A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Paul Baumann on George Weigel

Commonweal editor Paul Baumanns review of George Weigels Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church is now available at the website of The Nation. Excerpts follow:

When President Obama was invited to give the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in 2009, more than eighty bishops condemned the university. That a duly elected president of the United States should be regarded as a moral monster unworthy of being given a hearingespecially at a school as steeped in American patriotism as Notre Dameis bizarre. The uproar and the bitter recrimination that followed Obamas speech revealed how deeply divided and directionless the once formidably cohesive American Catholic Church has become. And if George Weigels new book is any indication of where the churchs hierarchy is headed, the divisions promise to grow deeper. Indeed, a good deal of the blame for the bishops belligerent public posture can be laid directly on the desk of the author of Evangelical Catholicism. ...According to Weigel, the evangelical Catholicism of his books title represents a necessary departure from the Counter-reformation or so-called tribal Catholicism of recent centuries. In his view, a Catholicism held together by ethnic affinities possesses neither the fervor nor the missionary commitment needed to meet the challenges of postmodernity. In place of the bricklayer bishops who built a Catholic subculture of schools, hospitals and civic associations across America, whats needed today are bishops like the late John Paul II, men who speak of their faith in compelling, adamantine and fearless ways. These bishops will be disciplinarians, unabashed in demanding doctrinal obedience from priests, women in religious orders and those in the pews. Theologians and politicians who publicly dissent from church teaching must be told that they are no longer Catholic in any meaningful sense. Catholics who do not believe everything the church teaches should leave. (It will be interesting to see how this new breed of priests and bishops responds to the leadership of the recently elected Pope Francis, who seems to take a less confrontational approach to secular culture than Weigel does.) ...Why would Weigel assume that the deep reform of the Catholic Church is relevant to the political and cultural life of most Americans? Because he thinks that, as with Poland under communist domination, Americas fate is now intimately linked to that of Catholicism. The Catholic Church is now the worlds premier institutional proponent of human rights and democracy, he claimsby which he means that the churchs social doctrine offers a principled framework for the preservation of the Wests failing democracies. As far as Weigel is concerned, no other options are available.What to make of these grandiose claims? In one sense, Weigel is repeating what the Catholic Church has always taught. Conversion is what Christianity is about, and so Catholicism, often married to Aristotelian and Thomist notions of natural law and natural rights, remains a vital force in the American political tradition. But the resources of that tradition are broader than the abstract and self-evident truths, invoked by the Declaration of Independence, on which Weigel places such emphasis. The tradition has made use of a variety of philosophical resources, including Enlightenment rationalism, civic republicanism, secular liberal rights theory and pragmatism. It is unlikely we will succeed in forging a more perfect union if we do not make use of all the political resources at our disposal.

You can read the whole thing here. (Update: We earlier noted the inclusion of a link at the end of The Nation's online version of the review; that link has since been removed.)


Commenting Guidelines

Ann - I have the book of M. Teresa's correspondence, but haven't read it yet. Have you?Crystal, I have read something by William Barry, but it made no lasting impression. I just found the book on my bookshelf and will read it again. It's pretty short. Last fall I read a book on the Examen and found it to be somewhat superficial and shallow, especially his "real life" examples for how it worked at each step. I tried to follow the steps of the examen for a while, but it never engaged me and I was frustrated with the process. I found the explanation of spiritual consolation and desolation and how to "interpret" these feelings also to be describing what seems a terribly subjective process. Perhaps I need some better reading material on the subject! I will explore the links at the Ignatian Spirituality website and try to be open-minded. But I have never succeeded in the kinds of guided meditation or contemplative practices that ask me to imagine myself in a particular scene described in the gospels (or anywhere else). I guess I just don't have that kind of an imagination and the exercise "feels" silly to me. I know others are able to do it though.Fr. K, your brief comment makes more sense to me than the notion of a "personal friendship" with Jesus does, at least as this term is commonly used by evangelicals and repeated in George Weigel's book. I will follow the link you provided as soon as I have time.

Jesus did have friends in Lazarus and Mary and Martha. But the question asked is can and will Jesus be friends with us and as much evidence as we might dig up one way of the other, as much as we talk "about" Jesus, the only thing that may answer the question is to actually try talking "with" Jesus, try friendship and see what happens.

