Two words are often used that contradict one another in our spiritual language – “religious” and “secular”. Obviously, “religious” is good, and “secular” is bad. We do have “religious” priests and “secular” priests and the “secular” priests certainly aren’t all a bad lot! My brother, Julian, a secular, i.e. a diocesan priest used to tease me with, “Religious priests take a vow of poverty, and the “secular” priests keep it.” This is sadly true in may respects. the secular priests live in the world and observe the conditions under which people have to live their lives, whilst the “religious” priests are allowed to be “other worldly” or “out of touch”! We have “religious” music, and “religious” festivals, which can be pretty “secular”!
Generally, however, “religious” is an adjective giving status, and “secular” is demeaning in churchspeak. But what does Jesus say? He made a distinction between members of the “kingdom” and those outside it. Yet if we look at the teaching of Jesus we would find he would reject many of the “religious” from the kingdom, and include many who are “secular”.
Bishops are “religious” and yet they can live in palaces, delight in taking the front seat in church – in fact a throne, and love dressing up in fine robes – described by Jesus as “pharisaical” behavior.
We can be “religious” by going to church, saying our prayers – good in themselves, but needing to be accompanied by almsgiving and becoming Good Samaritans. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the younger “secular” brother ended up in the kingdom while the older brother despite his loyalty and devotion remained outside.
Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be a leader must become a servant of all.” This is a title awarded to the Pope, “Servant of the servants of God”. But the “religious” according to Jesus are to be found in the soup kitchens and homeless shelters, more religious after the fashion of Francis of Assisi and Vincent de Paul than many popes.
Sadly for me – a professional “religious”, I have to question myself about whether Jesus would accept me into the “kingdom’! “By their fruits you shall know them”, he would say!