2 May 2021. 5th Sunday Easter. Cycle B-2021. Acts 9:26-31 + 1John 3:18-24 + John 15:1-8.

Researchers often associate the phrase, ‘spiritual but not religious,’ to a group they call “nones.” This group affiliates with none of the established religious groups.

Nones disdain the religious whom the former consider hypocritical for not living what the latter profess. Nones, who do not want to identify with the religiously hypocritical call themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” They claim to be spiritual for being righteous according to what their spirit tells them.

Many of them do not believe in God at all; the few who still believe question the righteousness of religious teachings. Questioning religious teachings, expectedly, lead nones to questioning the positions that the religious take in political, social, and moral issues.

Nones, although reported to be as big as either the Catholic or the Evangelical religious groups, are not a monolithic group by themselves. Every none autonomously define what is good, do what they consider good, how they wish to do it, and when they wish to do it.

Nones commonly disdain the commitment and the regiment demanded by established religion. They abide by no authority, but their own. They subscribe to no rigid dogma, other than to ideals of the time.

What is good in being spiritual but not religious? While the words “spiritual” and “religious” are not mutually exclusive, being religious is more defined, and being spiritual is not so defined. Since they follow their ideals individually, nobody knows how faithful they live by their ideals.

Without a standard with which to measure “spiritual,” only the individual none can say how “spiritual” he or she is. Without accepting or understanding the standards of “religious,” it is easy for the nones to condemn those they consider “religiously self-righteous.”

The religious in Christianity follow the standard set by Christ–the Commandment. Jesus summarized the Commandment as ‘Loving God above oneself, and loving others as loving oneself’ (cf. Matthew 22:35-40). Paraphrasing it, St. Paul taught that “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law (cf. Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14).

I claim to be religious, but I do not claim to be perfectly religious. Although I am not perfect, I strive to be perfectly faithful, just as Jesus demanded. Although I am not impeccable, my struggle to be righteous is my witness that there is hope for a sinner like me.

Jesus taught, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. … Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me“(John 15:1-3, 4).

My goal is to live the word that Jesus spoke. Yes, I can easily be judged when I fall short, because the standard I follow is well defined, and seen by many.

Paul the Apostle elaborated the standard. “Love is patient; love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, [and] endures all things (1Cor 13:4-7). Nones would know this standard because the Commandment is written in every heart (cf. Romans 2:13).

I get nourished and I become fruitful through the word of Jesus Christ who said He was The Vine Divine. Whenever I fall ill, or I fall out, I get grafted back to The Vine Divine. Not so with the nones, who do not see a need to follow the Word, words by which The Vine Divine nourishes the branches and prunes these to be more fruitful. A branch may not autonomously say, ‘I bear enough fruit.’ The Vine Grower, the Father, judges fruitfulness through the authority of established religion.

Without the authority of religion to train and to guide the practice, nobody knows how faithful one lives up to righteousness in the Commandment. A congregation teaches and motivates each branch of the vine. With a sparring partner, a boxer can excel. Running with a sprinter, a runner runs faster. With a coach, an athlete trains religiously. With a trainer, an athlete trains rigorously.

Even Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test” (Matthew 26:41a). Watching and praying with a group is easier than doing so by oneself. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26:41b).

Nones may do some good, feel good about it, brag about it, then that is about it. Jesus, however, commanded His disciples to do more than that–to strive to be perfect. Do good every time, do more good the next time, and do all the good all the time. Church authority is rigid because Jesus, the Founder, demands His disciples to be perfect.

The observation of the nones that many religious do not live what they preach is correct. In following a rigid standard of righteousness, many do fall short, but failing is not an excuse for not trying. The Church is not a congregation of the perfectly righteous; it is a team of sinners motivating each other to struggle for perfect righteousness.

The Church is a vineyard where the Vine Grower prunes the branches to fruitfulness. The branch remains fruitful as long as it is with The Vine Divine, for it can do nothing apart from the vine.

If, for any reason, a branch may get ill and falls out, the Vine Grower grafts it back through the Word found in the Church. When the self-spiritual nones break from The Vine Divine, without the Word to work out, they dry and die.

Gilbert K. Chesterton, a famous nineteenth century English thinker aptly said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” VSS

Picture credit: Top photo, Jesus, The Vine Divine, from MinistrytoChildren.org. Middle photo, Jesus prunes the vine with the Word, from stillromancatholicafterallthoseyears.com.