Thursday, August 25, 2011

Christ, Religion, and the Human Being

The human heart has a desire for truth, for goodness, for justice, for love, for beauty; these are the fundamental needs inscribed in every human heart. And every heart, from the first moment of its awakening, is summoned mysteriously by the grace of God revealed and given in Jesus Christ (even for those who do not yet know Him "explicitly"). The human heart is made for more than this world. The human heart is made for God. This is the most powerful and the most dynamic impetus in the life of the human person. It is for this reason that the human being is by nature a religious being. The very power and depth of the religious factor accounts for why people can abuse it to trick others and twist their minds and thereby do such profound violence to their humanity. To do this is a great crime.

Many religious people have been immoral (many, many others have also been good, and it is simply unfair to deny this). Many religious people have made dysfunctional religious institutions. But "religion" exists because the human being is made for God and cannot "help" seeking God. If he denies God, he sets up another "total reality" in God's place. When the human being denies religion, he sets up his very denial as an unassailable absolute, and clings to it with all the impetus of his religious soul. The human heart cannot avoid searching for, affirming, and adhering to something that is perceived to be of definitive importance. And when the heart is disappointed it takes up the search again.

But Jesus Christ goes beyond the human search for God. He is the Answer to that search. And He has taken the "risk" of putting Himself in the hands of sinful human beings so that He can continue to give Himself to us twenty centuries later, in a concrete way. He has promised that He will reach us today through the Church. We trust Christ in His Church. Even if many of His representative are great sinners, He has promised that we will always find Him in the Church, and He has established the means whereby He makes good on this promise. Thus, for example, Christ reaches us in the sacraments and makes Himself present for us in the Eucharist, even if the minister--His human instrument--is unworthy to represent Him.

We must never forget this. It is not a matter of an omnipotent, merely human priesthood conjuring Christ by some magical incantation. It is a matter of His sovereign determination to be with and to give Himself to you and me in the space and time and reality of our lives through human gestures that take place in our world today--gestures which are guaranteed to have value for our lives because it is He who performs them through His ministers. The value of the sacraments and their meaning for our lives is founded on the presence and action of Jesus Christ, not the merits or worthiness of those He uses as instruments. He is present in His Church, and it is always to Him we adhere. Even as we recognize that He comes to us through other men, we trust Him, and we know that He will not deny Himself to us because of their weaknesses and limitations. This is the promise that Christ in the sacraments has made to the human heart that seeks Him.

He has come to be the Answer, available to us here and now. He will not let our search be in vain.