In scripture, one clear path we are offered to have a relationship with Jesus is through a relationship with people who are poor and marginalized. We are told when we encounter the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner we are meeting Jesus. The late Dean Brackley, SJ has written on this topic in his book -- The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola-- I highly recommend the book.Here is link to a wonderful meditation he wrote which touches on this theme:"The victims of history -- the destitute, abused women, oppressed minorities, all those the Bible calls 'the poor' -- not only put us in touch with the world and with ourselves, but also with the mercy of God. There is something fathomless about the encounter with the poor, as we have said -- like the opening of a chess game with its infinite possibilities. If we let them, the poor will place us before the abyss of the holy Mystery we call God. They are a kind of door that opens before that Mystery and through which God passes to get at us. Clearly we need them more than they need us."

Jack Marth, good point: Our reciprocal friendship with Jesus is through service to others ... and if we are the body of Christ, this makes a lot of sense.

A number of the themes we've been discussing on this thread -- relationship with Jesus, evangelization, service -- are present in the remarks that Pope Francis addressed to over 150,000 member of ecclesial movements gathered in Vigil yesterday afternoon in Saint Peter's Square. Vatican Radio reports his words here:

Anne,Yes, I think different styles of prayer suit different personality types better or worse. I've tried centering prayer and meditation and found it really hard to keep my mind still - I seem to be better at imagining stuff. As that old saying goes, pray as you can, not as you can't :) If you're happy with your prayer style, that's the important thing, I think.

"But if Jesus is your friend, surely you dont tell him what to do!"David N. --You'd be surprised :-) Yes, sometimes I surely do come close to telling my dear brother Jesus something like "Dear Jesus, You have led me to think that a,b. and c are so, and You have seemed to imply that I should do x, y and z because of it. Now it turns out you're telling me something else -- something just the OPPOSITE? Come on, dear Jesus, you really have to clarify all this for me. If you don't, I'm just not going to do anything." True, I only talk like that in desperation, but when I have truly been trying to do the right thing He always comes through. Actually, I'm sure that "Lord, help me!" is an extremely common prayer, and He always does help.You, David, add, "And would you really say to a friend, You are my friend if you do what I command you?"" I answer that all friendships are different. No, I wouldn't *command* my other friends, though if necessary I might tell them what to do in strong language, e.g., This guy is bad news -- dump him! When I was in high school I attended a day of recollection by a Jesuit named Fr. John Lafarge. He talked about prayer. He said that it is literally having a conversation with God. It doesn't require using other peoples' words or repeating their thoughts. It doesn't need high-fallutin' or poetic words. It's talking with Him as we talk with a family member, only with even more intimacy. It's talking with Him about anything. I've been thankful for that lecture ever since.

Ann: In the wonderful movie Tree of Wooden Clogs, there's a scene in which a widowed mother, whose cow has just taken ill, goes to a tiny chapel and has a strong heart-to-heart conversation with Christ on the cross. Then there are those Psalms that ask "Why?" and cry, "Wake up, Lord! Why are you sleeping?"

Ann Olivier --"When I was in high school I attended a day of recollection by a Jesuit named Fr. John Lafarge. He talked about prayer."Wow! -- Attending a day of recollection with John LaFarge, SJ while in high school is almost like a high school student today attending a day of recollection with George Weigel (well sort of) LaFarge was to Pius XI everything Weigel would like to be to popes of our day. LaFarge was actually enlisted to write an Encyclical for Pius XI.

Isn't there a significant danger of making Jesus an imaginary friend? My sister had a college roommate who talked to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. (As best I can remember, she didn't claim they talked back!) Now, if you know a great deal about a historical person, I can see some value in having an imaginary conversation with him or her. It would be a kind of mental exercise. But you would have to keep the "conversation" grounded in what was really known about the person, otherwise you are creating your own Jesus, or Lincoln, or whomever. And you would have to be extremely cautious about what you believe you "hear back." Also, as for Fr. Komonchak's example from the film, I have seen and read similar fictional portrayals of people pouring their hearts out to God of expressing their anger toward him, and they can be very affecting. But in reality, if I could somehow be transported back in time and actually speak to Christ on the cross, I can't imagine saying anything, whether I believed he was God incarnate or a "marginal Jew" who somehow wound up being horribly executed.

David Nickol:But, of course, if Christian faith is true, then Jesus is not dead, but risen, and one doesn't have to go back two thousand years to find him. One of the roles of the Paraclete, said Jesus, is "to remind you of all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26; see 16:13-15), and we have in the whole of ch. 17 of John's Gospel an example of the prayer that Jesus himself continues to pray for us. Of course, there can be a danger "of making Jesus an imaginary friend." It can be met to some degree by reference to the Gospels and to the faith embodied in the great tradition. There is also a long and rich practice and theory of "the discernment of spirits."

