Experiencing the Presence of God in Your Life?

Do. do. do. do. do.

What is at stake if we have forgotten how to be?

Each morning one of my standard greetings is “Keep up the good work.” I am subtly missing the point.   This greeting doesn’t come from ill intention. And, in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t inherently bad. However, in this greeting, I emphasize too much that a person’s daily value comes from their productivity rather than their being. Instead, maybe I should greet “It’s good to be with you this morning.” Spiritually, this distinction has ramifications.

There are two aspects of being:
1) That we are (existence)
2) What we are (essence)

Philosophically, this is true at the very grounding of our being. ‘What we are’ necessarily presupposes ‘that we are.’ If we focus too much on ‘what we are,’ forgetting ‘that we are,’ we demean our dignity. ‘What we are’ is important too, but too often this stifles and kills off the wonder ‘that we are.’ Isn’t it a wonder that we exist at all?  We have been loved into existence. Unconditional Love rests in the fact that we exist. There are no other conditions. When we forget this first principle we lose the vision for the whole trajectory of how to organize our lives.

‘What we are’ has some bearing though. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us in calling us Children of God. Yet that is what we are” (1 John 3:1). We too often define ourselves by something peripheral to our being. We not only exist, but we exist as beloved children of God. Let us keep first things first.

For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?   -Matthew 16:26

A second takeaway from this initial metaphysics is that insofar as we exist, God is intimately present in our lives. God is that absolute source of being itself. God is not ‘a being’ as if he is the greatest being among many. Rather, God is the source of all being. He creates ex nihilo, out of nothing. He is not an object in this universe, but the source for the possibility of even having a universe. If you look up, you won’t find heaven. God is beyond the material universe.  (Here is an interesting video that is semi-related)

Therefore, insofar as we are existing at this very moment, God is holding us in existence. And therefore, He is intimately present to us whether we recognize it or not. God is present before doing is even possible. As St. Augustine said, God is “interior intimo meo et superior summo meo.” God is both more intimate to me, than I am to myself, and beyond my highest being. Further, God is Love (1 John 4:8), and thus we can confidently rest by dwelling silently in His loving embrace. Love is holding us in existence.

In this restful embrace then, how might we pray?  Initially, by doing nothing. Just be.
Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

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Then, practically speaking, prayer works best at the beginning of the day for me. I begin by sitting in my blue chair and by clearing my mind and heart of everything. I breathe in and out. Inhale. Exhale. And I sit. Silence is absolutely essential. At times I do enjoy listening to music to set the tone, but my standard prayer must begin in silence. I simply rest in God, and only after that do I begin to mediate on scripture (check these out for helpful scripture resources).

Another option is to go to a sacred space in a church. Certain spaces can help us be more disposed to the presence of God. Eucharist Adoration is a wonderful opportunity for prayer at a local Catholic Church. Jesus is uniquely present to us in the Sacrament.

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Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me“: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church #2715

God is intimately present to us in life, more so than we are to ourselves. We can begin to experience this through mediating on the initial fact that we exist. Sit in silence, and rest in the presence of God, free from distractions. God loves you first and foremost because of the very fact He created you. You have dignity in the very fact that you exist.  Do not do. Simply, Be.

Then, if you are looking to continue after that, pick up the Bible. Try meditating with the Psalms in the Old Testament. They cover the entire range of human emotions and can speak to the heart in a particularly powerful way. They teach us language for prayer. They are the prayers that Jesus prayed.

Psalm 62:1-8
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly moved.

How long will you set upon a man
to shatter him, all of you,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his eminence.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 139: 1-18

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You searched out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You best me behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts,
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am wondrously made.
Wonderful are your works!
You know me right well;
my frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

Your eye beheld my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.

 

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How Catholicism changes me.

Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
St. Augustine

I am very satisfied with my life. In fact, I love it. And, I wholly attribute this to Jesus and Catholicism.

Why is this?  Do I mean this? Does my life bare witness to this? This is not meant to be triumphant, or to gloat. But hopefully instead, it is a reflection on what I am grateful for in the life I have lived to this point. I pray that if you’re open, you might have this  experience too.

