Can We Talk About Jesus?

It is often said that, in our world today, more people than ever are “spiritual but not religious,” that they have a sense of God, want to live in communion with others, and do what is right, but have no interest in conforming to the norms of an institutionalized religion. You probably know quite a few people like this.

But what about those people who are “religious but not spiritual”? Now, admittedly, I’ve never actually met someone who identified as such, but I interact with them on a regular basis. People who are concerned with rules and tradition, who attend prayer services and identify with a particular congregation, but have no sense of the sacred, prayer life, or foundation in Jesus Christ for what they do. You probably know quite a few people like this as well.

In this week’s video, I want to subtly address this issue I encounter far too often in the Catholic Church: people can come to church their entire lives without knowing Jesus. As hard as it is to believe, it is very true. People come to mass each week for many reasons and it’s not always for spirituality or a relationship.

I think that this is a problem worth addressing.

Having posted this video a few days ago, I have had some time to hear some feedback and reflect on my own words, and I’d like to offer a few further thoughts. (Please pause this blog post and watch the video before continuing. I’ll wait.)

In one of my more provocative lines on Breaking In The Habit history, I say, “I would much rather people be in love with Jesus in a Protestant Church than wasting away in a Catholic Church. What matters is Jesus Christ, not your congregational affiliation.”

Yeah, I said those words. And after thinking about it more… I stand by it.

Despite what some have said in the comments, I do not want people to leave the Catholic Church; even less so do I think that all Christian Churches are created equal and that it doesn’t matter what you believe. I am very proud of my Church and believe that it holds the fullness of Truth, that it is the sacrament of salvation. I would love for every person in the world to be a practicing Catholic!

But the reason for this is not so that we can all bear the same name; it’s not because I think the way we worship, our stance on Mary or the saints, or the pope himself are constitutive for our salvation. Those things are great, but they are not why I want everyone to be Catholic. The reason that our Church is amazing—and truly the only reason necessary—is Jesus Christ. Our Church is endowed with the special mission of proclaiming his life, death, and resurrection, of caring on the work of the Kingdom. That is what makes our Church significant.

And so, back to my comment, if people are attending the Catholic Church and not living this mission, and if said people are able to live this mission within the bounds of another Church, growing closer to Jesus in holiness through love and sacrifice… you better believe that I would rather they have the option with Jesus in it. Jesus is what matters, not the congregational affiliation, and we do ourselves a great disservice to the kingdom of God when we think that we are automatically saved by being Catholic or that Jesus is unable to save those unlisted in our baptismal registry. St. John the Baptist admonished the people, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father'” (Mt 3:9). He is speaking to that mentality in us.

Let’s not make the same mistake, okay? Let’s not be like the hypocrites in Jesus’ time who confused what was important:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Mt 23: 16-19)

What is more important, the institutional church or Christ who makes the Church holy? Going to mass and receiving the Eucharist without any faith at all, leaving us unchanged, or attending a Protestant service on fire for the Lord in such a way that it causes us to be transformed into different people? Being a Catholic who doesn’t know Jesus or a Protestant who joins him to build up the kingdom?

I honestly hope that the latter choice is always the answer, but more than that, I hope that we Catholics will be unsatisfied with both choices. For those who got upset with my supporting the latter choice—saying that being a Jesus-following Protestant was better than a spiritually dead Catholic—I hope you see my real point in it all: I don’t want either of these things. As a Catholic minister, and without any disrespect to my Protestant and Orthodox brothers/sisters in Christ, I want for everyone to be a Jesus-following, spiritually nourished, on-fire disciples of Jesus Christ… within the Catholic Church. For me, that’s the endgame and nothing less.

I want Jesus, and I want his Church.

But short of that, in a world in which our Church fails to bring Jesus to people, I want people to be where they can find Jesus. Can we do that? Can we be that place? Can we make Jesus our highest priority, our identity as Christian first and foremost, our call to discipleship over our call to parish registration?

I hope so, and that’s my message this week.

9 Comments on “Can We Talk About Jesus?

  1. Brother Casey. I just wanted to offer my support to what you are saying. I admire that you have stood up and said what you have, it took courage and nerve to do so.
    I go to a happy crappy church and certainly have our own problems and issues, but at the end of the day, no matter what church you go to, Jesus is the key. Are we not all the bride of Christ? I find the honesty and truth in what you said refreshing and find your love for people to meet Jesus is infectious. I stand with you brother in Christ and pray that people in Jesus centred churches flourish and grow in their relationships with the king. Thank you for being you.