Fr. Komonchak,Would I be wrong to assume that the concept of friendship with Jesus is, from a Catholic point of view, something that a person strives for from within the Church? It sounds to me like what you are talking about must be strongly grounded in something outside oneself. A person could "pray" by carrying on a one-sided, chatty "conversation" with Jesus, but Jesus (and the Church) had a number of specific things to say about how one should pray. A person could have some favorite stories and sayings from the Bible while not taking it in its entirety. I suspect that a "relationship" or "friendship" with Jesus is more like a discipline than an attitude. It doesn't seem like something the average person can do on his or her own.

David N,I think you're making it too difficult. Even being a disciple at the time of Jesus seemed to only require a willingness to be in his presence (I know there are those 'cost of discipleship' lines but most of those people with hi didn't give up their families or their homes or made themselves perfect or put their lives in jeopardy, they just hung around with him).Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila do have disciplines one can follow, but the only real requirement to be friends with Jesus seems to be a desire to be friends with him.And something my spiritual director is always reminding me of is that the friendship isn't all up to us - we don't have to bear the whole burden of making it possible and making it right - relationships are mutual and God has an interest in doing his part.

I think the terms "personal relationship with Jesus" and "accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior" are buzz terms. Catholics have them, too: Transubstantiation. Beatific Vision.They are attempt to give voice to some vague ideas that we are trying to understand and need a term to express.You'll probably get as many different explanations for each of these terms are there are people willinto to opine. Official dogmatic statements (Catholics only ... evangelicals abhor dogmatism, or so they think) might keep a few theologians happy, but are essentially incomprehensible or meaningless to the average person in the Catholic or evangelical pew.To me, as I get older, it's not about faith but about hope.

"To me, as I get older, it's not about faith but about hope" reminded me of a sign I once saw in front of a Baptist church in New Jersey.The message was simple. It said "Not to believe in God is to die with no hope". The message didn't say "you better believe in God" or "you need to be born-again" or "you better accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour". The message offered no promises or guarantees. It talked about hope - that wonderful theological virtue.I'm in the same camp as Mr. McCrea I guess.

Frankly, I don't care if there is no heaven. I just want to be able to die in with some measure of peace, the sense that I didn't screw things up too badly as measured against the standard of what Jesus wants. If there's anything beyond that, goody. Unless it's eternal torment, of course. That would be a drag given my current levels of torment by my employer ...Thanks to Fr. Imbelli for posting the link to Pope Francis's remarks. The Pope covers a lot of ground about his personal life and how it was shaped by many influences. I think he also reiterates some important Catholic fundamentals about service to the poor and recognizing humanity in all people.

Like other tastes, prayer styles and preferences will vary, I suppose, with a person's temperament, upbringing, reading, associates, and needs. Some people may be drawn to an affective, folksy kind of prayer, while others prefer something a bit more austere. But why must it be one or the other, or the same all the time for any one person?Wherever else fancy or fervor may lead, Christians might wisely begin and end their daily devotions with the Our Father. It's doctrinally sound; it centers one in a vast community of common belief; and it brings to mind the fundamental relationship between the Creator and creatures like us. It also comes highly recommended by a Friend.

This article from the latest issue seems to fit into this discussion:

As this has gotten farther and farther from Baumann on Weigel it has gotten increasingly intense. We are a long way from Catholicism informed by contemporary politics into John of the Cross/John Main country. Someone needs to re-frame this question slightly and open it up on a whole new thread.

Jack M. --Thanks for the information about Fr. Lafarge. He had what would today be called charism. Isn't that history of his draft of the encyclical discouraging -- the systematic placing of the Church's head in the sand and keeping it there. Why are these people so afraid of truth even after the Nazis and Fascists are dead and gone?

Oops -- charisma

Regarding the unpublished encyclical: I have on my "to read" list this book: XI has long been a fascination of mine. By all accounts he really tried hard to keep his head out of the sand at a time when most of the world seemed hell-bent on just that. LaFarge was clearly one the most important American Jesuits of the 20th Century. How amazing you got to meet this extraordinary man!

I think youre making it too difficult. Even being a disciple at the time of Jesus seemed to only require a willingness to be in his presence . . . .Crystal,What I am interested in is the idea of "personal relationship" and particularly "friendship." They both imply back and forth, give and take. I can be a disciple of Freud or Marx or Keynes, but I can't have a personal relationship with any of them or claim them as friends. I guess one question is whether Pope Benedict (and others who talk about personal relationships and friendships) would have said that being a "practicing," church-going, sacrament-receiving, faithful Catholic is having a personal friendship with Christ. If being a practicing Catholic or a good Christian of some other denomination is the same thing as forming a personal relationship with Jesus, then I guess it's just another way of talking about what I was taught during 12 years of Catholic school.

