“The core of a spiritual tradition is relationship,” said Daniel P. Horan, OFM. “Everything comes back to that.”
On Thursday night, the Church in the 21st Century Center of Boston College hosted Horan, a Franciscan priest and doctorate student at BC, to discuss intimacy and relationships in Catholic life through his talk Dating God.
Horan-who has authored dozens of scholarly articles, published several books, and is a columnist for the national Catholic weekly America Magazine-has studied theology at both Boston University and Harvard University and is currently completing his Ph.D. in systematic theology at BC.
The topic of Horan’s discussion centered on individual relationships with and contemplations of God for Christians, namely Catholics, and how human understanding has shaped the way people tend to communicate with God.
“Every time we talk about or think about or contemplate our relationship with God, we have to think in human terms because that’s what we bring-our human experience,” he said. “I think God knows something about what it’s like to be a human being.”
Drawing from his own experiences as a Franciscan priest, Horan began the discussion on relating to God by referencing the works of Catholic philosopher St. Augustine of Hippo, and how his focus on God was adapted and varied by the Franciscan order.
“For St. Augustine the question was all about rightly-ordered loving-‘What do I love,’ ‘who do I love?’ I love my God,'” he said. “The switch in the Franciscan tradition I from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’-how do I love my God? It’s a question that’s really about relationship … it’s something that we share-something between God and us.”
According to Horan, all are in a relationship with God-a person’s mere existence, he said, can be interpreted as a sign of God’s presence the lives of humans.
“Everybody-whether they’re conscious of it, whether they’re aware of it, whether they’re thinking about now or not-is in a relationship with God,” he said. “This idea of contingency is a sign of God’s love.
“Our relationship with God, whether we realize it or not, is always and everywhere a human relationship,” he said. “Because just like everybody in your life, whether you’re really close to them or not … you bring your whole self. The same is true with God.”
The way people view their relationship with God, Horan noted, varies considerably.
While some regard God as a patriarchal figure, he said, others might interpret God as a friend or even a lover. The Franciscan tradition focuses on identifying and developing those relationships.
“The question, ‘How do I love when I love my God?’ presupposes that we have some sort of relationship with God, and I think that makes sense particularly if you take the Gospel seriously,” Horan said.
Horan also noted that throughout Christian tradition, God and other religious figures are often compared to parental images, with God representing the father and Mary the mother. This notion of a parental relationship with God, however, might not be ideal for those with who have had negative or abusive parental relationships.
“If you’ve had bad experience with family members-if you’ve been abandoned or abused-perhaps these images are not help when thinking about your relationship with God,” Horan said.
For Horan, the idea of “dating God” stems from a fundamentally human desire to know God in an alternatively intimate way. Though he noted the concept of dating God isn’t helpful for everyone, it provides Christians an opportunity to develop an understanding and bond with God in a nuanced way.
“I think the action, the dynamism of the verb ‘dating’ is helpful when thinking about God,” Horan said.