Seeking connection to something holy

Have you ever asked: Why this story of three strangers we know very little about, traveling to honor the newborn child Jesus?  Were they believers, or searching for something to believe in? In the second reading, St. Paul speaks of his epiphany “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus . . .”  (Eph 3: 2-3a, 5-6). The Epiphany, it would seem, is not just the revelation of Christ to believers, but to all.

This summer I had an “aha” moment with an atheist friend. He is perhaps one of the most thoughtful, open and kind people I know.  And, unlike some Christians these days, he’ll speak charitably about matters of faith with anyone willing to engage him. He’s a philosopher, so I always presumed his atheism was primarily grounded in belief in the primacy of reason, until he said something which blew me away.  He shared that he was aware that many believers in God experienced what we Christians would describe as the desire for God “written in the human heart.” “I’ve never experienced that,” he said. “If there is a God, that seems terribly unfair and perhaps even cruel.” It hadn’t occurred to me that his atheism might also stem from a sense that as a human being he’d been robbed of something holy.

Did the magi have a similar sense that drew them to Jesus?  Did they walk away believers in Christ? There are many fellow travelers in this world who resemble us Christians in many substantial ways, but for whom belief in God does not come easily and may seem impossible.  Wasn’t the message of Christ to St. Paul that these brothers and sisters of ours are also “members of the same body?” If so, how might we do them homage, instead of being stymied by their disbelief? Though it may not seem so to him, I believe that my friend’s heartfelt objection to the absence of some innate connection to God in his life was in and of itself something holy, worthy of homage.

—Fr. Mark Mossa, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Midwest Province and is the Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary Student Parish in Ann Arbor, MI.

Prayer

If you are called Love I adore only you, Lord.  If you are called Goodness I adore only you. If you are called Pardon I adore only you, Lord.  If you are called Passion, I adore only you. My prayer rises to you who are so far from me now, To you who are so far . . .

—Excerpt from “Love from Afar,” by Amin Maalouf, as quoted in The Unmoored God: Believing in a Time of Dislocation, by Paul G. Crowley, SJ)