Jack M. -- TANGENTI wondered if Fr. LaFarge was related to the LaFarges here in New Orleans and that might have been why he was in the city. So I checked Wikipedia. But what I discovered was an article about his father, not him. His father, a descendant of Ben Franklin among others, was a fine artist who did religious work, especially stained glass windows. Among other things, he "is honored . . . with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on December 16", this is in spite of the fact that he remained Catholic. Hmm. What an interesting family.

On friendship with Jesus.During the 20 years after my marriage, I studied and practiced many different types of prayer with the goal of striving to understand and live a life pleasing to Jesus. Too often this lead for me to what I would call a frustrating and perhaps excessive striving and not enough listening. This lead me to silent prayer, or the prayer of the heart. After some practice and education about this type of prayer, I realized that this was not the complete answer, at least for me. My spiritual director at a retreat gave me a short solution. He said, Why don't you let God be God and Mike be Mike? To whit, God likes any type of prayer and our relationship with him is one that only He determines. Hence, we need to "let go" in order for God to take over. Silent prayer is one way, but not the only way. At least for me, I was drawn to mixing up communications with God with different types of prayer: with petitions, thankfulness, praise and humility in terms recognizing that I have many obstacles that prevent me from recognizing, understanding and living His plan for me. Sometimes the answer is simple and right in front of you, but many times we don't see it.The idea of "friendship with Jesus" is a difficult concept for me to use as a definition of my relationship with Him. Since I pray to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I tend to think of the Father as a Father/God, the Son as a big brother/God and the Holy Spirit as my spiritual director/God. I understand that each are in some ways an ultimate friend, but this seems to me to be too restrictive of a definition. I tend to think of each as someone who loves me more than I love myself, is my creator, who wants me to be happy and to experience eternal life and will never give up on me regardless of my imperfections and sinfulness. For me, God is God and my relationship with with God/Father/Son/Holy Spirit is difficult to define as "friendship", although I know that Jesus is my best friend.I focus more on my objective: I want to be pleasing to God, for Himself, and not for the blessings He freely gives me. This is very difficult for me to completely do because I fear hell and purgatory and any type of punishment for my sins. Clearly, I am mostly sorry for offending Him who is deserving of all my love, but I struggle with the command "to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect". I often have a perplexing guilt and disappointment because I often fail and offend Him. Thus, my relationship with Jesus falls short because of what I choose to do, not because of his Grace. It is a most complex feeling to believe that I will continue to fall, be forgiven, but somehow must face the reparation for my sins and the purification which I have no idea about. Thus, I am both fearful and imperfect, but also full of hope in His mercy and Grace. As my spiritual director often tells me, "Well, the most important thing is to keep trying".

David,"being a practicing, church-going, sacrament-receiving, faithful Catholic is having a personal friendship with Christ"I guess that's not my idea of friendship with Jesus/God. Friendship implies interaction and spontaneity - something that's alive, the possibility that something can grow, that something new might happen. Like with a relationship with a person. Or so it seems to me, but maybe this is all more about personality types than what's "best"?

Agree with Jim. Ann is a model of graceful aging.

Crystal,I agree and that is why I am disappointed with the inadvertent confusion that the Church causes for those who strive to understand both God's Word and Theology, in particular Moral Theology.Nevertheless, many questions are left unanswered by this issue of Grace and our Relationship with God. If Grace is a gift, which I agree, then are we all doomed to the purification and the temporary punishment due to sin? Some Catholics are not concerned with this issue, but some are. If we are all at the Mercy and Grace of God in judgment, then it seems to me that we will all fear death even if God' Judgment is all merciful, just and good for us. IMO, this fuels too much fear and trembling without a means in this life to repair the offense to God through sin. We can't escape sin regardless of how much we hate it. Clearly, we all fall on a continuum toward the person that God wishes us to become. It seems without reparation, there may be too much despair, depression, guilt, frustration, self-disappointment and not enough joy of salvation and the unknown.

On grace and sin, I was told recently that statues of St. Peter represent him with two keys, one gold and one silver, because the Kingdom of Heaven has a gate with two locks that need to be opened: one opens with the gold key, that is, with God's grace; and the other opens with the silver key, that is, our response to it.

