The Primordial Relationship

The essence of religion is the relation of man beyond himself to the unknown reality that faith calls God. It is man's capacity to go beyond all tangible, measurable reality and to enter into this primordial relation. Man lives in relationships, and the ultimate goodness of his life depends on the rightness of his essential relationships—I mean father, mother, brother and sister, and so forth—the basic relationships that are inscribed in his being. But none of these relationships can be right if the first relationship, the relationship with God, is not right. This relationship itself, I would say, is, properly speaking, the content of religion.

(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – Salt of the Earth)

The above is an insightful response to a question many have regarding the essence of religion. What I find interesting is the awareness of proper ordering of relationships; that it's in discovering and giving priority to the relationship with God which guides and nurtures all other relationships successfully. Even if we allow for the fact that many people discover this 'Primordial Relationship' through other relations; we must still conclude that the proper disposition of our relationship with God (it's rightness) is what enables us to get the other relationships 'right'.

In religious terms this means placing our relationship with God first and above all others. The skeptical world views this as a scandal, because it falsely interprets this to mean interference, or worse, a degradation of the natural movement of human affairs. Scriptural passages which focus our love, obedience and attention to our Creator, sometimes appear overbearing to the nonbeliever and confusing to the novice believer.

The danger here is twofold. On the one hand we can form rigid notions of religion in which we view it as a set of preset instructions or commands and fail to participate in a real manner of listening and responding to what God is directing us to in our unique mission. On the other hand, we can ignore the parameters of this 'primordial relationship', created for our own good and the good of others, and instead create foolish and destructive patterns of behavior that appear fulfilling and loving while distracting us from getting our relationships 'right'.

I'm somewhat concerned that so many have entered into these 'other relationships' (family and beyond) without the proper footing that comes from recognizing and developing the 'primordial relationship'--communion with God. Societies are struggling and families failing because they lack the connection and guidance of that supernatural relation to God. The overarching role of religion in our lives is to correctly form the 'primordial relation', which can then be relied upon to form all other relations 'rightly'; with true love, integrity, justice and compassion.

So true religion has the fearful task of calling individuals to the 'primordial relationship'; and beyond this it also has the task of informing and shaping that relationship. To complicate matters it has to do so in a contentious arena where a host of voices clamor for attention and legitimacy. In all of this the individual must respond, not because of coercion or power, but because he or she is created for the purpose of living in this relationship and in communion with others. The faith involved is not for the purpose of making life easy but for the purpose of making life real.

"Man lives in relationships, and the ultimate goodness of his life depends on the rightness of his essential relationships." Indeed, this is a crucial test of goodness not to be underestimated. The 'rightness' of our relations grows from family outwards to the fraternity of all mankind, especially those in need. So getting it 'right' seems to be of paramount importance. "But none of these relationships can be right if the first relationship, the relationship with God, is not right."

1 comment:

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