Brennan:  Yes, I can really relate to what you’re saying, Michael. My own father, God bless him — with an eighth-grade education because he had to go out and support his own family because his father was alcoholic — was only available to speak an abusive word or tell me to go to my room and drop my pants and beat me over the back and buttocks with his leather belt. My image of God the Father, my image of any father, was one who was abusive, demanding, correcting, scolding, criticizing and a constant monologue to me of impatience and chastisement with my behavior.

There was a fascinating study done in 1976 that said those who have had a negative experience with their human father and those who’ve had a very positive experience can have the same, intimate Abba experience because let’s not underestimate the power and wisdom of Jesus Christ crucified, who leads us into the Abba experience.

Michael:  Didn’t you just have a birthday?

Brennan:  I just had my 70th birthday, and one of the things you notice about your 70th birthday that you don’t notice at your 50th or 60th or 65th is how difficult it is getting out of a car [laughs]! There are certain parts of your body you’re aware of that you used to take for granted.

What I did [for my birthday] was go to a restaurant in the French Quarter [in New Orleans] owned by two friends. I invited 10 friends from around the country who’ve stood with me in the bad weather of life. It wasn’t so much to celebrate my birthday as to celebrate their friendship. So I hosted the dinner, and I gave them all a couple of nice presents; and I wanted to thank them all for being so good to me. But before we began the dinner, I wanted to have a little prayer service. Since we were having a dinner party, I went to this passage in chapter 14 of John. After the reading, I gave a little homily. The homily was actually a poem from one of my heroes in my life [Daniel Berrigan], who is one of our great American poets and also a peace activist.

The question has come: How does one sustain one’s life in Christ after one has had the saved experience? One, a disciplined life of prayer is absolutely indispensable. By that, I mean showing up and shutting up 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening, with a notable exception for young parents, who certainly are so preoccupied by their children (but who can do spontaneous prayers during the day).

The second way to grow in faith is in the inspired words of Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov. An elderly woman comes to him, this renowned spiritual guru; and she says, “I’m losing my faith.” He says, “Why do you say that?” She says, “I’ve lost any sense of the presence of God.” He says, “Go out and love three people every day.” Because of the inextricable connection between faith, hope and love, every act of love increases our faith. There is so much going on in the Christian world about growing in faith, and it means memorizing Scripture; it means going to concerts; it means going to lectures; it means hearing all these gifted speakers. I wonder when I see 50,000 people at a Christian rock concert, if anyone had gone that day to visit a shut-in to get their own spiritual inspiration.

When Jesus was asked by the lawyer, “You’ve been teaching for three years. You’ve told all kinds of parables; you’ve given all kinds of sermons. Your sermon on the mount was unforgettable. Could you just condense, boil down into a simple sentence the essence of your message?” Jesus says, “Yes, it’s all about loving God. That means by giving Him time every day and loving your neighbor.” That’s the real Jesus of the Gospels. That’s the Christ we’re called to follow. Let’s set aside a lot of this “hoorah” and pay attention. Christianity is all about loving, and you can take it or leave it. It’s not about worship or morality. Those are expressions of the love that causes them both. So let’s get back to the heart of Jesus, who said, “Love God with all your heart.” It can be the elderly. It can be your own family. It can be your children. It can be a colleague down the street. There is no substitute for growing in faith by spending time with God and loving your brothers and sisters.