"Why would it be that the king would bestow friendship on selected serfs and not all of them?"It may be that some of the neighbors have rejected the king's friendship. It's even possible that some haven't heard of the king's offer of friendship. It may also be that the king, for reasons that aren't clear to us, chooses certain people for certain things, e.g. why did Jesus call Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee among all the people he encountered?

"Human relationships are by their nature incompleteafter twenty-one years my husband remains a mystery to me and I to him, and that is as it should be (Q do you agree?)."Yes, I do agree, from a couple of perspectives: one, that I don't think we're able to completely plumb one another's depths. Two, and related to the first, is that it would seem sinful - perhaps the sin of pride - to assume we know the other so well and completely that it's not necessary to be open to new discovery and wonderment in the other.

David,When defining who is "fully incorporated in the society of the Church" the bishops at Vatican II added a kind of warning: ""He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart."" LG 14The issues you raise are being addressed here. Fulfillment of the rules, attending Church and sacraments are certainly a part of faith, but if it is done in a bodily manner, and does not transform the heart, it does not save. Francis, in the Pentecost Eve address cited by Fr Imbelli above, gives an example, describing an experience of Confession when he was 17. We go in our bodily manner, " but when we go, He is waiting for us, He is the first one there! We, in Spanish, we have a word that explains this well: "The Lord always there primerea" is first, is waiting for you! And it is a really great grace to find Someone who is waiting for you."So the practices described can be the occasion of a friendship, just as a meal can be the occasion of a friendship. It does not have to be, but it can be.

Crystal, thank you for your reply. As the thread has continued, it has become clear that there is no generally agreed upon definition of what a "personal friendship" with Jesus actually is. Those of us who find the terminology difficult to deal with understand "personal friendship" to be a relationship that is, well, personal, involving literal two-way engagement. Others define it in much more abstract terms. However, all seem to agree that prayer (of any kind, it seems) is necessary to this "friendship". For example, Bill M wrote: " A relationship with Jesus is cultivated by praying/talking to him every day as often as one can." However, even if I talk to God every day, as I once did (I have always related more to the idea of God, and "talk" to God, rather than having a focus on the person of Jesus), God does not talk back - except in the vague, subjective, emotional "senses" of feelings - awe, humility, gratitude for the sunset, or the beauty of a young baby or the power of the storm - and so it is not really the kind of close emotional relationship one thinks of as "personal" or as a "friendship." I can't help wondering if people truly experience such a thing, or if they create the experience in their minds because we human beings want to experience something like this. There is an existential loneliness to being human, even when surrounded by loving family and friends, and it is so comforting to think there is a loving God there who is "just waiting" for us. I would like to think it is true, and I would like very much to experience a "personal friendship" with God. But..... Is it really simply that belief provides hope when all is dark. But is it true? Or is it a desire of human need and wishful thinking?

"God does not talk back except in the vague, subjective, emotional senses of feelings awe, humility, gratitude for the sunset, or the beauty of a young baby or the power of the storm and so it is not really the kind of close emotional relationship one thinks of as personal or as a friendship. I cant help wondering if people truly experience such a thing, or if they create the experience in their minds because we human beings want to experience something like this. "And not to go all philosophical, but we may well wonder if any of the relationships we experience are real or happen in our minds. The same question can be posed of any and all human experiences.

Fr. Komonchak wrote above, "I do not believe that apart from revelation one would dare to believe that friendship is possible between God and human beings."I agree. And it may be that it's the kind of friendship that can exist between friends who are not equals, or at least do not spring from the same social stratum. It may be the kind of friendship that can exist between a king and a serf. If I am a serf, working a small farm near the border of our enemies, my life and property may be at risk. But because I am honored with the king's friendship, the king will send help to save me from my assailants. And my reaction is one of gratitude and awe that the king(!) has reached out in friendship and love to someone as lowly as me. And it may even be that not all of my peers among the serfs are honored to be friends of the king; it is not that I am an individual and anonymous beneficiary of a grand royal gesture that was intended to save everyone en masse, without regard to personal relationships, and I just happened to be in the right place; it is that he intended specifically to save each of his *friends*, including me. He sent his soldiers to *my farm*, to save *me*. How fortunate, how undeservedly fortunate, I am to be the king's friend.

