CNS PHOTO | BOB ROLLER
Franciscan Brother Daniel Horan holds a copy of his book, Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis.
Getting to know God is akin to entering a dating relationship, says Franciscan Brother Daniel 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," Horan said.
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 far removed from the more traditional understanding of dating.
The oldest of four boys, Horan attended Catholic schools and was an altar server, lector, eucharistic minister and sacristan at Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica, N.Y. He felt drawn to the priesthood in high school and studied theology and journalism at St. Bonaventure University.
"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.
After graduation in 2005, Horan entered the Franciscans. He is one of five men from his parish who became Franciscans.
He was to be ordained May 19 in Silver Spring, Md. After a summer assignment in a parish in New Jersey, 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," Horan said.
Traditionally, God has been referred to as parent, companion, friend, even lover, in the Song of Songs, he said. "I like the dating metaphor, because it's an active verb."
Dating has a romantic connotation, which works for the metaphor, he said, because the beginning of a romantic relationship is a more rarified, focused and intense version of the beginning of all healthy relationships.
The Christian tradition, he said, has always emphasized the idea of making a special time to be with God. "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.
A self-described extrovert, Horan 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.
All relationships require work, Horan said. Early on there is energy, intensity and effortlessness "and you might change because of the other person," he said.
That sense of 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."
At the time of the interview, Horan was eagerly anticipating his ordination and recommended 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 said.