The Religion vs. Relationship Diatribe
Alright, prepare for a rather random entry on this Wednesday of Holy Week. I was perusing the profiles of friends on Facebook (a time-wasting affair in which we youth often get embroiled) and came upon the chosen religion for one of my friends. What he had for his religion was “religion without a relationship is meaningless.” Alright, I’m going to concede the point to him but will not let it go there. This subject is near and dear to my heart, for in high school, I seriously considered converting from the Catholic Church precisely because of this argument. It seemed to me that what one needed for salvation was an “intense personal relationship with Christ,” something “not religious.” For someone who wanted such a relationship, the banalities of “religion” with its rigid norms and phariseeisms had to be avoided like the plague.
Of course, in and of itself, religion is necessarily relational, for it is nothing more than a re-ligation of mankind to God. To posit anything on the contrary is preposterous. However, as a Roman Catholic, I think I have an interesting view on this entire diatribe, for the Church is often the great example of Babylon to all “relationship-loving” Christians. To them, we are nothing more than Pharisees in medieval liturgical garb.
Indeed, it is the Liturgy itself which is a major point of contention for non-Catholics, for it seems like the recitation of set prayers in order to move the hand of God to our will. (If they bothered to investigate our beliefs, they would know that such a view is abberant in all good Catholic theology, but alas, they often do not even look beyond the depth of our skin.) From my experiences (which I will admit are limited), it is believed that a relationship is only possible when individualism reigns, allowing the individual, without encumbrance, to experience the divine life, almost like experiencing some sort of divine ecstacy. Because of this, shared liturgical worship is viewed as an abberation, a destroying of man’s capacity for union with God.
I would argue, however, that the Liturgy is the only way by which the Church, the Body of Christ, can truly communicate with God. Proper Liturgy allows for a relationship with the Divine precisely because relationships are never individualistic but are lived out in a network of related individuals. Additionally, if that relationship is truly to be grounded in Love, it requires that the relationship transcend even the barrier of time. Although the Liturgy changes with the passage of years (as it should), it still remains an organic experience of the Body of Christ through the ages. Of course, one cannot speak of the Catholic Liturgy without reference to the Eucharist. In the Blessed Sacrament, we partake in the very being of God, drawn upward by his loving hand toward the fullness of relationship with the Trinity, transcending all boundaries. Indeed, stuffy Catholic religion allows for a far greater relationship than the chumminess of relationship-only Christianity.