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home : bishop : columns

5/28/2015 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Seeking truth in friendship
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


It matters who or what your "God" is.

By "God," in this writing, I mean the one, ultimate ground that constitutes the center of one's entire existence: what one lives for, that without which one's life itself has no meaning.

This "God" is not necessarily who or what a person says he or she believes in. One may profess belief in some "God," but act habitually in a manner totally at odds with this belief.

Non-churchgoers, for example, are quick to call the hypocrisy of neighbors who "praise the Lord" long and loudly on Sunday and curse and con God's creatures on Monday. For what it is worth, Scripture has noted such inconsistencies, too.

Churchgoers, for their part, have been known to point out that those who claim allegiance to no particular denomination, or even any religion at all, worship some idol nonetheless -- typically some variation of sex, money or power.

Everyone seems to live for something or someone, at least much of the time.

I raise the issue here only to suggest that it makes sense to ask ourselves, first of all, how honest we are in our own faith -- or lack thereof. Secondly, if anyone is entering into an association or friendship with other persons, it makes sense to ask the same of them. Here's why.

As a Christian, one may profess belief in Jesus Christ. Yet experience reveals that there are many notions of who Jesus Christ is, some of them even contradictory. Is "my" Jesus just a teacher? a nice guy? a pal? If He is any or all of these, that "Jesus" is much less than the Jesus who, in the Scriptures, identifies Himself with God: "I and the Father are one."

If all Jesus is to me is a buddy, then I can hit Him up when I need Him, but I don't have to worship Him. Nice guys are great to have around, but not when I want my own privacy. A teacher may instruct me on what to know and do, but is unable actually to empower me to do what I should.

A Pew survey taken not long ago (2007) discovered that only 48 percent of Catholics actually believed it was possible to have a personal relationship with God. In other words, they had no real confidence that God was actively and personally involved in their lives.

If this be so, it explains much about the perceived disparity between Christian worship and Christian behavior. If my religious behavior is just a way of pleasing or appeasing God, but not allowing God to change me, then God is not really even a friend, but more of a boss.

In fact, if it is God who changes because of the way I behave, then it is I who am in charge of "God." A God whom I can control can hardly be much of "God" at all, let alone my savior. He is more like a toy or a token I can put in a drawer to hide or take out when I want to or feel I need to.

Here's my point: It is not enough just to take one's word on what or whom he or she says they believe in. Actions speak louder than words!

A more recent Pew survey (2015), reporting the decline of those identifying with any particular religion (the so-called "Nones") in the United States, has raised questions about whether Americans are becoming a nation of non-believers.

Do not believe that! Everyone believes in -- or holds onto -- something or someone. Without having a real conversation that goes beyond a few texts and emails, however, it may not be possible to discover where another's faith rests - but it is vitally important to know.

At some point - sooner rather than later - if one seeks to build a good friendship or any kind of stable relationship, it makes sense to engage in an honest and open conversation about whom or what one is living for.

In our contraceptive culture, uncommitted men and women often become involved in seemingly intimate relationships wherein they share their bodies and passions, but do not enter into the true realm of intimacy, the human heart and soul.

Who or what, really, am I living for? Who is the center of my life? Who do I look to as my God and Savior? Pope Francis continues to remind us about the need to "encounter" our neighbor. This means more than just to exchange conventional greetings and casual conversation. It also means much more than sharing an apartment or even a bedroom, whether as a traditional family or any of the contemporary variations. Bodies may be close, but hearts and minds can be worlds apart. Love and intimacy are ultimately an act of the will, not of the degree of physical proximity.

Getting to know and love someone is a wonderful human experience. But to really know and love anyone, it is essential to get to know who or what that person believes to be the center of their lives.

For a Christian, of course, that is Jesus Christ, God and man. Knowing that one's friend or lover shares the same core belief and is willing to let go of any idol taking His place gives stability and unity to that relationship that nothing else can.

If core beliefs among friends are different, then honesty and common sense suggest that such friends have the courage and integrity to speak their true hearts and minds to one another. Who knows where than may lead? The desire to seek the truth is itself a move toward God.

In the words of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), "Who seeks the truth seeks God, whether they know it or not."

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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