Friday, January 28, 2011


Today’s (28 Jan) memorial of St Thomas Aquinas fits well into this week for me personally: on Wed (26 Jan) I gave a talk to the Mobile Kiwanis Club about inter-faith dialogue, and for part of it I used a brief essay that I made part of a Trialogue (“Christians, Jews & Muslims Together”) event in the recent past. Coincidentally, this past Thurs evening (27 Jan) we had another Trialogue event, with the topic of “Peace: what does this look like for people of faith?” All this leads me to do a “re-print” of sorts—in slightly edited form, what follows below is my reflection.


In many ways I think the faith of Rabbi Silberman, Mr Ashraf Sayyad and myself is derivative. The rabbi’s belief in the Master of the Universe is transmitted through Moses. Mr Sayyad’s belief in Allah is the result of the witness of Muhammad. My belief in God is derivative from my belief in the Resurrection of Jesus. My own study leads me to conclude, in the phraseology of John Henry Cardinal Newman, that there is a ‘convergence of probabilities’ that makes an act of faith in Jesus, in virtue of the Resurrection, a reasonable thing to do. This leads me to my belief in His being Messiah and Son of God. While Jews and Muslims agree that God must never be represented or imaged, I confess that I hold Jesus as the image of the invisible God, the form of God I can see, leading me to love of the God I cannot see.

I am aware that this ‘convergence’ doesn’t have to lead to such a belief: the Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide, for example, could accept the historicity of the Resurrection while still rejecting the idea of the Messiahship (to say nothing of the divinity) of Jesus. But I, personally, do come to this conclusion.

It means for me that the proclamation of Jesus is at once and eternally a genuine insight into the nature of God, and that this insight is into the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom Jesus called Abba. It is through this lens that I come to my understanding of God.

There is a song popular in Christian “Praise and Worship” circles called Our God Is An Awesome God. Its refrain is: Our God is an awesome God/He reigns from heaven above/With wisdom, power and love/Our God is an awesome God. To be able to sing this with full conviction is surely a joyful, energizing and (if I may say it) triumphalistic celebration of the God of presence.

For me, though, all too often, it seems that “My God is a silent God” (a Deus absconditus, a “hidden God”). Some mystics have glorious visions of the Deity; I am more at home with writings like The Cloud of Unknowing or The Dark Night of the Soul. I resonate with the poetry of St Thomas Aquinas, celebrating the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, when he writes (in the Holy Week hymn Pange, Lingua): Et si sensus deficit/Ad firmandum cor sincerum/Sola fides sufficit… Praestet fides supplementum/ Sensuum defectui [And if senses finally fail us/For to strengthen hearts that trust/Faith alone is what one needs… Faith stands ready to assist us/When our senses fail to see.] And so you can see that slogans like the mediaeval cry Deus vult! [God wills it!] are foreign to my experience—I am simply not so sure I know God’s will for someone else that I am able to lead any Crusades. I only want to bear witness, to “cry the Gospel with my life” (as Bl Charles de Foucauld expressed it). This is the form of evangelization that I choose to embrace, one that can lead others to an attractive confrontation with my Faith based upon its realization in my life.

And so I am very uncomfortable with those (especially on TV) who seem to have 14 conversations with God every day, when they are told specific things to say or do—quite specific things. This is not my experience.

And yet, I do have (beyond my trust in the Resurrection) what the poet William Wordsworth called “Intimations” of God’s presence—the quality of the answer to certain prayers (including those that led me to seminary, or at the times of my Dad’s and my Mom’s deaths): intimations that force nothing yet invite and hint at everything. I trust them; I choose to remember them, I embrace them. It my hope they are (it all is) true.

St Paul (Rom 8:24) tells us that hope is not hope if we in fact already see. My faith, then, my hope, is to be able one day to see, to know even as I am known (I Cor 13:12). What supports and sustains this hope, for me?

Two things lead me to trust in God’s existence and love: to return to the beginning, my trust is in the reality of the Resurrection and the proclamation of God as a loving Father of forgiveness and healing—the God that Jesus announced as the Good News of the Kingdom. Second is the community of the faithful of which I wish to be a part: the people like Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola; Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Teresa of Avila; Cardinal Newman and Cardinal Bernardin; Bl Pope John XXIII and Bl Charles de Foucauld. These people knew all too intimately themselves the ‘dark night’; all followed Jesus to the cross and (in the words of the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner) looked down from the cross into the abyss of darkness, entering into it with Jesus, trusting that at the bottom they would find Abba-Love. I want to join them in this journey.

The Jews (I defer to Rabbi Silberman) have a story that when a rabbi dies, it is because there is a tremendous debate going on in heaven over some point of Torah, and another voice is needed. I believe that this debate is real, even if I cannot hear the voices and the arguments right now, and I am excited about the possibility of getting the chance to have my say.


  1. This beautiful and amazing piece reminds me of my favorite quote. "Charity is the infusion of the Spirit of God, which makes us LOVE the beautiful and HATE the morally ugly." -- Archbishop Fulton Sheen

  2. Father has given us a wonderful and penetrating glimpse into the journey of a Catholic priest in accepting Jesus Christ as his savior and thus of the everlasting life of the Roman Catholic Church.
    In mulling over our Catholic heritage, I have been fascinated with one of the essays of G.K. Chesterton. He calls it the 'Five deaths of the faith'. He comments how completely a society can lose its fundamental religion without abolishing its official religion. He cites, as an example, the ending of the Dark Ages broadening into the daylight that was called the modern world. Thomas Aquinas was instrumental in this, creating a philosophy which attracted a better following among YOUNG MEN than among the old.
    Chesterton does a fantastic job of introducing St. Thomas Aquinas to lay people. For instance, the essence of St. Thomas' thought:
    1. St. Thomas' affirmation of the goodness of creation.
    2. His philosophical realism and consequent defense of common sense.
    3. The primacy of the doctrine of being -- a thing cannot BE and NOT BE at the same time and in the same way --there is a false and a true.
    I have trepidly stepped into areas of learning of great minds to encourage others to explore our God's plan with and for his church.