplative practices to deepen a personal relationship with Jesus and revisit the roots of your past.

As you are currently not attracted to the bible, perhaps you might consider some of these resources as a bridge in the process of reconnecting with Christianity and your Catholic roots.

Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hahn

Jesus, A Pilgrimage by James Martin

Without Buddha I could not be a Christian by Paul F Knitter

I also recommend our online courses which you will find on our website.  These will help you feel connected.

Looking forward to hearing from you. Blessings, Fr. Carl