Recently I was reading a newsletter called Raven's Bread written for hermits and solitary contemplatives, where I found an article "Reflections by a Catholic Priest on Using Religion to Avoid the Divine" by Fr. Innocenti. He begins his article, "People often go to Church so they do not have to meet God. People often say many prayers, reciting many wonderful words so they do have to hear God. People often build their own kingdoms with strong fortress-like walls so they need not let God in. People often construct full schedules of doing many good works and saying numerous prayers so they have little time for God."
Ff. Innocenti puts into words what many people feel. Going to church can be the way for many of avoiding the Divine. What better way then being busy with religious study and prayer as a way to avoid feeling life's vulnerability, the naked wounds and hopes, and listen to the small still voice within?
Religious people can be convinced by the appearance of their religious activies that they are very much in control. And this control, according to Fr. Innocenti, is what is contrary to spirituality. Being in control is another road then traveling the path of being available and trusting. Being in control prevents the intimacy, the surrender, the letting go, the profound search and meeting of God in our hearts..
Fr. Innocenti shares religion is an avoidance of the Divine in as much as it is an avoidance of our heart. As we fit into the script and role of Church member full of righteousness and certainty of one's way, the ego is empowered and the small clear voice of God is limited to the back corners and alleys in life.
The more judgmental we are, is probably a sign of the more fearful we are, of our own messiness and pain within. Much easier to know what is right for someone else then look at our own short falls and risk to reach within our selves for communion with the Divine. Being a committed member of the Church can be a commitment to doing and saying all the right things covering over a life that is lost without the words and structure of the Church all around us. Is religion a fortress to protect one from life or a support to face life in all its rawness, beauty, and mystery?
Spiritual life maybe begins with the lost soul within us looking for its true home. This search is in our own solitude, silence, journey of mistakes and forgiveness, disappointment and step by step inner peace.
The hypocrisy of religion that so many feel and pull back from is the fake holiness which covers a hurting heart. In all the preaching and certainty is a strong and resolute ego. And somehow everyone understands that it is the ego trying to be in control that is the problem in the first place. The stronger one's belief can mean the more buried the human heart with all its pain and hopes, past conflict and inner light. The more easy the answers are given in Church the more a cover up is probably taking place of a true search for meaning and purpose.
To let go, to not be in control, to reach out and also reach within, this is the journey which humbles and brings us into greater arms then our own. Fr. Innocenti says, "The more we are available to God, the more we have opened our hearts." And this leaves us certain in unknowing, strong in compassion, present with the gift of this moment, and grateful for the grace in all the ways the Divine is present.
I give thanks for Fr. Innocenti for standing up and telling us that religion can be an avoidance of the Divine. Now we can begin again and make the church, every church, a place for more life, joy, honesty,humor, generosity, humility,understanding,forgiveness, peace, silence, and yes love.
I was fortunate enough to track down Fr. Innocenti and interview him over the phone. He has no computer or internet. He lives in a very simple apartment in Los Angeles. I learned for many years he lived with and served homeless people in a bare bones shelter. He opened one of the first homes for victims of aids and made the journey with many of them until they died. He found resources and love where there was no money for drugs or love to be found. He sat next to their beds while they slowly passed away to the other side. Fr. Innocenti spent his life, over forty years in the priesthood, living with, caring for, and reaching out to people living on the margins of society. Then a few years ago after offering a blessing (not a marriage) to a gay couple, and standing behind some religious sisters who were questioning Church practices, he was told suddenly to leave his job in the Church. He was fired. In the same letter, he was given three months to find a new home and work to support himself. Today he is a massage therapist and cleaning houses, living day by day the best he can. He told me, "I am now living the final chapter of my life on the margins of this world as the people I tried to serve for so many years."
If anyone feels inspired to offer some support to this brave priest who has given everything through the years and now through his words continues giving, you can reach him at: Father David Innocenti, 1826 N. Harvard Blvd, Apt, 21, Los Angeles, Ca. 90027-3629