Christmas Gift for Homo Religiosus

God made us in a particular way. He endowed us with some agonizingly exquisite qualities, the qualities that make us who we are. We human persons make the rest of the animal kingdom, the rest of the material universe, look…kind of, well, limited.

Four things about us human beings:

1. We long to know the unknowable infinite power behind everything we see.

2. We eagerly desire uprightness and justice; we desperately want things to be right.

3. We feel impelled to live in a worthy, beautiful way, difficult as it may be to do so.

4. We want the friendship, not just of each other, but of God Himself.

For more than two centuries now, ideologues of a certain stripe have been sounding the death knell of the “primitive superstition” known as religion. But we human beings incorrigibly persist. It appears that we cannot be reformed. We will seek God one way or another. We will not abandon our ancient four-pronged religious quest: to know, to please, to imitate, and to befriend the great Other.

We don’t abandon this quest, because we cannot abandon it. Our innate constitution impels us to make it. Scientists identify our species as “the rational animal.” When families are fussing with each other, trying to get out the door to get to church on time, the “rational” aspect may not be altogether in evidence. But: We are certainly “the religious animal.” Homo sapiens? Maybe. Homo religiosus? Definitely.

Why is this? Because God made us. He made us for Himself, to give Him glory by being ourselves fully, by flowering as ourselves. We come into our own in no other way than by serving Him.

So: Would He make us want to know Him, and then fail to reveal Himself to us? Would He fill us with the irrepressible desire to please Him, and then leave us with nothing worthy to offer? Would He outfit us with noble designs on living an admirable life, and then not show us how it is done? Would He give us a taste of His friendship through all the good things He has made, and then stand aloof on the other side of a chasm that we could never cross?

These questions have haunted the mind of man, of homo religiosus, for many eons. The philosophers of old sought wisdom to answer them; the pagans told preposterous stories and made sacrifices to the shadows they had invented; the ancient Israelites longed for the fulfillment of promises as-yet-not-fully-understood. These questions remained.

These questions about the possibility of true religion–they may, at times, have disturbed good St. Joseph, as he made his way through life. Perhaps the questions occupied our Lady’s mind. Among the shepherds watching the flocks outside Bethlehem, there may have been some thoughtful, reflective ones who pondered the mystery of God through the long nights. And in the East, Wise Men watched the stars, looking for the answers.

They pondered these questions, that is, until… Until the angels came to visit. Until The Star appeared. Until the heavens rained down the Just One, and the earth exulted with her quiet joy.

Who is the great God Who made us for Himself? Christ makes Him known and teaches us to call Him our Father. How do we stand uprightly before our Creator and please Him? Christ pleases Him, and we do so, too, with and in Christ, in His Church. How do we live right? Christ shows us how. How can we befriend the infinite, unknowable power? By befriending our humble brother, Jesus Christ—or, rather, by letting Him befriend us.

Some people say that the custom of Christmas gift-giving began with the Wise Men’s gold, frankincense, and myrrh, for the Child. But, in fact, these gifts were given only after the first Christmas gift.

In the beginning, God gave us ourselves–this noble and troubled race, homo religiosus, longing for God. On Christmas, God gave us ourselves again, gave us to ourselves completely–healed, fulfilled, enlightened with heavenly truth, clear about our religion and ready to march on through life, towards heaven.

2 thoughts on “Christmas Gift for Homo Religiosus

  1. Father Mark,

    It sounds as though the central question has been answered: “Is there a God?”

    And, the answer is a resounding, “YES!”

    The rest is application..

    When I took Statics in College, the Professor, a middle-easterner, walked into class the first day, and asked, “What is Newton’s 1st Law?” Being good nerds and engineers, we spit it back at him. He then said, “That is all the theory you need to know for this course; the rest is application.”

    So, a lifetime of practice in desperately seeking Him, and extending the Love of Jesus Christ to our fellow humans is what it’s all about, application.

    Merry Christmas!



  2. “Would He make us want to know Him, and then fail to reveal Himself to us?”

    I also ask – would He make us without the ability to believe in Him? I know an atheist who says she has TRIED to believe. She was raised in church. She went to bible study after bible study, searching for….something, anything, that would help her believe in God. She prayed until she had no more prayers left in her. She finally gave up. She said that she isn’t trying to NOT believe. She just doesn’t get how the rest of us do believe.

    Say a prayer for D.B. when you remember those who don’t believe…

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