At the supermarket the other day, I ran into a friend of mine whom I had not seen in a while. As we were catching up with each other, she casually mentioned that she is no longer a practicing Catholic. Quizzing her about that, I discovered that she feels she no longer needs an organized religion to lead her to God. She described herself as “spiritual, but not religious.”

I told her that I wished she would reconsider her decision, but I did not press the topic further – my reasoning being that I did not think the dairy aisle of my local grocer was the appropriate place for deep theological debate.

That “spiritual, but not religious” remark I have heard before. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 18 percent – almost one-fifth – of Americans describe themselves that way. The poll called it an identity that “transcends stereotypical religious identity.”

Paulist Father Bruce Nieli, a nationally known evangelist, once said that young people are “seekers of religion, but not necessarily finding it in organized religion.” He said that Catholic outreach to such persons must address “the four hungers we all have – the hunger for unity, the hunger for truth, the hunger for goodness and the hunger for beauty.”

“Many of our brothers and sisters are hungry for the truth. We (the Catholic faith) have the truth that will never pass,” he said.

Those who reject organized religion as a viable or important part of spiritual growth and development are doing themselves harm. Jesuit Father James Martin, an editor of America magazine, warned that “spirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community.”

The “wisdom of the community” – the 2,000-year-plus teaching of the Catholic Church – is what we should rely on as we journey to heaven.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it,” we read in James 1:5. This is not an ordinary wisdom such as what the formula is for measuring the area of a circle or how to stretch the family budget. The wisdom referred to in James is a divine wisdom that puts day-to-day trials into perspective and shows us the truth of God’s love for us. It is a wisdom offered to us when we attend Mass, hear the Word of God and receive Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

I wish I had known of a way that I could have expressed all of that when I ran into my friend. I should have done a better job of encouraging her to return to the Church. When Jesus mandated that we should “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), I do believe that included the dairy aisle of my supermarket.