Do we need guidance from the Church, or are we just as well off on our own?
There are those who say that they don’t need to go to church; they can worship God anywhere. That “anywhere” too often translates into a bass boat out on the lake. While such a setting is certainly a reminder of God’s benevolent gifts and provides inspiration for communing with God, somehow I have my doubts that meaningful prayer is happening there.
Repeatedly these days, we are being told by social analysts that the youngest generation is the most pro-life generation (good news!), but also the most secular – the generation of “nones” (for checking the box for “None” under the category of religious preference on a form).
So all these people either reject religion entirely or, if believers, are going to power through on their own because they think they are smart enough to figure it out for themselves — sin, virtue, heaven, hell, etc. My response? Good luck with that!
The Bible Story that Explains It All
My Bible study teacher talks about this issue of guidance quite often. He had us read Acts 8:27-31:
It happened that an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official in charge of the entire treasury of Candace (a name meaning queen) of the Ethiopians, had come on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning home. He was sitting in his carriage reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, “Go and catch up with that carriage.” Philip ran ahead and heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He said to him, “Do you really grasp what you are reading?” “How can I?” the man replied, “unless someone explains it to me?” With that, he invited Philip to get in and sit down beside him.
There in one short passage, we get the whole reason for going to Church.
Century after century we train Biblical scholars, theologians debate, and our understanding of Christ’s message matures. So why should one person expect to be able to reinvent the whole wheel of religion in one lifetime? No one is an island, and no one can understand complex moral issues on their one intellect alone.
If this educated, highly placed court official needed help with interpreting the Scriptures, so do all of us. This Ethiopian must have been giving serious pursuit to the question of religion to have looked beyond his native gods and sought out answers elsewhere as well. He was curious enough about this powerful god of the Israelites, a god discussed with fear and wonder by all the neighboring cultures, to travel many miles over several weeks to Jerusalem.
He did not go to scoff, but to learn and to consider the information seriously. He came away impressed and intent to study more. He realized, however, that without a teacher, how could he gain the understanding he was seeking? He couldn’t, of course, and none of us can either.
We Need a Teacher with Collective Wisdom
We need a teacher. We need the Catholic Church and its accumulated knowledge after 2000 years of working on our religion. The first teacher was Jesus Christ, and his students, the apostles, became the next teachers who put Christ’s lessons into practice by establishing the sacraments and the liturgy.
The details about the Mass and the administration of the sacraments have adjusted through the years as our understanding has grown. Our teachers in the Church have helped us with this growth while one generation after another has transmitted the practice of the Mass and the sacraments, without which we would have nothing of substance.
So saying that we will just talk to God on our own and hope for the best doesn’t cut it. The Ethiopian went to great lengths to find the true God and Christianity and someone to explain it to him. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to make a trip to Jerusalem and hope the Holy Spirit drops Philip into the seat next to us — we only have to walk into the nearest Catholic Church.