When speaking about “Religion as Relationship,” there are three points that I would like to make. The first is that by His very nature God is relational. The second is that as humans made in the image and likeness of God we are made to be in relationship with others. Therefore, and thirdly, religion itself is about our relationship with God and with others.
We know that God is a trinity: three persons – one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That means that by his very nature, God is a relationship of these three persons. St. Augustine describes the Trinity as: The Lover, the Beloved, and the love shared between them. This is evidenced in the sacrament of marriage. The love between a husband and a wife is so real that it can create another person.
This image of God as relational takes root in the act of creation. God was already perfect, He did not need humanity. We add nothing to Him. However, because God is love by His very nature and love always seeks to give of itself, He created us out of love.
We also know from Genesis 1:26 that God made humans in his image and likeness. Therefore, if God is a relation of persons, and we are in His image and likeness, then we are made to be in relationship with others. This also means since God is an eternal being then there is something about us that is eternal as well. We know from Catholic Philosophy and Theology that we call this eternal part our souls. We are a combination of body and soul and while our bodies decay and eventually die, our souls will live on forever.
Religion is defined as “what you bind yourself to.” So, we would say then that religion is about binding yourself to a set of beliefs. Unfortunately, today there are many who say that they don’t see a need for “organized religion” but that they are “spiritual.” To that I answer: duh of course you are spiritual! Every one of us is spiritual by our very nature. What separates the Christian religion from many others is that we believe that we are not binding ourselves to a set of arbitrary beliefs but rather to a person, and not just any person, the Son of God, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite lines from a Christian song is “give me rules and I’ll break them, give me lines and I’ll cross them. It’s got to be more like falling in love (Dave Barnes, “More Like Falling in Love”).” You see being Catholic is not about following a set of rules. It is about falling in love with Jesus Christ and then discovering the path to ultimate happiness that He has set before us. I don’t make moral decisions because I am afraid that God will punish me. I make moral decisions because I do not want to harm the relationship that I have with my beloved Lord and Savior. In the same way in my marriage I don’t go around doing things that I know will hurt my relationship with my wife.
In conclusion, religion is by its very nature relational because we were created in the image and likeness of God and therefore must work on having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior.
But wait there is more. One of the most beautiful things about religion is that not only does God walk the journey with others, but we know that by virtue of our baptism we are all brothers and sisters and therefore a family that is supposed to walk together down this road. It is difficult to walk down a path that requires much sacrifice alone, however; when we have companions on the journey that are willing to encourage us, challenge us, laugh with us, cry with us, pray with us, the journey becomes much easier. We have a horizontal relationship with others and a vertical relationship with God.
My challenge to all of you is to continuously work on your relationship with God, through prayer, the sacraments, spiritual reading and on your relationships with others through intentional Christian friendships. That means that whether someone is Christian or not we should take it upon ourselves to develop a meaningful relationship with them based on love and respect. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, to challenge one another and ultimately pray with and for one another.