On a recent late-night radio talk show, the topic was religion. An author who was interviewed stated: “I’m more spiritual than religious.” A memory switch in my brain clicked on. It seemed to me that I heard the same sentiment attributed to a famous historical figure.  

A google search told me that person is better described as infamous. It was Adolf Hitler. Here’s what else I found:

At the turn of the century, leading Hitler expert Ian Kershaw wrote an influential biography of Hitler which used new sources to expound on Hitler’s religious views. He too concluded that Hitler was anti-Christian but spiritual: “…making the German Army ‘into the first army in the world, in training, in the raising of units, in armaments, and, above all, in spiritual education (in der geistigen Erziehung)’ was vital. If this did not happen, then ‘Germany will be lost,’ [Hitler] declared.” (?Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis).

This is evidence that a spirit without a Godly focus is just a ghost doomed to haunt us. And in light of this Sunday’s mass readings, we can make this challenge to Hitler’s declaration:

Sheep without a Good Shepherd are lost.

As Peter tells us in Sunday’s first reading (Acts 2:14a, 36-41), only in holiness can you find true spirituality—and therefore be found.

Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”

Jesus was the Lamb of God, but he was not a lost lamb. In his suffering, he became a shepherd for the lost—and a leader for anyone suffering in their search for a home. Here’s what the world’s wolves in sheep’s clothing miss about the suffering they foster among lost sheep: The Good Shepherd recognizes his flock’s call because he knows their suffering. Peter continues in Sunday’s second reading (1 Pt 2:20b-25):

If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

Phonies claiming spirituality without seeking holiness first are doomed to lose their way because their belief system lacks guidance. In Sunday’s gospel from John (Jn 10:1-10), Jesus gives all lost sheep a destination point and reveals the only gateway leading to it.

Whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

Finding the way means the difference between achieving true spirituality and remaining aimless as a ghost.

–Tom Andel