The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B - 23d of September 2012

What is religion all about? This question lies at the heart of the gospel passage which we hear this weekend. The disciples who are arguing over who of them is the most important illustrate one of the classic difficulties of any religious project – missing the point.
Religion is one of those things with which we are generally familiar but, if we are asked to define it, we might well find it difficult. Many people equate religion with church, or faith, or worship, or culture, or even belonging. While it is certainly true that each of these things represents some of the guises under which we encounter religion in our daily lives, they do not really describe what religion is, in itself.
Faith is shared by those who are members of the same religion; members of the same religion form communities which are often referred to as churches; worship is the most public expression of a religion when its adherents gather to express their faith; culture very often grows from religions which seek to conserve the truths that are important to them in images, music and works of art; the members of a religion share many things between them and also care for each other which reinforces the sense of belonging that is so important in the human experience of its adherents.
Christian religion is specific in that its focus is not just the members of the group but also those who are not members. The following of Jesus determines how Christian religion can organise itself and express itself.
However, religion, in and of itself, is a human construct which gathers those of a common faith and helps to strengthen that faith as its members seek to establish and maintain relationships with the divine. It is quite possible to believe in God, to pray, to belong etc without being a member of a religion. However, religion provides a number of very important things to its members.
By gathering in community the faith of each one helps the faith of all. The faith of each one is both challenged and sustained by being part of a community of faith. The common tradition and heritage that the religion has inherited provides a rootedness which guarantees the veracity of what is believed. Religion, however, is always at the service of what is believed, it should never attempt to replace it.
The structures provided by religion are supposed to facilitate the growth of the faith of the members. When those structures cease to be useful for this purpose they must be challenged. The disciples, arguing over their own self-importance, have lost sight of this fact. They are attaching more importance to the structure than to the substance. They have begun to understand themselves to be in charge of the religion rather than realising that it is God, and only ever God, that is in charge.
Jesus takes a child and challenges his disciples to become something similar. In other words, they are to cease trying to be in control and to accept that it is God who is in charge. In the Christian community, those who are in charge are only in charge by means of having more responsibility for service of the community. All roles in the Christian community are opportunities for service and not for personal engrandisment – the only one who is engrandised is God.
What then of those who see their position in the community or in the church as making them more important than others? These must be reminded in love that they may have strayed from the way. In the words of the famous Augustinian, St. Thomas of Villanova: “When the shepherds have become sheep dealers, what should we do then?” The only answer to this question is to remind ourselves that we are responsible for one another. Each of us should take up the example of the Good Shepherd and make ourselves into good shepherds for one another, guiding one another back to the way – this is the path that Augustine recommended for his communities when he spoke of fraternal correction which is always about helping the brother and never about dominating him.

Article posted on 22nd of September 2012

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