Over the past year, Catholic Life has been focusing on the sacramental life of the Church. In this issue, special focus is given to why we, as Catholics, help others. There’s an important correlation between these two things.
Several years ago, when I was teaching in one of our diocesan high schools, there was a very popular YouTube video called “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” that got the attention of many students. To date, the video has about 35 million views. The claim of the video was that there was no need for organized religion or the Church, that such things are the work of men and not God, that religion is only about changing our behavior and that transformation by God’s grace only comes by going directly to Jesus, without the mediation of the Church. I’m sure we’ve all known people who think of faith and religion in that way. We, as Catholics, however, take a different approach.
Christ and His grace come to us through the mediation of His Church and, particularly, His sacraments.”
Just as God used the mediation of the patriarchs and prophets in revealing Himself throughout the history of the Old Testament, so Christ established His Church and the sacraments as the mediator of His grace. Through the sacraments, we have access to the grace of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. If we are well disposed and open, the sacraments lead us to becoming transformed persons as we receive God Himself. We begin to share more and more in the very life of God as we become more like Him. God is love, and in becoming more like God, we grow in love. God’s love is selfless (in His creation and bringing us into being) and sacrificial (in sending His Son to give His life for us). Our growth in God’s love, therefore, will be growth in selflessness and sacrifice. Selflessness and sacrifice are what enable us to put the well-being and happiness of others above our own. Serving those in need in our parish or community, as well as caring for those closest to us in our circle of family and friends, finds special motivation through fully engaging in the sacramental life of the Church.
The mistake of the YouTube video I mentioned above is that it creates a false dichotomy between Christ and His Church, or Christ and institutional religion, as if we, as Christians, or Catholics, could just pick Christ or His Church and be just fine. The fact is that Christ and His grace come to us through the mediation of His Church and, particularly, His sacraments. We grow in love of God and service to our neighbor in and through the institution and community of the Church.
Many also argue these days that they don’t need religion or the Church to be a good person or to help others. Can’t non-religious or non-practicing people perform works of charity? Can’t they love as God loves? While it may be true to an extent that those who practice no religion can do many good things and perform acts that are selfless and sacrificial, such acts lack a solid foundation. First, it is through the organized religion of the Church that we are able to know what God has revealed and, therefore, what is truly good. Without such guidance, our perceived good work or helping others may actually be an evil or something harmful. For instance, there are likely many in the abortion industry who sincerely believe they are helping others. Without the Church, how do we know we are on the right track of love? Secondly, if not through Christ’s sacraments in the Church, how are we continually nourished to persevere in our service to and love of others. We all know that in the good works we attempt, the rewards are not always immediately apparent. Our efforts to do good can often be met with obstacles that lead to frustration. Personally, I’d find it hard to stay motivated by mere empathy or a sense of philanthropy. The love of God and life with Him, and regular reception of sacramental grace, are precisely the things that keep us going through thick and thin because our foundation and strength are not something we can find within ourselves. It’s supernatural.
Father Jesse Burish
Pastor of Notre Dame Parish in Chippewa Falls, Holy Ghost Parish in Chippewa Falls and St. Bridget Parish in Springfield
Published in the December 2022 issue of Catholic Life Magazine