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.

 

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