Father Chet, April 1978
Since religion is primarily a loving encounter between God’s person and our person, there is an intimate connection between our capacity for natural, human love and our capacity for encounter with God.
By grace, the person of God touches our inner self and fills us with God’s own life of love. Unless we have developed the natural powers for love within our soul, it is often impossible to enter into a full, loving union with God.
God can work a miracle of grace and substitute directly for any deficiency of human love in our life. We can hope for this to happen if, through no fault of our own, we have been deprived of good experiences of natural love. We are called to foster the growth of natural love in our lives so that we can encounter God to the utmost limits of our potential.
Natural love loosens the soil of the soul, making it soft and pliable to the actions of God’s grace. Each personal encounter of human love is a preparation for that religious surrender of our life to God which we call faith. Our natural experiences of love activate the energies of enthusiasm within us and give us the vitality needed for the heroic practice of our Christian faith.
If love is an active and growing force within our lives, our whole being will become radiant with physical, mental, and emotional energy and health. Our bodies will be transparent and glowing with the desire to go out to others and give ourselves in love to mankind and God.
Give of Ourselves
Both love and religion have the same mortal enemy: selfishness. They also have the same goal: the redemption of our whole being from the isolation of self. Every encounter of love, be it with God or a human person, increases our power to love at all other levels. Every good friendship profoundly influences our whole life for the better.
On the other hand, natural, human love cannot continue indefinitely without some contact with God and religion. Without the benefits that love and religion can give each other, there is a tendency for both our religious and our human encounters to degenerate into a union of things on a neutral level instead of a real unity of persons.
Without a living, growing contact between our person and the person of God, it is impossible to achieve or maintain any substantial degree of maturity in our personality.
Encounters During Life Stages
During the first half of our lives we typically do not feel the need of God as desperately as after the age of 35 or 40. In the beginning of adulthood, we are often so occupied with carving a niche for ourselves here on earth that religious duties are postponed or neglected. However, around the age of 40 almost everyone begins to realize that in this short life on earth it will never be possible to fulfill all of one’s ambitions and desires.
Without a strong faith in God and the practice of religion at this time, most people will experience one or another neurotic symptom: psychosomatic illnesses of the body; unexplained and unjustified fears; anxieties and scruples; a general lack of inner security, self-confidence, balance, order, and harmony in the conscious areas of life.
Some stronger personalities are able to repress these deep stirrings of their unconscious being in its search for God. Yet they cannot hide their restlessness, impatience, irritability, and general dissatisfaction with themselves, with those around them, and with everything upon earth. Frequently these tribulations are projected upon others, and they become critical and harsh in their judgements and condemnations of them.
Without God, even our natural life lacks warmth, sensitivity, and creativity; instead it can become cold, depressing, and sterile. St. Augustine cried out:
0ur hearts were made for thee, O God,
and they shall not rest until they rest in thee.
Desire to Encounter God
In the depths of every human soul there is a desire to know and encounter God. Carl Jung was the first modern psychologist to discover this deepest stratum of the human unconscious and named these religious needs of the human psyche the collective, religious archetypes of humankind.
In Jung’s contacts with mentally ill patients from every country of the world, he said that he never found a mentally or emotionally disturbed patient over the age of 35 whose problem was not primarily religious. He said that it was impossible for him to help these disturbed patients until he succeeded in finding some way for them to make a satisfactory contact with a Supreme Being upon whom they were willing to depend.
Jung felt that this lack of religion in our modern world was the prime cause of much of the restlessness and imbalance in people.
Therefore, it is quite necessary that we develop these religious archetypes and make them active, living influences in our daily activities. Without an activation of these religious needs within our psyche, our personality will lack wholeness and balance. Through these archetypes we may make real encounters of love with God, and by these religious encounters, grow to the fullness of perfection for which we are destined.
The natural religious archetypes enable us to recognize and encounter both the tremendous (transcendent) and the fascinating (immanent) aspects of God’s nature. The transcendent nature of God is seen in God’s almighty power, awesome majesty, divine justice, infinite truth, strict and final judgements, eternal punishments and rewards.
