Ash Wednesday: Pope Says 'Seek To Experience God's Presence Within'
In the experience of an awareness of God dawns a new horizon: all is new
"You may ask me: 'But, does God exist? And if he exists does he really concern himself with us? Can we reach him?' It is, indeed, true that we cannot place God on the table, we cannot touch him or pick him up like an ordinary object. We must rediscover our capacity to perceive God, a capacity that exists within us"
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." In these revealing words, we are drawn toward an awareness of God's presence through the realization of our human finitude and dependence on the Other who is our origin and source of life.
"Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. . . . All our interest is centered in the rough setting of the diamond, and the outer wall of the castle -- that is to say, in these bodies of ours" (Interior Castle 4).
We do not have to look long nor hard at contemporary society before something very disturbing is brought to light. There are millions of people whose lives are filled to the brim with clutter and bustle, with technology and media and Internet, with friends and dinner engagements and weekend getaway plans, whose interest is keenly centered on the sights, sounds and pleasures of physical existence. All attention is focused on the "rough setting of the diamond."
As Pope Benedict XVI has frequently noted, the sad tragedy of today is that man often lives as if God does not exist; he does not direct his life by an awareness of God's constant presence. Thus man has forgotten the reality in which he is immersed: God, by his power, knowledge and essence, is unceasingly and mysteriously present to each of us, aware of each and every intimate and hidden thought within our hearts. While this type of indescribable closeness between Creator and creature is beyond human understanding, those who have been touched by it are nonetheless certain it is real.
Fr. Moynihan, in his book The Experience of God's Presence, writes: "Awareness of God, whether it come to us thus by a dazzling rending of the heavens or through the gentle whisper of His voice in our conscience, is at the beginning and end of our spiritual life, at the beginning and end of all religion. It is the root of what is truly the most radical division of mankind, one which Holy Scripture constantly reverts, that between the 'wise' who keep God before their eyes and the 'fools' who ignore him" (8).
An awareness of God is at the heart of repentance and conversion; it marks the beginning of a doorway to the sacred in which our perception of reality is clarified, and in which the muddied waters of a long ignored self-knowledge are rinsed clean by the divine impulses of the Holy Spirit, as we thus begin to gaze upon ourselves through the lens of truth as men and women created in God's image and likeness. In the experience of God's sublime immanence, one in which we come to understand that God is indeed more present to us than we ourselves are to other created objects, an entirely new form of existence unfolds before us: we "see"; we feel; we know. As a feather is gently carried off by the wind, we move and breathe and live in the Spirit, docile and attentive to his unending currents of love.
Ash Wednesday: Rediscover The Capacity To Perceive God
Ultimately, the purpose of Lent is to draw us more deeply into the experience of God's presence as an eucharistic people through an acknowledgment of our sins and failings: by accepting what we have done and what we have failed to do, drawn deeply into repentance, we seek God's abundant, healing and regenerative mercy.
Thus we hear our call to sanctity and holiness, and embrace our life mission to become "little christ's" as we enter into the Paschal Mystery of our Lord, that we may be re-created and transformed into Him whom we receive at the Paschal Banquet. Moved to acknowledge in freedom and love God's gift of himself, we fall into his compassionate arms, living in him and through him and with him, sharing in his own supernatural life as members of the divine family. At the end of this journey, is the Resurrection of Christ celebrated at the Easter Vigil: the consummation of every hope and desire. Yet this path to be traveled must begin with an awareness of God.
It must be admitted that while we can know of God's existence by the light of human reason alone, we do not become aware of his presence unless he first reveals himself to us. It is God who first chooses. Yet we must also admit that it is necessary to rediscover our capacity to perceive God through the proper use of our free will. How is this accomplished? If we are to cut and polish the diamond in order that the divine light of God at its center radiates outward, igniting every recess of our soul and our entire being with fiery love, it is necessary to take concrete steps along the path of love which Jesus Christ has opened before us from his pierced side on the Roman cross.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent: a sacred season of repentance in which, through the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we make of ourselves an offering to the Father through Christ. We enter into Christ's infinite and timeless self-gift of his body and blood, perpetuated throughout all time in the Eucharist, and give of ourselves: an eternal self-gift to the Father: our own fiat in which we abandon the isolated and individual "I" in favor of an unending existence immersed in the boundless "Thou."
The Value of Voluntary and Innocent Suffering
The importance of the disciplines of Lent cannot be exaggerated. As St. Teresa of Avila wrote, "Christ does not force our will, He takes only what we give Him. But He does not give Himself entirely until He sees we give ourselves entirely to Him."
