WHAT IS RELIGION?

Is religion about what we do for God, or is religion about what God does for us?

We usually think of religion as involving specific things we do to win God’s favor, and ultimately a place in heaven.

For us as Catholics that includes accepting certain beliefs, going to Mass, confessing our sins, making sure that our children receive the sacraments, donating to the parish, praying the rosary, helping those in need, serving in parish ministries, doing penance during Lent, reading the Bible, following the moral teachings of the Church, etc.

But when we consider this Sunday’s readings, we get a different impression.

In Sunday’s Gospel (John 3:14-21), Saint John tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

In our Second Reading (Ephesians 2:4-10), Saint Paul says something similar, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.”

John and Paul both emphasize the fact that God does something for us before we do anything for him.

God sends his Son, who takes on flesh and comes among us. Jesus embodies God’s mercy and makes it present in his ministry as he reaches out to the rejected, the sick, and the sinner.

He then makes that mercy and love of God unmistakably clear as he endures the cross to bring us into a new and eternal relationship with God. As Jesus tells us, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

God does all this for us, before we do a thing for God.

Religion, above all, is recognizing the gracious, unearned, undeserved love of God in our lives. That love brought us to life when we were conceived in the womb of our mothers, sustains us to this very day, offers us forgiveness for ours sins, and promises us eternal life. As Paul tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”

When we recognize and appreciate what God has done for us, we respond with thanks and praise. Our response of thanks and praise shows itself in what we call religion. We do religious things not to win God’s favor, but as the way we respond to the gracious love that God shows us.

Those who are religious are those who understand what God has done for them. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski