S2 Ep1 – Why do we have a desire for God?

What is the compendium?

In 1992 Pope John Paul II published the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was and today still is the most comprehensive document published on what we as Catholics believe. It’s a lengthy document split into four parts: Creed/Dogma, Liturgy/Sacraments, Morals, Prayer. There’s a reason its formulated in that manner. What we believe (Creed) is the content of our worship (Liturgy), what we believe and worship we live (morals), and what we believe, worship and live is leads to and is nourished by prayer.

The document was not actually written fundamentally for the lay faithful. JPII wrote it fundamentally for Bishops, whose task it was to produce their own diocesan catechisms. However for various reasons, that task has not been fulfilled and so, 13 years after the publishing of the catechism, Pope Benedict XVI published the Compendium of the Catechism, which he had personally worked on as the doctrine chief for Pope John Paul II. This was meant to be a simplified question and answer format of the catechism, and was not meant to be a stand alone document. Benedict foresaw that Bishops and priests and lay theologians could train their people using this document in the faith, and compliment its more simplified answers with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

This is what we intend to do. Once every couple of months we’ll break open the Compendium and see what the Church teaches about a particular issue, in a manner which is genuinely eccumenical.     

Why does man have a desire for God?

Compendium answer: ‘God himself, in creating man in his own image, has written upon his heart the desire to see him. Even if this desire is often ignored, God never ceases to draw man to himself because only in God will he find and live the fullness of truth and happiness for which he never stops searching. By nature and by vocation, therefore, man is a religious being, capable of entering into communion with God. This intimate and vital bond with God confers on man his fundamental dignity.

Our commentary

I like this question and the answer given. Firstly because it kind of addresses the very nature of our podcast which is living fullness: “God never ceases to draw man to himself, because only in God will he find and live the fullness of truth and happiness for which he never stops searching.” 

There are a number of things which are highlighted in this answer. 

Firstly – we’re made in the image of God. WHat does that mean? Well, Whenever someone makes something, that thing bears the image of its maker. For instance, Michelangelo has certain aspects to his sculpting that a trained eye can pick up on and say – that bears the image of michelangelo. Similarly, all created being bears Gods image, because it possesses truth, goodness and beauty, #TBG, #TranscendentalPropertiesOfBeing, all of which are found in God who possesses the fulness of these characteristics. We as human beings possess truth, goodness and beauty and we do as persons, so we’re made in God’s image in an even more wonderful way, because we are made to be free persons, established in truth beauty and goodness. Sin has disfigured this image, however we nonetheless retain it after the fall.

Secondly – God never ceases to draw man to himself. God speaks to every human spirit and we’re drawn to his voice, because he has made us for himself. Before we said that sin disfigured the image of God in us, well the redemption restores that image and invites to us to more and more closely resemble that image through the grace of Jesus Christ. 

It means that even when we mess up and sin, God does not take back his invitation, instead he makes it more keenly felt, calling us back to himself through the grace of repentance. This is what is meant when the compendium says: By nature and by vocation

We are made for God, which is to say that the end for which we are made is God himself. When you think about other creatures on the planet, they’re not made for communion with God, but they do have a natural end or purpose which they act according to. They eat, pro-create, and die. We are the only creatures on earth who can act contrary to the purpose for which we are made. We can ignore God’s call. 

Thirdly – Man is a religious being. The word religion comes from the latin re-ligare which means to re-connect, the implication being that at some point a connection was lost with the divine, and man with his natural desire for God, intuits this to some degree. All religions have elements of truth in them, because all of them are authentic expressions of the religious sense in man. Its intriguing when we look at pre-christian cultures and see the prophecies which point to Christ:

Tacitus, speaking for the ancient Romans, says, “People were generally persuaded in the faith of the ancient prophecies, that the East was to prevail, and that from Judea was to come the Master and Ruler of the world.” 

Suetonius, in his account of the life of Vespasian, recounts the Roman tradition thus, “It was an old and constant belief throughout the East, that by indubitably certain prophecies, the Jews were to attain the highest power.” 

China had the same expectation; but because it was on the other side of the world, it believed that the great Wise Man would be born in the West. The Annals of the Celestial Empire contain the statement: In the 24th year of Tchao-Wang of the dynasty of the Tcheou, on the 8th day of the 4th moon, a light appeared in the Southwest which illumined the king’s palace. The monarch, struck by its splendor, interrogated the sages. They showed him books in which this prodigy signified the appearance of the great Saint of the West whose religion was to be introduced into their country

The Greeks expected Him, for Aeschylus in his Prometheus six centuries before His coming, wrote, “Look not for any end, moreover, to this curse until God appears, to accept upon His Head the pangs of thy own sins vicarious.”

Cicero, after recounting the sayings of the ancient oracles and the Sibyls about a “King whom we must recognize to be saved,” asked in expectation, “To what man and to what period of time do these predictions point?” The Fourth Eclogue of Virgil recounted the same ancient tradition and spoke of “a chaste woman, smiling on her infant boy, with whom the iron age would pass away.”

So the religious sense in man is the highest part of him, actively seeking out a connection with the Divine with the aid of his reason. And the human person can come to know a lot about God, as we saw just before! Man is capable of communion with God, of being with God, he actually has this God made hole in his heart which can only be filled with God, through which he will know the perfect happiness, or living fullness that he was made for. However man can’t do this on his own.

Man can only go so far by the light of reason before he starts making errors, since his intellect is darkened from the fall. Thus God has to come and meet man, and he does this in Jesus Christ, who calls us to himself with human lips and a human heart. Only by answering this call will we know the happiness we’re made for. Our faith is the acceptance of Jesus’ revelation.

Fourthly – this call from God to be in communion with him constitutes our dignity. We’re not made for the temporal, we’re made for the eternal. St Gregory of Nyssa famously said:

O man, scorn not that which is admirable in you! You are a poor thing in your own eyes, but I would teach you that in reality you are a great thing! Realise what you are! Consider your royal dignity! The heavens have not been made in God’s image as you have, nor the moon, nor the sun, nor anything to be seen in creation! Behold of all that exists, there is nothing that can contain your greatness! (Homily on the creation of man)’

We are made for God, he loves us, and wants to be in communion with him. This is our dignity – that when all is said and done, we are loved infinitely God, pursued by a relentlessly loving God that might know what it is to live life to the full. ‘

Catechism References: CCC:1, 27-30

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