Religion of the heart

A DEAR friend introduced me to the writings of Marianne Williamson, a spiritual writer, activist, author, lecturer and founder of The Peace Alliance. Two of her books, A Return to Love: Reflections on “A Course in Miracles”and Iluminata: A Return to Prayer, have been in the list of bestsellers.

The other day, my friend sent me an excerpt of Williamson’s writings that struck me as an avenue for further discussion. Here is the excerpt:

Just as the founding of democracy relocated the center of political power from the king to the individual, so shall the spiritual revolution of our times  relocate the center of true religious power, in truth as well as fiction, from  religious institution to the heart of human being. That is where it used to be.

That is where it belongs…

Religion does no belong in the government, religion is in our hearts, our beings and how we care for one another.

Absolutely, many would agree that religion must be in one’s heart; otherwise, it becomes a mere cold set of rules or conduct and an empty ritual. Jesus, himself, preached about religion of the heart, as in the Gospel this Sunday when he says: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

Religion of the heart makes our hearts touched by the healing hand of God, thereby allowing us to experience God’s unconditional love and peace, to be full of gratitude to God, and to respond to Him with generosity to others. In other words, although religion starts from the human heart, it does not stay there but reaches out in love, compassion, justice and care for others. The Letter of James in this Sunday’s Second Reading agrees with this contention by stating: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

However, people who embrace religion of the heart must not be iconoclasts of laws, traditions, and communal values. They should not minimize the value of community as an important element in shaping a person’s character and conscience. God has intended that we live and become part of a community of faith. After all, he has established a covenantal relationship not with an individual but with a people. We read this in the First Reading this Sunday from the Book of Deuteronomy: “Now Israel, hear the statues and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”

As Christians, we must not understand religion of the heart as an absolute subjective morality, which leads to relativism. As much as we try to interpret God’s Law in the Scriptures in present time, we cannot negate the fact that we will always live under God’s reign.

Religion of the heart is always a heart centered on God…and his Law.

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Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas attended St. John Seminary in Camarillo, California and earned his Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri. For twenty years, he has been in the parish ministry of large multi-cultural communities.  Since 2002, he has been the pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Los Angeles. Please email Fr. Rodel at odey413@aol.com.

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