In contrast to this grandeur which threatens to overwhelm us, we are also attracted to the immanent aspects of God’s personality: God’s infinite kindness, goodness, love, mercy, forgiveness; immense beauty, order, and harmony.
At first sight, these two views of God seem contradictory or paradoxical. We find ourselves caught between a desire to run away from God’s overwhelming grandeur and an equally strong desire to run toward God, engulfed by God’s infinite kindness, beauty, goodness, and love.
It is usually impossible for a purely natural religion to accomplish this balance between the two poles of God’s infinite greatness and his equally infinite beauty, goodness, love, and gentleness.
Either we become so terribly afraid of God that we seek to escape from God, God’s judgements and punishments, or so familiar with God that we imagine it is impossible to displease God or be punished as a result.
In past generations, some people experienced an exaggerated idea of God’s majesty. They became excessively afraid of sin and hell and imagined that few people could hope to escape God’s terrible vengeance.
Recently, as a reaction to this extreme of fear, there are those who state that there is no such thing as sin, hell, or punishment by the good God. They say, “God is too good to send anyone to hell.” This is then used as an excuse for doing away with all inhibitions of guilt toward sin.
Our natural religious capacity for God must be elevated and increased by the grace of Christ; otherwise, we will find ourselves going to one extreme or another in our encounters with God.
Model of Jesus
A study of Jesus’s life reveals many occasions when we see both the over-powering awesomeness of God and his fascinating beauty and attractiveness.
Peter offers us an example of this dilemma when, after the miracle of the catch of fish, he fell at the feet of our Lord and begged, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Even though Peter said it, it was not what his heart really desired. He was caught between the overwhelming attraction of Jesus’s personality and an equally strong sense of his own unworthiness.
In the beginning of our encounters with God, nature and grace often proceed peacefully, hand in hand. However, as we progress in a knowledge of God and nature, we discover a potential conflict which exists between Christianity and various forms of what is known as “natural religion.”
Natural religion is a religion that loves its freedom and reacts against rigid dogmas or confining laws of morality. It exaggerates the value of private, personal religious encounters and often resents joining a community in worshiping God. It considers contacts with others a hindrance rather than a help to a free, individual, religious experience. In other words, having to join others in participation at Mass, or other liturgical services, becomes a distraction rather than an aid to a person.
At its worst manifestation, it makes a human being rather than God the center of faith and worship. In this way, one is free to determine one’s own rules and to please oneself rather than God.
Natural religious archetypes need to be awakened. However, they must be converted and liberated by contact with Christ. When an encounter with Christ is made, there will be a clash and perhaps an open declaration of war between our natural religious ideas and God’s revelation as found in Sacred Scriptures.
A person who has not undergone this conflict between their natural desires and God’s will as manifested and taught by Jesus Christ will seldom have a full encounter with God.
This struggle between nature and grace is essential, and no one can consider oneself a mature Christian until experiencing it. The confrontation between Christ and our natural religious desires should begin with a comparison between the two so that we can appreciate more clearly the different goals and requirements of both.
Face the Challenge
In early life, the total absorption in the things of this earth often keeps a person from facing the challenge presented by Christ and Christianity. However, sooner or later, everyone must make this decision of being either for or against Christ.
It is only when this dilemma is fully realized that we are able to make a full act of faith and commitment to Christ and God.
If the decision is against Christ, there will be a continuation of one’s rebellion and hostility to God. Rather than humbling ourselves before the Almighty God, the danger is that we will settle for some human-centered religion where God is removed from God’s exalted throne and made an equal to humankind.
Encounter the Cross
The cross and the necessity of suffering is a bitter pill for pleasure-seeking people to swallow. So often it requires a blind act of faith and trust in God to face a life-time of self-denial.
At the point of our meeting with Christ and God, we will always find the cross – a dying to self in order that we may rise to God.
Like the rings of a tree, year by year, the struggle between ourselves and Christ’s teachings results in a steady growth toward the union with God for which our hearts yearn.
Jesus says of himself,
I have come on earth, not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).