I’ve got a restless heart. My finite body has infinite desires. I desire fame, fortune, and power. I have lustful desires too. Girls are really good looking. I’m a slave to many things in life, most of all desserts. In the immortal words of B.O.B, “Everyone’s addicted to something.” I’m definitely selfish, and prideful.  But Catholicism teaches me that God still loves me. Jesus never abandons me. Even in my weakness and failings I know deep in my heart that Jesus loves me, and that He is gracing me in life, helping me to grow day by day. God desires me to be happy, and to grow in holiness (to become whole). My life is not meaningless. Every life has inestimable worth.

The Christian life is not so much about being good, as it is about being free.

I also am taught that the world is created good. The world is something to be enjoyed. Desserts are good, when used properly. Alcohol is good, when used properly. Sex is a beautiful gift, when used properly. God desires us to be happy, not miserable. And Catholicism is teaching me how to truly experience this freedom. Jesus Christ frees us from slavery.

Catholicism also inspires me in the true radical nature of what life can be. I’m freely choosing to live a celibate life because I have confidence in a dynamic loving relationship with God. Marriage is a wonderful good, a beautiful gift, and most all of us are called to it. I desire it more than you could imagine. But for some of us, freely choosing celibacy can be a gift and witness in the world. Jesus, though unmarried, found a way to love perfectly. That’s my mission to learn (and Lord knows I’ve got a lot to learn about it).

I’m Catholic because of the saints. Saints such as Francis of Assisi, Therese of Lisieux, John Paul II, Mother Theresa, Maximilian Kolbe, Teresa of Avila, and Damien of Molokai show me lives that are worth living. Catholicism produces the most wonder-provoking lives. Saints inspire awe and challenge like nothing else. Read stories of the saints and I promise you will find no greater inspiration. The saints glorify God fully in their life. They show us concrete examples of God working in the world.

Catholicism makes me humble. It reinforces that I’m most happy when I can strive to overcomes selfishness and greed. St. Francis’ prayer provides beauty and wisdom:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

I’m Catholic because of Reconciliation. Confessing my sins to a priest humbles me, and it is also cathartic. Through Reconciliation I know that I am forgiven for anything I have ever done. Reconciliation is the definition of grace- a free gift. The Prayer of Absolution, prayed aloud by the priest during confession is fantastically powerful:

“God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Those words give me peace like nothing else. It provides a finality and concrete assurance to know that I am forgiven.

I could list a thousand more reasons for why I am so grateful to be Catholic. But for now I’ll end it here. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” I honestly believe it is true.

So I offer you the chance as you explore what makes life worth living. What do you live for? I pray that you might at least be open to Catholicism. Please message me with any questions or struggles that you might have. I’d love to talk. I’d love to listen.

“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.” -Pope Benedict XVI

On Death

I’ve never been with a person when they die. I’ve never been there for the final breath. It’s an occasion that I’ve thought about many times before. One of those ephemeral times when we rest from our ceaseless activities and collide with the reality of death. Our gaze forced to contemplate mortality.  A moment where time stills. The air a little denser than normal. Emotions emanate a bit easier. Tears, even if not from sadness, flow. It’s a time of purging, and hopefully a time of peace. It’s a moment where we cast off spectacle, standing exposed.

And at the same time, its utter reality is mystical. We experience the metaphysical, the true fullness of nature. Supernatural – above nature. Faith gives us assurance, but the chasm still percolates with mystery. I just finished Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the Light We Cannot See. In it a character notes that visible light, the light that we see, only makes up a very small portion of all the light that exists. More reality exists than what is just visible. The mystery of death puts us face to face with this fullness of reality.

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Last week my grandma’s brother Roger passed away. A few nights ago my grandpa’s brother Ken passed away. They were both good men, and I’ve always respected and enjoyed seeing them, even if it has only been in brief spurts growing up. Their passings have given me a few reflections over the past few days.

My mother and I were sitting in Ken’s hospital room the morning of his last day. We knew Ken was going to die soon. It was surprising he hadn’t passed the previous night. This 94 year-old man had lived a full life, with roughly 4 times the memories and experiences that I’ve had. [And I think I’ve been around for a while]. He’d fallen in love, raised a family, experienced war, grown old. He outlived 99% of his friends. Everything that he’d ever experienced climaxed to this one final day, and I was one who got to share it with him.

Ken couldn’t talk. He was fairly unresponsive. But, he knew we were there. We greeted him as we entered and sat near his bed. And then my mom reached out and grabbed his hand, holding it tenderly. She told him that we love him, that he’s been a blessing to our family, and that God loves him too. The power of a simple touch conveyed a depth of love words couldn’t express. It was tender and simple, compassionate and natural. A capacity I can grow in.

