In Sherry Weddell’s book, she writes about a conversation she had with a Catholic women’s group leader, and how that woman’s answer knocked her socks off:
Her stories were so vague that I wasn’t hearing any evidence of how God might be using her. . . . So I asked her a question that I had never asked before: Could you briefly describe to me your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?
After thinking carefully for a few moments, she responded briskly, “I don’t have a relationship with God.” Her answer stunned me. My first thoughts were, “That’s not possible. You’re a leader in your parish. You wouldn’t do that without some kind of relationship with God . . ..”
. . . By the end of the interview, I realized she had accurately described her spiritual reality.
So now the question comes to me: How would I describe my lived relationship with God to this point in my life?
A question, I have to admit, I hadn’t given much consideration until now. On the one hand, I’m not surprised that I’m not the only Catholic who hadn’t given that question any thought whatsoever. On the other hand, I’m shocked that so few Catholics have given any thought to that question whatsoever.
So now that I’m thinking about it, here’s what I got:
I’ve always regarded God as Father – 12 years of Catholic education, weekly Mass, and determined Catholic parents will instill that. I always knew He was there, that He heard our prayers. Problem was, I saw my relationship with Him much in the same way as I viewed my relationship with my dad. I think such transference is natural, and I was/am no exception. My dad was rather strict, a bit of a disciplinarian, stoic (but not detached), expected us to always try our hardest and give our best, and brooked no dissent. He loved Mom, worked hard to provide for us, and was a man of his word. He made it clear that he was our dad, and not our friend. For a long time, I kinda regarded God the same way.
In other words, I had a sense of respect mixed with equal parts fear and awe, and tried to avoid getting caught doing bad stuff, but as for love? Lacking, to say the least.
Which, to a kid, is what you’d expect. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized my relationship with God hadn’t matured in quite the same way my relationship with my own father had. My relationship with my dad changed when I became a husband, and it changed even more when I became a dad. As time went on, all the perceptions I had of him as a man seemed to coalesce into one concrete reality: he was a man of his word. In everything he said and did – married for 60+ years, loved our mom, raised his family, supported the Church, stood by his friends – he kept his word.
It has taken time for me to realize that God is a Person of his Word. In fact, it took Mary, the Mother of God, to make me realize it. Her intercession and prodding helped me understand that God is worthy of my trust. Isn’t that nuts, that I actually didn’t trust God? I had the fear/awe/respect trifecta down pat, but not much else. I think the lack of trust was underscored by a lack of hope, and that lack of hope sprung from a fear of being judged rather than being forgiven. But Mary showed me that I wasn’t beyond God’s love and forgiveness – that He always loved me, even when I was farthest away from Him. It was time to come out of the wilderness, and return to the Father who was waiting off in the distance. And once I did that, once I dared to hope, once I was forgiven, my relationship with God started to deepen.
So where am I now? I have a long way to go. I can always love more, hope more. I see in my relationship with my sons similarities in how I related with my dad. I can do better in balancing “the rules” with God’s love, tender mercy and boundless forgiveness. I can model God’s trustworthiness by being a man of my word.
All of us are called to be disciples – some for the benefit of the whole Church, some for the good of their parish, some for the betterment of their families, or a combination of all those things. I believe I’m called to be a disciple in order to become a better father. I’m excited to see if that’s where this journey takes me.
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