Anne Chapman:You ask: " But is it true? Or is it a desire of human need and wishful thinking?"If there is no God, then that God is speaking to one is not true and may simply be wishful thinking. If there is a God, then it is quite possible that God is speaking to one. Possible, I say, because not everything one might think is God's address to oneself need be such. Yes, there is in any case "an existential loneliness to being human," in the sense that it is up to oneself to decide for oneself what to make of oneself--no one else can do that for one. The loneliness will be experienced differently, more or less acutely, by some than by others. And just as lonely people can rush heedlessly into one or more relationships with other people in order to fill up the void, so lonely people can turn to one or more religious relationships for the same purpose, and some of the latter may be no healthier than some of the former. But the question remains: Is loneliness the same thing as aloneness? Bernard Lonergan said that one of the ways in which the question about God arises is whether human beings are the only instance of freedom in the whole universe, the only beings that pursue value, the only beings that love, that produce beauty. If so, we are lonely indeed, alone in a dumb and inert universe. If not, then the universe itself, and we within it, is a work of art, worth-while, that is, valuable because the creation of freedom. This raises the question. It does not answer it.

It is remarkable that a critical review has engendered one of the most substantive and personal threads. George deserves some credit :-)

Belief can provide hope when all is dark, but it can also provide darkness. Why should truth and wishful thinking be opposed to one another? Food exists on its own but is also desired.The question is at a different level I think. Why do we desire God? How do we relate to the universe? Could some external reality provide answers to our deepest desires? Or does answering our deepest desires mean that the reality is not external? Those questions are hard to answer intellectually or emotionally. "I sought you outside, but you were within me" as St Augustine put it.That moves us even deeper into the questions. Who am I to desire God? And deeper than that. I like the Pope's description. When we go in search, we encounter Jesus there already, waiting for us. The search is always there, but Christ is as well.

In thinking about what Jim Pauwel wrote above, I'd say I think of Jesus as my patron and boss, and the saints as my friends. However, in trying to use language to describe our "relationship" with the Infinite--and certainly in our desire to connect with the Spirit--we learn how limited language is and how difficult it is to articulate what's going on. As for George Weigel deserving credit? I dunno. Seems to me the group here has turned a disagreement between two different types of Catholics into a catechetical opportunity. So yay us.

Jean: But wasn't it Weigel's point about having a relationship with Jesus that prompted much of this discussion? Knowing George fairly well, I think he would be pleased to see the matter discussed with such seriousness.Jim McK: Then there is Pascal: "Take comfort: you would not seek me if you had not already found me"And Augustine: "He sought you before you sought him, and he found you so that you might find him."Bernard Lonergan recounted that when a young Jesuit, he was asked by his spiritual director if he loved God. "I'd like to," Lonergan replied. "If you'd like to love God," the wise priest commented, "you do love God." That's worth thinking about.

Jean: But wasnt it Weigels point about having a relationship with Jesus that prompted much of this discussion? Knowing George fairly well, I think he would be pleased to see the matter discussed with such seriousness.Heck, I don't even remember now. Maybe. yay him.

There is a dryness and darkness about prayer and the way in which we communicate with God. St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa de Avila mention many stages of contemplative prayer where they have experienced both a dark night of the soul but also rapture. Few of us reach that point, but the issue is that just because we don't have an experience with Jesus as we have with our best friends, does not mean that he does not speak to us in various ways and transform us into the men or women he wishes us to be.Does describing our relationship with God as friendship really matter? Doubt and difficulty is part of our human existence and a good part of our striving and our prayer life based on faith. I often wonder how people of different faiths experience God. Doi they define it as a "friendship"? How do they pray and communicate with God? Does one have to practice silent contemplative prayer to grow closer to God and hear his voice within and outside of us, in others, in events, in tragedy and joy, in loneliness and confusion, in ignorance and wisdom? Certainly, a best friend will always look out for you, will give you his last dollar if you needed it, would shelter you and feed you if you asked for his help, and give you his best guidance on difficult matters. These attributes are part of human friendship and to describe God in terms of a friendship can at best only reflect part of what we feel and experience and the relationship we have with God. To come back to Weigel, what makes anyone think that a friendship with Jesus will transform us any differently than how people have been transformed throughout past centuries? In other words, there has always been profound disagreement and dissent to certain Church teachings in the past, and serious mistakes have been made by popes in the name of truth. All of them had a relationship with Jesus. We progress forward not backward as our knowledge of Scripture, philosophy, theology, science, our human condition, et al, increases. How we interpret the signs of the times and make moral decisions is in part based on our reason and guidance by God as part of our relationship with him. It is too simplistic to expect that yesteryear in any sense of the word, as in tribal Catholicism, and the blind obedience to every Church teachings is the answer for our divided Church today. I ask: Do we not rely of our relationship with God to guide us in both agreement and disagreement? If we disagree, why does this have to be the negative aspect of individualism, relativism or the ills of our secular culture?

