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Authentic religion is first and foremost a matter of relationships – with God (however we might name
God), self, other people and the physical world. Authentic religion involves an ongoing, never
ending struggle and search to know and foster those relationships. Growth emerges slowly through
facilitation rather than mastery, it is gift rather than conquest, a grace of the Spirit rather than a
triumph of the ego. And is this anything other than authentic humanity?

At the heart of this whole process is self-transcendence. We experience the truth that lies at the heart
of the human story: we must die in order to live, that we find ourselves by losing ourselves, that the
centre of our existence – our true selves, our identity in other words – is found in God. Relationships
are stifled by egoisms of one kind or other – self-absorption, selfishness, meaness, greed, narcissism,
pride and so on. On the other hand, relationships – at least life-giving relationships – are fostered by
moving beyond our tiny ego worlds, by dying to ourselves in daily acts of self-transcendence –
mindfulness of others, self-forgetfulness, generosity, compassion, listening, patience, magnanimity,
humility and so on. The goal of authentic religion is participation or communion in a Great Mystery,
not control of a little material world.


A certain vision is born of this process of fostering relationships. We can also say that the process is
born of the vision, for we would not pursue the relationships without some sort of vision, at least
implicitly there. Relationships and vision are inseparable, each demanding the other. Without the
focus of relationships, there would be no vision. Without the vision, the relationships would become
deformed and deforming. Even as we generously give ourselves to fostering and living the
relationships, we must constantly return to the vision that gives the purpose and meaning to that
endeavour. The vision will have specific facets – mystical, moral, theological, legal and


All of us who desire to be committed to an authentic religious project, must do our best, according to
our possibilities and limits, to articulate the details of the vision by which we live. It is, however, the
special task of certain people to articulate in detail what this vision entails. We need good
scholarship. Thus we have moral philosophers, ethicists and moral theologians, systematic
theologians and scripture scholars, canonists and organisational experts. The work of these people
must always be grounded in, foster and point back to relationships. Apart from that, their work has
no value. One of the critical roles of the Church in every age is to keep the scholars faithful to this


In a healthy religious project there is constant and free flow of thought and attention between
relationships, vision and detail. The less self-conscious this free flow of thought and attention is the
better. Increasingly we become one with the One, with ourselves, others and our world.
Human beings being human, there is always the tendency to focus on the details as ends in
themselves. Unlike relationships, they are more or less concrete, immediate, controllable,
measurable, no where near as messy and so on. But when the details lose their relative position as
servants of the vision and the relationships that give rise to the vision, they become, at best, more or
less irrelevant ideologies. At worst those detached details become destructive systems that oppress
people. Thus, religion may be reduced to moralism, dogmatism, legalism and institutionalism.
Religion, in this sense, may stand between us and God. Representatives of this kind of religion tend
to become ideologues rather than witnesses to liberating and lifegiving relationships. Under such
circumstances, preaching tends to be reduced to propaganda, scholarship to polemics, spirituality to
pietisms, worship to ritualism and tradition to mere repetition. This is fertile ground for bigotry,
sectarianism and prejudice in its many forms. The work of renewal is always primarily about the
recovery of relationships – with God, self, others and creation. This work of renewal is about loving
others into freedom as we have been loved into freedom. And the work of renewal never ends


1. “We must avoid like the plague that selective egotism that begins by censoring the world, goes on
to miss out half the Bible, and finally, and predictably, takes flight and scandal when, in the end, it
has to meet an uncensored God. It will certainly be best, if we are going to come into relationship
with the God who is, not to think that we can know in advance what he will be like. There will be
something very wrong both with the theology and the theologian, that does not approach the mystery
of God through a deep reverence for the mystery of what he has made. It can never be too often said
that one of the first traps set before the person who desires to pray or to study the theology of prayer
is to set it in a world apart. The person of prayer cannot be a person of two minds. If our attitude
towards the least of the creatures is wrong, so will our attitude to God be wrong. We might
remember that, in the right hands, a little of the common earth, upon which people walk without
reflection, can open the eyes of the blind.” (Aelred Squire, Asking the Fathers, Paulist Press, 1976,

3. “In the mystery of the human person God guards his own mystery. To this sense that God is
utterly beyond our conceiving, the doctrine of the Fathers is faithful, as the word of scripture
requires. Like Job, we may enter into relationship with God through his intervention in history, but
then it is God the incomprehensible we meet, God the breaker of the heart’s idols and the confounder
of edifying talk. He is what he is.” (Aelred Squire, Asking the Fathers, Paulist Press, 1976, 21)

4. “The biblical picture of the human person at creation is of a being whose basic call is to
relationship, relationships first and foremost with God and with others, and then relationship to the
universe at large through understanding and care. We are, as it were, born for openness, for that
shared life which is the mark of those who are capable of knowledge and love. Only the orthodox
doctrine of the Fall clearly asserts how intimately every other relationship, inner and outer, is bound
up with the maintenance of the living relationship with God which, mysterious though it be, is an
ineradicable need of our nature.” (Aelred Squire, Asking the Fathers, Paulist Press, 1976, 37)

5. “While they were at dinner in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners
came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his
disciples, ‘Why does you master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When he heard this he replied,
‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. God and learn the meaning of the words:
What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners.” (Mt
9:10-13; also Mk 2:15-17 and Lk 5:29-32)

6. “One of the scribes who had listened to them debating and observed how well Jesus had answered
them, now came up and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus
replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord
your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The
second is this: You must love yoour neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than
these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master, what you have said is true: that there is one and
there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus,
seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no
one dare to question him anymore.” (Mk 12:28-34; also Mt 22:34-40 and Lk 10:25-28)

7. “He couldn’t see her in the darkness, but there were plenty of faces he could remember from the
old days which fitted the voice. When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always
begin to feel pity – that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the
corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was
just a failure of imagination.” (Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, Penguine Books, 1971,

8. “In the long run, is there any other way of handing on the Gospel than by transmitting to another
person one’s pesonal experience of faith?” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), 46)


CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEETS are published by Catalyst for Renewal, PO Box 139,
Gladesville, NSW 2111 – Tel/Fax: 02 9816 4262



Moral Philos/Theol
Systematic Theology
Canon Law
Institutional Reality