“They said to him, "Rabbi where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come, and you will see." (John 1:38-39)
This past week a young man posted a video on the Internet that has gotten over 11.5 million hits in just 6 days. The video was titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” (If you want, you can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY.) At first I didn’t pay attention to this viral sensation, but then former students of mine began to post it on Facebook with positive comments as if they just had some major epiphany. This got me curious, and I saw the 4-minute video. The young man is well intentioned as he professes his love for Jesus and how entering into a personal relationship with the Lord totally transformed his life. Great witness, seems genuinely authentic, and I agree with a lot of the points he makes, but he veers terribly off course when he drops the word “hate” on us which he does in the title of the video. His premise is that Jesus came to abolish religion. Slight problem though, Jesus himself said in the Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Ok, then. Jesus, as the young man correctly points out, did have a problem with the religious establishment of the time who did not practice what they preached which is why Jesus comes to establish a new covenant based on God’s mercy and love and ratified by the blood of his cross.
The thing with the video is that this very gifted young man could have used this platform to win over a host of followers to Christ, but unfortunately he has to go and use the word hate when it comes to religion. Without religion, would he or any of us know who this Jesus is? Just saying . But when he really starts to lose me is around the 1:16 mark of the video when he excuses himself and says: “Now I ain’t judging.” Pretty tough statement to back up when you’re only a quarter of the way through and you’ve already judged Republicans, big churches, people who condemn divorced single moms, and the church’s lack of compassion for the hungry: “Why does [religion] build huge churches but fail to feed the poor?” If he did his research he would probably be shocked to know that the Catholic Church feeds millions around the world and according to a list of 200 charitable organizations that Forbes compiled in 2005, if you add up the Catholic charities on the list, these Catholic organizations raised $5.5 billion (yes that’s billion with a “b”) for their charitable endeavors. The “big churches” have been built, and yes the way they were built in centuries past were dubious to say the least, but another blogger’s reaction to this part of the video said it best: “Go to a man in poverty who attends a beautiful church and offer to tear down the beauty that surrounds him, to melt down the gold so he can buy more food. You will never see a man more insulted.”
Halfway through, the young man professes that he loves the church to which I said “Whoa! You just contradicted your entire video!” He unfortunately reduces religion to a set of rules that Jesus hated and came to abolish, but the reality is that Jesus told his disciples “If you love me, keep my commandment. (John 14:15).” Religion shouldn’t be reduced to a list of rules of “thou shall not’s.” What this young man proposes is like going to the doctor and not following his prescriptions to make us well. The truth of the matter is that Jesus did found a Church. He entrusted it to Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my church (Matthew 16:18-19).” And he told his disciples at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.” So wherever two or more are gathered in his name, that is where Jesus will be. That sounds a lot like Church to me and diffuses the notion that religion is a man made invention as this young man claims. We are a holy Church, the bride of Christ, made up of sinful people. The young man correctly points out that the Church shouldn’t be “a museum for good people but a hospital for the broken.” This causes him to wonder that if Jesus walked into Church, would we even let him in? Well……..um……..we kind of already did. In fact, he’s already here. He was here before you arrived and will be here when you leave because when Jesus said “do this in memory of me” he left us the gift of his presence that comes from the hands of a priest: the Eucharist. But let’s not stop there. Do you want to see Christ? Look at your brother and your sister sitting next to you. Do you want to take a picture of Christ? I’ll be consecrating the bread and the wine in a few minutes that will become the Real Presence of Christ in his body and blood. It’s easy to judge the Church, and believe me as a loyal son and priest of Holy Mother Church, I’ll be the first to admit that we have made mistakes and even grave mistakes especially in the last 10 years, but her beauty, her majesty does not lie in the beauty of this building or in her glorious basilicas and cathedrals, her beauty lies in the hearts of her holy people.
So why did this video catch fire? Why did so many young people press “like” on YouTube and Facebook? Well, simply put, the premise implies that you can love Jesus without any of the responsibilities that go with it (i.e. religion). It’s an old oxymoron: “I’m a spiritual person, but not a religious person.” Where else do you get your spiritual groove on if it isn’t in a church? Where else do you go to come to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is if it isn’t within a community of believers? Many young people want an out, an excuse, a justification for their personal faith or lack there of. Yes Jesus loves us despite our sins, but eventually we have to realize that just because we say we’re Christian, it doesn’t give us free license to follow Jesus “our way.” He showed us THE WAY. He left us the gift of the Church, and yes, as the young man concludes, Jesus did say on the cross “It is finished,” but contrary to what this young preacher says, the work of the kingdom isn’t done. Jesus did perfectly finish His work here on our earth, but he established the Church to continue his mission, to continue his works, and to ultimately get it done and bring it to perfection: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel (Mark 16:15).” His work is finished. Ours was just getting started. This video appeals to young people because as I said last week in my homily, we’re always searching for answers and this applies in a very unique way to our youth. Many of them are searching for love, peace, and the truth. This is why Jesus tells John’s disciples in today’s gospel to “come and see.” If you want answers, come to Jesus. If many young people saw past their pre-conceived notions of the Church, and saw what I see, or saw what the Holy Father saw last summer when he gazed out across an airfield and saw a million young people praising Jesus, these young people would fall in love with the Church as I have because it is here that we experience the power of the living body of Christ.
Saying we love Jesus but hating religion goes against what our Lord taught us and will ultimately lead us to moral relativism because we will have no moral compass to guide us in our journey. Jesus left us the apostles, he founded the priesthood, he blessed many saints along our 2000 year journey for us to see how beautiful this Church can be. I love Jesus, and I love the gift that he left us in his bride, the Church. I laid down my life for Him as I laid down my life for Her. I love them both so much that I will not cease preaching the gospel and preaching the truth and doing the good work of our Church until our mission it is actually DONE! Jesus said he was finished, but we’re just getting warmed up.