The Universal Call to Transcendence
The search for happiness and fulfilment is a basic and legitimate desire of being human. Pope Benedict XVI, drawing on the insights of St Augustine, points out that our hearts will never be filled unless they rest in God alone. Religion has a crucial role in bearing witness to the transcendent dimension of the human person. This longing for the infinite and sacred is an unquenchable element of the human condition. It is experienced in many ways but perhaps personally and universally through love which has its origins in the divine, as the letter to St John suggests ‘God is Love’. “There is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity – a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence.”
Transcendence itself expands our human horizons and in the process our hearts are stretched so as to be filled with God. “Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched.” Consequently, it is the suppression or destruction of the transcendent in today’s world that damages and injures human beings because it essentially robs them of their true greatness and ultimate happiness.
From His speeches
“Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.” (Pope Benedict’s address to pupils Sports Arena of St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, Friday, 17 September 2010 11:45 am)
“On the spiritual level, all of us, in our different ways, are personally engaged in a journey that grants an answer to the most important question of all – the question concerning the ultimate meaning of our human existence. The quest for the sacred is the search for the one thing necessary, which alone satisfies the longings of the human heart. In the fifth century, Saint Augustine described that search in these terms: ‘Lord, you have created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you’ (Confessions, Book I, 1).” (Pope Benedict’s Speech to Representatives of other Religions Waldegrave Drawing Room, St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, Friday, 17 September 2010 12:45 pm)
“So it is that genuine religious belief points us beyond present utility towards the transcendent. It reminds us of the possibility and the imperative of moral conversion, of the duty to live peaceably with our neighbour, of the importance of living a life of integrity. Properly understood, it brings enlightenment, it purifies our hearts and it inspires noble and generous action, to the benefit of the entire human family. It motivates us to cultivate the practice of virtue and to reach out towards one another in love, with the greatest respect for religious traditions different from our own.” (Pope Benedict’s Speech to Representatives of other Religions Waldegrave Drawing Room, St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, Friday, 17 September 2010 12:45 pm)
“On the one hand, the surrounding culture is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment. On the other hand, the increasingly multicultural dimension of society, particularly marked in this country, brings with it the opportunity to encounter other religions. For us Christians this opens up the possibility of exploring, together with members of other religious traditions, ways of bearing witness to the transcendent dimension of the human person and the universal call to holiness, leading to the practice of virtue in our personal and social lives.” (Pope Benedict’s address to the Archbishop of Canterbury Lambeth Palace, Friday, 17 September 2010 4:30pm)
And From His other Writings….
“Now the need to escape, to ‘get out’, is also quite prevalent in the West, for ultimately all its novelties and thrills are empty, too, when they claim to be all there is. The loss of transcendence evokes the flight into utopia. I am convinced that the destruction of transcendence is actually the mutilation of man from which all the other sicknesses spring. Robbed of his real greatness, he can only resort to illusory hopes. Furthermore, this confirms and seals the narrowing of reason, which is no longer capable of perceiving authentically human concerns as reasonable. Marx taught us that one must take away transcendence so that man, finally healed of false consolations, may build the perfect world. Today we know that man needs transcendence so that he can shape his imperfect world in such a way that one can live in it with human dignity.” (Church, Ecumenism & Politics. New Endeavors in Ecclesiology, P.199)
“The longing for the infinite is alive and unquenchable within man. None of the attempted answers will do; only the God who himself became finite in order to tear open our finitude and lead us out into the wide spaces of his infinity, only he corresponds to the question of our being. That is why, even today, Christian faith will come to man again. It is our task to serve this faith with humble courage, with all the strength of our heart and of our mind.” (Truth and Tolerance. Christian Belief and World Religions, P.137)
Questions for reflection, discussion and further study:
- ‘The quest for the sacred is the one thing necessary,’ does this suggest that looking for happiness elsewhere in created things has its limitations?
- The suppression or destruction of the transcendent deforms the human person and robs them of their greatness, why is this and how is it manifested?
- As St Augustine taught only God who is Love can satisfy the longings of the human heart. Does this suggest that the values of the Gospel are timeless and that the ‘Christian faith will come to man again’?
 1 John 4:8.
 Deus Caritas Est (5) P3.
Spe Salvi (33)P16.