Anne,I could just as well have written your last comment. I feel terribly lonely sometimes and I think that's a big part of why I haven't given up on prayer/relationship with God, even though it so often seems like I've reached the point of diminishing returns. Part of what keeps me interested in prayer as a relationship is that I know and know of people for whom it does seem to work and I wish I had what they do. And sometimes it does seem to work for me too - Jesus talking to me - in that Ignatin conversational prayer (colloquy). My spiritual director used to say it was like the movie Field of Dreams - build it (the prayer) and he will come - and so I keep trying to build it better :)At the end of the day, I guess that even with the uncertainty and the loneliness, my life it better now than it was before. I don't know if you'd be interested, but one place I like that's an example of Ignatian prayer is the Irish Jesuit site, Sacred Space ...

I'm coming late to a very interesting thread. I have to admit that for me the "personal friendship with Jesus" is largely rooted in the Mass. No, God does not talk to me in words, and praying does not usually arouse any particular emotion. But I remember that everything good comes from him, and there is no shortage of good things in my life, so in that way he is very present. It is rather amazing that I spend a fair amount of time alone, yet I am essentially never lonely. When it does happen that I have a touch of loneliness, all I have to do is think about Christ, and it makes me happy. It's so effective that, as Anne said, one wonders if it's all made up. I am aware of that possibility, but it does not shake that unreasonable confidence. In some ways I think that one may be more lonely when in the presence of family or friends. The connection with them is never perfect, and the glitches keep reminding you that there is a distance between them and yourself. They underline your loneliness in a way that Christ doesn't.

About talking with God -- It seems that the psychologists have recently discovered that people hallucinate a lot more than psychologists used to think. Apparently it is fairly common for people to think they hear voices without being schizophrenic. (It is typical of schizophrenics to hear real voices.) Many religious people think they have heard God speak to them. So if anyone is afraid of accepting words as actually real messages from Him, you are not alone, and maybe it wouldn't exactly be miraculous, since it is fairly common. And I say: why wouldn't God talk to His children individually from time to time? He made the whole wide world. Surely talking to us is not beyond His power.I don't think He's ever talked to me except for one word, once, many years ago. No, there's no way to prove it. On the other hand, given the particular circumstances when it happened, it would not be reasonable for me to assume that it came from my own unconscious. It just wasn't something that I would be inclined to say in such circumstances. I was in a fury at the time, and that one word was so hilarious in a grim sort of way I still laugh at it 20 years later. And believe me, I don't say funny things when I'm furious. I just get veeery nasty. So of the two hypothetical explanations, I go with the more likely one : the word wasn't from me, it was from Him.

Michael Barberi:Re: the command to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfectI heard from a sister at a parish talk years ago that the translation of "perfect" is not the true sense of the original. A more accurate reading was of "wholeness" not "perfection" (which is impossible anyway).It was helpful then, and is now as well.Ann and Barry Ulanov speak in their writings about encounters with God that are very particular as to time, place and circumstance. If memory serves, they recount Blaise Pascal writing about his experience and carrying it pinned to his coat for the rest of his life. Those glimpses of exchange, communication or presence can be very powerful, unmistakable in their imprint, and lingering in memory. Yes, Rita Ferrone: "Cant we afford to ignore Weigel? Really?" Absolutely! The arrogance is too much.

Here is Pascal's Memorial, found sewn inside his jacket on his death. I take it from

The year of grace 1654Monday, 23 November, feast of Saint Clement, Pope and Martyr, and of others in the Martyrology.Eve of Saint Chrysogonus, Martyr and others.From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight.Fire'God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,' not of philosophers and scholars.Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.God of Jesus Christ.God of Jesus Christ.My God and your God.'Thy God shall be my God.'The world forgotten, and everything except God.He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.Greatness of the human soul.'O righteous Father, the world had not known thee, but I have known thee.'Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.I have cut myself off from him.They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.'My God wilt thou forsake me?'Let me not be cut off from him for ever!And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.'Jesus Christ.Jesus Christ.I have cut myself off from him, shunned him, denied him, crucified him.Let me never be cut off from him!He can only be kept by the ways taught in the Gospel.Sweet and total renunciation.Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director.Everlasting joy in return for one day's effort on earth.I will not forget thy word. Amen.