Christ voluntarily and innocently sacrificed his sacred humanity for our sake. If we are to become "little christ's" and experience a deep awareness of God's presence, it is necessary for us to also make voluntary and innocent sacrifices. This is accomplished in beginning with small sacrifices, drawing our energy from the Spirit through fervent prayer and heartfelt desire, then moving to larger acts of self-giving.
Something as simple as not eating chips, if they are something that will really be missed, is a good starting point. Also, fasting on bread and water for lunch is an excellent spiritual discipline to practice. And, of course, we must remember to faithfully adhere to the disciplines of fasting from food and abstinence from meat on those days during Lent prescribed by the Church. In making these sacrifices, we are freely conforming ourselves to Christ, and training our spirit in the building of personal discipline and virtue.
All that we are suppose to be and do and become, every possible meaning of our life as men and women created out of God's superabundant love, is revealed in God made Man: "In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (CCC 359). It is by gazing deeply upon Christ Crucified that we see into the depths of our own being: here the diamond becomes a pure and transparent gemstone of immeasurable beauty.
"For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God" (CCC 460).
Today when we are signed with blessed ashes and hear the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," we are drawn into the acknowledgement of our complete dependence on God, and reminded of our finitude and our smallness -- an attitude of humility which is a prerequisite of an awareness of God's presence. Yet by the light of faith we know we will never be merely ashes: for if we die in Christ we will be raised with him and appear in glory (cf. Col 3:4).
Whatever the experience of God, whether it be a sudden, paralyzing rapture or sweet tears which pour spontaneously forth as we place ourselves at the base of the cross, each is an unforgettable and life-changing event in which, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus (see Acts 22:6 ff.), Christ transforms us into a new creation: the old is gone, the new bursts forth as we move through a sacred doorway into a sublime reality which before had lain hidden. This Ash Wednesday, enter into Lent. Become one body as an eucharistic people in Christ. Seek the things that are above (Col. 3:1). Experience God.
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at catholicpathways.com
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for November 2014
Lonely people: That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More Lent / Easter News
- 4th Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross
- 3rd Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns
- Good Friday Reflection on the Nature of Sin
- Lent is almost over, but have YOU kept this Commandment?
- 5th Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion
- Holy Thursday: Take Up the Basin and Towel. Love is a Verb.
- Holy Thursday: He Loves to the End
- 2nd Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
- The Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?
More Easter / Lent
'So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead' - Luke 24:46
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption. continue reading
Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four canonical Gospels. (Mark 11:1.11, Matthew 21:1.11, Luke 19:28.44, and John 12:12.19) ... continue reading
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the first joy of the season, as we celebrate Our Lord's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him and laying down palm leaves before him. It also marks the beginning of Holy Week... continue reading
HOLY THURSDAY is the most complex and profound of all religious observances. It celebrates his last supper with the disciples, a celebration of Passover ... continue reading
On Good Friday, each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption. In the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week we unite ourselves to our Savior, and we contemplate our own death to sin in the Death of our Lord ... continue reading
Easter is the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. Leo I (Sermo xlvii in Exodum) calls it the greatest feast (festum festorum), and says that Christmas is celebrated only in preparation for Easter. It is the centre of the greater part of the ecclesiastical year ... continue reading
For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere. Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). continue reading
Everything answered from when does lent end, ashes, giving something up, stations of the cross and blessed palms. The key to understanding the meaning of Lent is simple: Baptism... continue reading
Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion. First Station: Jesus is condemned to death... pray the stations now
What did you give up for Lent?
From the humorous to the bizarre, people have had interesting Lenten experiences. Tell us about what you are going to give up for this Lenten Year.
What others gave up »
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
This Sorrowful pilgrimage now brings me here to this lonely hill. All the agony, the beatings and the bleeding have led me somewhere I do not want to go; somewhere I resist going with all my ...Continue Reading
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
I wonder if perhaps it was tempting for Jesus to just lie down on the dirt road and die right there. Completely sapped of strength and in agonizing pain, I wonder if He was tempted by the ...Continue Reading
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
Humiliation, in one form or another, is part of the package. It is only avoidable if we decide to deny Christ. WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) - 3rd Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning ...Continue Reading
Michael Terheyden - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
The Passion of Christ represents the most atrocious miscarriage of justice in all of human history. So when we come face to face with the crucified Christ on Good Friday, it is only natural for us to ...Continue Reading
On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes her gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption.
In the symbol of the Cross we can see the magnitude of the human tragedy, the ravages of original sin, and the infinite love of God. Learn More
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. Learn More
Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion.
ACT OF CONTRITION. O my God, my Redeemer, behold me here at Thy feet. From the bottom of my heart... Pray the Stations
'Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed' Lk. 5:35
Abstinence. The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted.
Fasting. The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday (Canon 97) to the 59th Birthday (i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday) to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal.
Learn More »