Franciscan authors book on ‘dating’ God

NEW YORK - Getting to know God is akin to entering a dating relationship, according to Franciscan Brother Daniel P. Horan.

When two people already like one another, they devote copious amounts of time and energy to learning everything they can about each other and joyfully anticipate spending time together, he explained.

"Dating requires intentionality, planning and effort," Brother Horan said.

Brother Horan, a member of the Order of Friars Minor, is the author of Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis. At 28, he is not very far removed from the more traditional understanding of dating.

The oldest of four boys, Brother Horan attended Catholic schools and was an altar server, lector, eucharistic minister and sacristan at Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica, in the Diocese of Syracuse. He felt drawn to the priesthood in high school and studied theology and journalism in the honors program at St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan school in Olean.

"Over the course of four years, I got to know the friars' intellectual traditions and spiritual life and develop personal relationships with the friars themselves," he said in an interview with Catholic News Service.

In college, Brother Horan ran a photography business, specializing in sports and news coverage. He called it "a hobby that got out of control." His freelance clients included CNS, Associated Press and Getty Images.

After graduation in 2005, Brother Horan entered the Franciscans. He is one of five men from his parish who became Franciscans.

Brother Horan earned a master's degree in systematic theology at Washington Theological Union and will complete a master's in divinity in May. He expects to be ordained May 19 in Silver Spring, Md. After a summer assignment to St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J., he will begin studies for a doctorate in systematic theology.

The dating imagery occurred to him during a Franciscan workshop on the writings of Sts. Francis and Clare during his novitiate. "Their expressions of their relationship with God, while not quite love letters, evoked images of the tenuousness, ambivalence, excitement, energy and passion of dating," Brother Horan said.

"Like other images for the human-divine interrelationship, it won't be helpful for everybody. Any language to talk about our relationship with God always falls short, but this one is shocking and startling enough to get people thinking about their relationship with God in a new way," he said.

Traditionally, God has been referred to as parent, companion, friend, even lover, in the Song of Songs, Brother Horan said. "I like the dating metaphor, because it's an active verb," he said.

Dating has a romantic connotation, which works for the metaphor, Brother Horan said, because the beginning of a romantic relationship is a more rarified, focused and intense version of the beginning of all healthy relationships.

"Christian tradition has always emphasized making a date with God, but you won't find it in the Gospels that way. It's a focus on solitude and the distinction between loneliness and being alone. The idea that we would set aside time to be alone with someone in order to get to know them better and allow ourselves to be known" is common to both dating and prayer, he said.

Brother Horan reflected on the connection during a five-day hermitage experience. A self-described extrovert, he said it is easy to get distracted by noise and technology, rather than acknowledge the merit of quiet and solitude. Many people are afraid of silence and equate being alone with depression, sadness and boredom. Seeing it as being alone with God changes the dynamic, he said.

"We can learn about who we are and our relationship to God by looking at our relationships with people. This is off-putting to some who want to make God removed from creation," Brother Horan said.

"We bring our entire selves to all our relationships," including fears, joys, emotions, anxieties and happiness, he said.

All relationships require work, Brother Horan said. Early on there is energy, intensity and effortlessness "and you might change because of the other person," he said, but the ease does not continue. Friends, couples and believers need to devote time to reconnect and be alone with one another in shared experiences.

"We still need to go on dates with God. There has to be an intentionality to our prayer life," he said. "Going to church once a week in a crowd doesn't cut it. It's good, but it's not enough. You can't have a relationship if you don't spend time alone together."

He cautioned the dating image is only a starting point for a new way to see things.

In addition to his studies and service as a deacon, Brother Horan delivers talks on topics as diverse as Franciscan spirituality and "The Digital Christ: Communion in a Technological Era." And he knows he must make the time himself to maintain his relationship with God.

Brother Horan is eagerly anticipating his ordination and recommends that other young people consider whether they have a religious vocation.

"I love this way of life and I would encourage others to give it a try," he told CNS. "There's so much competition for our attention that religious communities get drowned out by the noise. I'm grateful that the spirit has led me to this way of life and I'd encourage others not to write it off."

Get the book

Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis (129 pp., $14.99) was published by St. Anthony Messenger Press,

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970