In recent years one of the special joys of Holy Week has been to participate in a day of prayer with our priests at Notre Dame Retreat Center at Canandaigua. Our format is a simple one. We meet for mid-morning prayer and enjoy a talk by our leader for the day. That session, usually no more that a half hour in length, is followed by a time of quiet prayer until lunch at noon. At 2 we gather for a second presentation that concludes the day’s formal schedule.
This year our presenter for the day of prayer is Father Paul English, CSB, who is well-known in our diocese. Early in his priestly ministry Paul served as campus minister at Nazareth College for about three years. That was followed by a longer — 10 years, I think — in a similar position at St. John Fisher College. At the present time he is with the Basilian Community at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Parish while serving on the leadership team of the Basilian Order.
In his first presentation this morning (April 4) Paul dealt with the theoretic question "Who is your God?" and began by recounting a story about a young woman who came to him to express her disbelief in God, expressing at the same time that her disclosure of that fact would not damage her relationship with Paul.
Paul’s response was to ask the young woman to describe this God in whom she no longer believed. As Paul told us of her reply it became clear that his friend’s concept of God was of a punishing, nit-picking, vengeful being who only delights in calling people to account for their failings in a most unforgiving way. Paul allowed that he could not believe in such a God either and attempted to sketch out a concept of a God who bore little resemblance to the one described by his young friend.
I was much intrigued by Paul’s question and spent a fair amount of our prayer time considering it. It led me to explore the ways in which I first learned about God and about the people who influenced me in my formative years. I thought as well about the people who still daily teach me about God.
Resting with Paul’s story about the young woman and praying with the question that he raised helped me to be more aware than I usually am of my own spiritual development over the years — and specifically about my concept of God. I’d have to say that the general arc of that development has been from an early sense that God was on the stern side to a later one that sees God as filled with mercy and compassion. If you asked me what has made the difference, I could say only that it has been a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus who embodies and makes known to us what God is really like. Jesus does not speak to me of a stern God but of a God who knows our sins and offers us forgiving love even before we realize we need it or ask for it.
I share this experience with you in the hope that you might find Paul’s question as helpful to you as it was for me. In this Easter season it seems a good thing to think about how we would describe God, about how we came to know God. No less important is to think about what the Lord Jesus teaches you about the God he called his Father.
Peace to all.