Crystal, thank you. I have long been familiar with Sacred Space, however, I used it as a preliminary for Centering Prayer primarily for several years. I would "talk" with Jesus , but not put myself in the scene from the gospel passage. I had not looked at the site in a while, however - it is quite updated and I intend to start looking at it again every day as a start to CP. This thread has convinced me that even though I have found it almost impossible to pray in the last few years, I should at least go through the motions and see what happens. I have carried on monologues with God most of my day for many years and still do, a habit I suppose. But they have always been monologues, I don't "hear" God speaking to me, I don't "feel' God's presence. Those of you who do, give thanks for this gift because it can be taken away, as I have discovered to my sadness. I do believe there is a God, but beyond that, I am now even more doubting than Thomas and no longer say "Lord, I believe,.... Just "help my unbelief" at this point. On Sundays, when I go with my husband to church and it's time for the creed, I can't get beyond "I believe in God....creator of heaven and earth and all that is seen and unseen". Re loneliness - Ronald Rolheiser's book, The Restless Heart, starts with this: "No person has ever walked our earth and been free from pains of loneliness....To be human is to be lonely." Augustine's famous statement , "You have made us for yourself Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you" is another expression of this existential loneliness. All of us seek God, whether or not we know it. As far as attaining a "friendship" goes, however, it is easier said than done. Rolheiser also quotes Karl Rahner " the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we come to realize that, in this life, all symphonies must remain unfinished." Fr. K - your post of 2:16 provides some measure of comfort! Thank you. At 9:33 you wrote: "But the question remains: Is loneliness the same thing as aloneness?" No, at least I don't think so. I think that there is a big difference between being alone, or humanly lonely when not physically alone, and existential loneliness, which seems a loneliness that can only be assuaged by faith in a loving God. But, faith is not something that can be ordered up on demand.Jim P - "....we may well wonder if any of the relationships we experience are real or happen in our minds". This reminded me of a passage in Kathleen Norris's "The Cloister Walk". While living at St. John's Abbey and developing deep personal friendships with some of the monks, she reflected on her own marriage and wrote this - "Human relationships are by their nature incomplete--after twenty-one years my husband remains a mystery to me and I to him, and that is as it should be (Q - do you agree?). Only hope allows us to know and enjoy the depths of our intimacy."Jim P, you also wrote - "And it may even be that not all of my peers among the serfs are honored to be friends of the king;.... How fortunate, how undeservedly fortunate, I am to be the kings friend."Why would it be that the king would bestow friendship on selected serfs and not all of them? Finally, I am also reminded by this discussion of the famous lines of Rilke, written to a young poet. Is he right? Should we not "search" for answers? Or should we wait patiently while living the questions?".... have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Dont search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer".

Carolyn Disco,Thank you for pointing out that the word "perfect" meant wholesome. I did look up the meaning of this text and it has to do with maturity in terms of spiritual integrity. It has to do with the commandment to love as a complete love, as in loving our neighbor as ourselves. This means extending this love to those of our enemies and those who hate us. Of course, we can never attain such a level of maturity and completeness in this life. Thanks again for responding to my posting.My struggle is mostly with the concept of Grace and our "Relationship with God" which was the subject under consideration. Is Grace given to us based on our "spiritual relationship with God" or does God freely give us enough Grace to overcome the temptations of sins regardless of our state of spiritual condition and relationship with Him? Do we have to ask God for this Grace or does he look into our hearts and prayers and grant us enough Grace? If we don't "earn" this Grace by doing good works, but it is freely given to us by God, then how does the Church grant us special Graces, called 'indulgences' based on doing "various works" where we gain a plenary or partial remittance for the temporary punishment due to our sins? Lastly, if there is no certainly that we can enter heaven even after receiving a plenary indulgence (a Church teaching), but only by the Grace and Mercy of God, then what is the point about doing good works? Is more good works more pleasing to God than a few? Because we are all sinners, how do we atone for our sins in this life? Does this have anything to do with our 'relationship with God'? How so?If it is not God's Grace, but what I choose to do that causes me to sin, then this fuels both profound guilt and disappointment with myself when I sin, something that has both positive and negative consequences. After confession, the cycle starts over again. Praying, sacrament, good works, then at some point sin once again, confession etc. We keep striving and trying, but we are in the dark.

--- Yes, Rita Ferrone: Cant we afford to ignore Weigel? Really? Absolutely! The arrogance is too much. ---I had a similar comment about Ding Dong Donahue in another post and quite the opposite reaction was received.Who is more dangerous to the public's understanding of US Catholicism?