  2. Brother Casey, I agree with your stance wholeheartedly. While I don’t personally feel that any one sect reigns supreme above the others (yes, even as a practicing Catholic I say this), as I too put more of my being, my spirit and my life force in general into knowing Jesus intimiately in my life and the world at large and following His Gospel call to us over instituionalized practices subject to the will, whim and corruption of men. But I do long for a day where the Church at large can bring more people to Christ and be Christ-centered, not canon-centric. Bravo for your stance and peace be with you.

  3. I agree with you totally!!!! I am a Catholic and due to several missteps by clergy and such, I left practicing what the Church teaches and requires….I was gone for over 20yrs. Came back a couple of yrs. ago; and found that although the Catholic Church has Jesus as its “founder”, He didn’t intend it to be an organization but a WAY into finding a personal relationship with HIM and OUR FATHER; and all of this is possible by the HOLY SPIRIT…..The SPIRIT OF GOD is soooo part and parcel of our God…..I’m still a Catholic and will remain one; but I do appreciate and respect several “pro testants” ……..

  4. Very powerful and somewhat controversial To some only a Catholic can be saved I agree with your points Be good Be honest and believe in Christ

  5. Brother Casey, I will be honest. Despite your explanations, I am still deeply troubled by your comment. I too want everyone to be on fire for Jesus, as you put it. My personal relationship with Him is something I’ve been working on for a long time. I took a big step in that journey last year by becoming Catholic. That’s because even though I loved Jesus as a Protestant, I realized that we only had a part of the picture, and subsequently only understood Jesus in part. The Catholic Church is the only one who presents the full and complete picture of Jesus, and no matter how much someone loves Jesus, they’re not seeing essential pieces of the picture unless they’re Catholic. You rightly state that not all Christian churches are equal, but the reason for that is that as Catholics we are members of the body of the Church, the Church which was also established as an institution by Christ himself. We cannot have the former without the latter. But I am troubled when you say that congregational affiliation does not matter, only Jesus matters. With Christ being the high priest of our Church, by separating the two, and only focusing on Jesus, you lose the most perfect image of Jesus, as He and His bride, the Church are inextricably united. The main message I can gather from what you are saying is those who are spiritually weak and only choose to look at the Church and ignore Christ are the ones who need to be on fire for Jesus. Very correct, because without Jesus, they only have an incomplete view of the Church and the Sacraments. But that is not to say that it would be better for them to learn to love Jesus in another Christian tradition, because as I have said, the Jesus presented in those faiths is incomplete without His Church. You can look at Jesus-loving Protestants and say that they are good, but only in so much as that that good is in progression from Protestant to Catholic. The same is not true if the situation is to be regressed. It is not to be called good if a Catholic were to find Jesus in a Protestant church, as that would be a step back from the perfection presented in the unity of Christ and His Church. I hope I have spoken in charity and apologize if I’vd come off too strongly. As a new Catholic, I so desperately want to help others to come to the Church and to more intimately know Christ. The first step of that might be helping Protestants to become as perfect a Protestant as possible, and only when they realize the inadequacy of their church will they be called to the Catholic Church, as it happened with me. As always, I enjoy following your videos and continue to pray for you and all religious. Pax et bonum.

    • Welcome home! Your words touch me. I’m a revert who has explored the “gamut.” I came back home for the same reason you came home. I don’t mean this uncharitably, but I don’t understand how it’s possible to have a relationship with Jesus outside of the Sacramental life. Even in those times when I haven’t been able to attend Mass or Confession for weeks, I anticipate the Sacraments, as reflected in my conversations with my Lord. It seems to me that non-Apostolic Christians have to rely on their imaginations more…but they probably think I have to rely on mine because they don’t have the same view of the Eucharist. I pray, “O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, lead all sinners to the truth and light of God the Father. Amen.”

  6. Brother,
    More Catholic religious need to speak the truth as you have done.Thank You…..A Lapsed Catholic

  7. Do not be deceived by the endorphin rush of Protestants. There is but One True Church. The problem with dead Catholics not “knowing” Jesus is because they are not listening and open. It’s not the Spirit of Christ in the heretical churches that attract so many, its deception by the evil one. Preach not false doctrines. Much better to remain in His Church and be saved, than tricked into a secular falsehood of Protestantism.

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