Spirit and Structure

Readings: Ex. 20.1-17; Ps. 19; 1 Cor. 1.22-25; Jn. 2.13-25

Spirit and structure. We need them both. Spirit is an internal activity. Spirit gives vision, values, and meaning to life. Structure is an external factor. Structure gives us a certain path to walk, and specific ways to live out our lives. Communally and Individually, we need structure and spirit. We need them to become our best selves before God.

On the one hand, spirit without structure is amorphous, shape-less, boundary-less. Spirit without structure is like a painter without a paint brush; a musician without a musical instrument; a golfer without a golf club in his hands. Spirit without structure is energy swirling about, ready to burst forth, to erupt; spirit needs a tangible way to release and express itself.

On the other hand, structure without spirit is lifeless, meaningless. Structure without spirit would be like an employee coming to work, clocking in, and doing only what has to be done and nothing more. Structure without spirit would be an empty home, an abandoned school, some factory or warehouse whose building still stands but has gone out of business. Structure needs spirit in order to become enlivened, motivated, and activated. Structure without spirit is like somebody being a couch potato: 24-7, lethargic, isolated.

Spirit needs structure to express itself, and structure needs spirit in order to enliven itself.

With regard to the Ten Commandments. Our wonderful human spirit needs a way to express itself, a pathway to follow, lit by God's Light. I want to use one commandment, the third commandment, as an example of the interaction of spirit and structure in living our lives before God. Spirit. Keep holy the Lord's day. Becoming holy is a spiritual activity. Spirit involves vision, values, and attitudes. The gospel story says, "My house is to be a house of prayer; you have made it a marketplace." God stirs our deepest spirit, and calls us to pray. Inside church, and please God, before and after church, we put into practice the words of the Psalmist: "Be still, and know that I am God." In church, let's experience some degree of stillness, quiet, and contemplation. Not just in church, but throughout the days, Sunday is the Lord's day of resurrection; we want to keep our mind, heart, soul, and spirit close to God. St. Paul says, "Pray always." As we go about our Sunday especially, we want to be conscious of God's presence. On Sundays especially, we want to try our best to unite our human spirit with God's divine spirit.

Structure. Sometimes our spirit is weak, or unwilling to do what God wants us to do, even on Sundays. We need structure/law to support our spirit, to guide our spirit, in order to help us to express our best spirit. The structure of the third commandment requires minimally that we attending Mass each Sunday. This is the minimal tangible expression, the pathway which God wants us to walk. Structure does not mean that we simply "clock in" for one hour. Structure applies also to how we dress, modestly and appropriately; to behavior: that we are present actively, not just passively present like a bump on the log, watching our watch. Structure pertains to demonstrating unity in community: in our standing, sitting, and kneeling together; in listening, responding, and singing together.

Spirit and structure applies to each commandment, and every virtue. Spirit and structure applies to this church building. This is a church structure; we make it come alive by our spirit. We are the living church.

A nationwide survey released this past week reported that people in the USA describe themselves as growing in spirituality, but less and less religious. My comment is this: spirituality can't be sustained without religion, and religion is lifeless without spirituality. It is not good enough for someone to say that he/she has spirituality but no religion. At the same time, it is not good enough for someone else to say that he/she goes to church every Sunday, but then fails to live out the gospel Sunday through Saturday. Communally and individually, we need spirit and structure. All those present, and all those not present, we need to support both spirituality and religion. The larger world needs us to be as Christian as possible. Our nation and our children need us to practice both spirituality and religion.

Spirit and structure. How might you improve the spirit of your relating to God? How might you improve the specific pathways in which you relate to God?

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley