The idea of religious experience has changed over the years. In the earlier part of the 20th century, we witnessed an era in which the structure of a worship house invigorated new levels of religious feeling. Synagogues and churches alike invested heavily in creating buildings that would harbor inspirational worship. Vast expanses of space furnished with columns, stained glass and intricate moldings enabled the American worshiper to feel God’s greatness, majesty and holiness, while at the same time making him or her feel like a speck of dust. I am beginning to sense that this mode of worship no longer may reach most American religionists.

I believe that American religion is shifting toward valuing religious relationship more than the buildings in which communities gather. In the Jewish community in particular, we have witnessed a strong resurgence of the relational theology of Martin Buber. Buber wrote about the power of encountering our fellow men and women and finding God in these profound meetings. When two individuals connect with one another, according to Buber, they meet in what he calls an “I and Thou moment.” God emanates from the “I and Thou moments” that we find in our lives. The synagogue and the church cultivate these connections between individuals by creating opportunities for interaction beyond small talk. In praying, learning and performing acts of social action and social justice together, communities connect souls to each other and to God.

In seeing God as an integral relational partner, we might consider changing how we talk about connecting to God. We often express the idea of divinity in terms of belief. People ask each other whether or not they believe in God. Yet in the emerging culture of relational religion, people long for more than simply knowing whether or not God exists. Within the synagogues and churches of this country, we are discovering a compassionate, caring and comforting God through the power of building a community of relationships.

Relational religion emerges out of a society in which the majority of our interactions are through Facebook, email, text or on a cellphone. We never have been so connected to others, yet bereft of meaningful interaction. Our cyberworld deprives us of bonding with others in truly profound ways, causing us to crave relationships (not the kind that are created by having 1,000 friends on Facebook). Within religious institutions, we are beginning to see the reclaiming of the face-to-face encounter, and it is through these meetings that people are rediscovering God. What brings people into synagogues and churches might be a kitschy program or an interesting learning opportunity, but the relationships that they form with others will bring them back through our doors in the future.

– Franklin, is a student rabbi at Temple Beth Ha Sholom, 425 Center St.


There has been a great deal of conversation with the election of Pope Francis. It seems that he is going to be taking the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches in a new direction. People are speculating on the many changes that may be coming and affecting the entire Christian Church based on the outreach and conversation about the poor and most vulnerable.

However, these actions of Pope Francis are not new at all. Rather, they are rooted in who we are as Christians and how we are called to live our lives. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus places us in the heart of the message to journey with the poor and most vulnerable. The interesting part of this message is that he condemns the secular humanistic view of service and lifts up the Christian understanding of being one with the poor.

The difference lies between recognizing the person instead of only the need. If we place the need before the person, then the person is purely an object that will make us feel good when we “help.” If we recognize the person, then addressing the need is done out of love and not pity or selfish desire.

St. James, chapter 2, addresses to the early Church the concern for the poor and vulnerable, the fact that we cannot sit idly by and wait for “someone else” to walk with the poor. It is our call as Christians to walk with them and share with them. And to think that this is only a Christian message would be a mistake. With over 100 citations in the Hebrew Scripture, the care for the poor permeates the Hebrew understanding of hospitality. It is a reminder of the times of Egyptian slavery. These passages serve as a reminder for Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as for Christians and Muslims, of the times God was faithful in the desert, providing all that they would need to survive as “wondering Arameans.”

In more modern times, the care for the poor and most vulnerable was summarized in the Seven Tenants of Catholic Social Teaching. These seven principles begin with the Sanctity of Human Life and the Dignity of Each Person. This flows to the Family and the Participation in a Community which is against individualism. Within this community we have Rights AND Responsibilities to our fellow human beings and most especially to the Poor and Vulnerable. Finally, there is Dignity in Work through which everyone, in Solidarity, contributes in order to Care for God’s Creation and all life.

My friends, Pope Francis is not beating a different drum; he is just playing an old drum more loudly in order for us to follow the beat. If you would like to learn more about these views check out the following websites: or and locally stop by St. Anthony’s Center on E. Willow St. and say hello to Sr. Henry for a more personal view of this way of life.

Finally, HAPPY EASTER! May the joy, peace, and mission of the Risen Lord enliven you to live His Divine Mercy!

– Van Fossen is the pastor at the Parish of St. Joseph the Worker in Williamsport