We started to pray the rosary with him. We’d say it aloud and he’d listen, holding my mother’s hand. And though he was mostly unresponsive, he could still squeeze her hand. After we finished the first decade he reached up and grabbed my hand, holding it as we continued to pray. I’m probably definitely one of the least touchy guys around, [I generally hate hugs at the sign of peace] but in that moment it was right, it was powerful, it was perfect. Holding Kenneth’s hand was an experience of Jesus’ love. Overwhelming love. On a man’s last day on this earth, I got to experience a part of it with him. Fortunately, that’s a gift in the priesthood that I’ll get to share with countless others.

In this Year of Mercy in the Church, I understand a little deeper why visiting the sick is such an important corporal work of mercy. One that I haven’t had too much experience with yet. I appreciate the role doctors, nurses, and others have to play in this ministry. I appreciate the power of love that I see my mother demonstrate so well, especially with her care for my grandma. I think about the loneliness that so many face, as they prepare to face death, and the importance of us sharing that journey with them. I’m also grateful for God’s mercy and love in my own life, and for Jesus not letting death have the final word.

Finally, I appreciate God’s gift of sadness. Tears of a joy from a life well lived. When things are worth crying about, things are worth living for.

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And the stars looked down upon a happy man?

The stars looked down upon a happy man.  G.K. Chesterton wrote a biography on St. Francis of Assisi, one of my two closest saints (buy it here – it’s good). As I was reading it, that line struck me. The stars looked down upon a happy man. Two years later and it still strikes me. A man who grew up prosperous, knowing the thrills of the world, with a father who literally clothed him in jewels, a man who was magnetic and generous with his friends. But a man, though rich in appearance, had a heart unsettled. Uncharmed. Slowly his heart changed. Conversion. From that San Damiano Cross, when Jesus spoke to him saying “go and rebuild my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins,” this was only one of a series of conversions (First Bio of Francis).

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My friends AJ and Terri graciously painted this for me last week

Francis abhorred lepers. Until he kissed one. He never felt poverty. Until he traded clothes with a beggar in St. Peter’s square. His heart slowly turned, through physical encounters of love and solidarity. It wasn’t until 9 or so years after his initial conversion that he began preaching to animals. And they listened? If all we need in life is what the world can offer us, then we would never have had a Francis of Assisi. Fortunately, we do. And through these small conversions of the heart, in little ways, Francis became the great saint he is. As his father took him to the Bishop of Assisi to charge him as a thief for giving away his money, Francis’ actions perplex me in such a beautiful when he answered, “Up to this time I have called Pietro Bernadone father, but now I am the servant of God. Not only the money but everything that can be called his I will restore to my father, even the very clothes he has given me.” And he took off all his clothes, except a hair shirt.

“He was penniless, he was parentless, he was to all appearances without a trade or a plan or a hope in the world; and as he went under the frosty trees, he burst suddenly into song.” – GK Chesterton

He suddenly burst into song? What Francis found was joy. He found the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ.  He found that Jesus was the only thing that would give him profound, authentic, and enchanting joy. And isn’t that deep down what all of us are looking for? A spark in our soul that fills us with vigor? The knowledge that we are greatly loved and that we have the blessing to share that love endlessly? The gift to the heart to burst out in song when everything else crumbles?

I pray that God might continue to grant me the grace to know joy more fully and the capacity to laugh more easily.

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This is Christian Joy.

I decided to try and write this blog to share and dialogue with you about the joys and questions that I’ve found in my life. I hope that through comments below, or maybe emails, or messages, that you can share insights, questions, joys from your life. I have many wonderful friends and acquaintances that I’m blessed with in life, and over the years we’ve gone and journeyed down different roads. But I think we have a lot to offer each other, especially as we come to the world from countless backgrounds. I hope St. Francis can continue to teach us through the example of his life. Pope Francis too. I hope I can share some of my joy from this beautiful life that I’m blessed with in seminary. And, I hope that your wisdom, and maybe even pains, can help to teach me about the great mystery that we live in. And maybe the stars will look down upon a few more happy men and women.

I’ll share my life with you. I invite you to share your life with me as well.

The grace of Lord Jesus be with all.