"If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14:22-23). In that moment we live in "God's world." It is the heaven of "now but not yet." It is a real, true and knowable experience in which we "feel," with the senses of the soul., the touch of infinite love.
GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) -- Pope Benedict XVI, in his reflection before praying the Angelus on 26 February, stated that in Christ, God addresses man "in an unexpected way, with a closeness that is unique, tangible and full of love. God became incarnate and entered man's world in order to take sin upon himself, to overcome evil and to bring man back into God's world."
God "entered man's world" in order to "bring man back into God's world." What does it mean to enter into "God's world?" That is precisely what the sacred season of repentance and penance we call Lent is all about. Lent, a time of spiritual renewal, growth and regeneration in the love of Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a period in which we are called to enter deeply into the experience of God. But what does that mean? Also, how is God experienced?
Ask a thousand Christians what it means to experience God and we will hear just as many answers. Yet it must be admitted that the experience of God is something often misunderstood today, even altogether forgotten. Consequently, it can be helpful to think about what can harm our experience of God. That is, what blocks our experience of the unsurpassed divine love of the Holy Spirit? What prevents us from living in an intimate and infinite relationship of attentiveness and love with the indwelling Spirit of Love? It is important to ponder these questions, for in exploring insufficiencies and errors in our life, we contrast those important actions and attitudes that bring us nearer to God with those which can limit or even destroy our ability to enter into "God's world."
The terrible and horrifyingly damaging effects of sin is a given. But let us put that aside for a moment and mention the psyche of contemporary society: heavily engrained in today's culture is a pragmatic view of life in which can be found a type of nearly continuous preoccupation with the attainment of physical and material goods, which is laced with various distractions and exaggerated concerns, most of which have as their object not God but fleeting, created objects. In such an infertile environment, spiritual fruitfulness and growth often wither in the heat of blighted ambitions.
Other troubling elements which perhaps affect us all to some degree are often referred to as "noise." In this category is the inordinate use of technology, media and movies, created objects and even other creatures: included is an improper attachment to people, conversation, dinning out, and otherwise filling every moment with "things" and so forth. If not careful, we may find we prefer the evanescent pleasures of the visible over the infinite depth and love of the Divine Other who, invisible, transcends beyond the limits of the human senses. As a result of filling our life to the brim with "clutter," experienced is a fear of that silence and interior reflection so crucial to living in God.
The spiritual man clings to God and his will, living in the spirit of God, while the worldly man follows human passions (cf. 1 Pet. 4:2 ff.).
Further, we must recognize the need to do battle with self: this is primarily an interior struggle in which we strive to gain self-knowledge through prayer and reflection. This war is waged against that disordered view of self known as the capitol sin of pride. Here we must combat that nearly irrepressible desire for self-importance and self-acknowledgement, including that wrongful self-love in which we attempt to assert ourselves above others, even over and above the divine will of God. Pride quells the desire to walk in the light, thus we are left to stumble in the darkness (cf. Prov 4:18; Lk 1:79; Jn 3:19-21, to name a few). We must not forget our human limitations and the dangers of sin: "Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death!" (Prov. 14:12).
Also, it is often presumed that we have a relationship with God without taking concrete steps to cultivate the proper interior disposition, prayer, self-mastery and virtue so necessary to the spiritual life. Thus we suffer a type of spiritual depression. Here the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes note of acedia: "The spiritual writers understand by this a form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart. 'The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak'" (2733).
Ora et Labora: "Pray and Work"
Remember that we are creatures of habit. Unfortunately, it is quite easy, due to the inclination toward sin we call concupiscence, to form bad habits called vices. Thus the need for self-discipline and the cultivation of those habitual perfections of the soul that are acquired through practice called virtues, in order to achieve self-mastery. Just as an athlete habitually trains his legs in order to win a race, so too we must habitually train our soul in virtue in order to live as a member of the divine family. If we thirst to share in God's divine life, we need walk, with the aid of the Spirit, to the well and draw up the water. That is, we need take positive, concrete steps toward God in order to cultivate and nurture the spiritual life.
Here we arrive at the lenten discipline of fasting: it would be very difficult to find a saint whose life lacked fasting. Of course, certain Catholics are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday of The Passion of The Lord, but these two days are the minimum. Aside from its penitential qualities and aiding in achieving self-mastery, fasting is a form of voluntary and innocent suffering in which we, through the grace of the Spirit, conform our lives to the suffering Christ who, out of infinite love for humankind, voluntarily and innocently sacrificed his own life for our sake.
Further, if we want to experience God, as truly and as fully as is possible, it is vital to live the Catholic life in toto, always and everywhere. Doing so involves a metanoia, a profound spiritual transformation in which we, in union with our sweet Virgin Mother, freely give our fiat -- a loving "yes" -- forever, with totality, completeness, and eternal conviction.
Therefore it is impossible to over-stress the importance of living the Catholic sacramental life in its entirety: this includes repentance and the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, full and active participation in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist and so forth. It is crucial to remember that the Church is our mother who, as the sacrament of salvation, leads her children along the path of eternal life by conferring upon them the sacraments of life. The Catholic who is careless in his attitude toward the Church is careless in his desire for God, for in a real way the Church is Christ, since she is his Bride and his Mystical Body for which he lovingly sacrificed his sacred humanity.
As we can see, tasting of the indwelling Spirit, living in "God's world," involves a new way of life. It is foreign to the world. But it is the way to God. And it is a way highly infused with prayer and with work. It is not easy. It is, however, crucial. The experience of God is the goal of our life in which we, assisted by grace, attain to the incomparable divine and salvific plans that dwell at the heart of the Father's love for humankind. Thus everything hinges on our awareness of God's personal and loving, immanent yet transcendent presence.
Awaken To God's Presence
St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians with these words: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own" (1 Cor. 6:19).
God is not some external "power" that directs our lives from afar. In a real way, he is at the very heart and core of our being: he is behind and within us, before and above us, supporting us yet transcending us. This is a great mystery. Yet it is true to say that God sustains us each moment, infusing us with life and, if we are open to it, the favor of his incomparable and sweet grace.
When we speak of God's presence, we can say that he is present by his knowledge, power and essence. Also, provided we are in a state of grace -- i.e., our soul is infused with sanctifying grace -- God's presence is an indwelling presence: in this astonishing way in which God dwells within us, we are a temple of the Holy Spirit, as indicated by St. Paul's theology above.
Further, God's presence is an immanent presence. This means that God is more present to you and to me than we are to others. That is, God's presence within, the manner in which he resides within those who are in a state of grace, is of an infinitely greater intimacy than that which we can experience with other people. Further, God is more present to his creatures than they are to themselves. This means that God is more present to you than you are to yourself. God's presence is of an infinite depth, omnipotent and omniscient, whereas our own self-awareness is of itself finite.
When we become aware of God's presence within our soul, and unite ourselves to him in freedom and love, commending our spirit unto Christ, we become "one spirit with him" (1 Cor. 6:17). This is accomplished through prayer and preparation, by journeying in truth into the desert in search of Christ, by responding to the loving and life-giving grace of the Holy Spirit who leads us into self-mastery, and by living the Catholic life of voluntary and innocent suffering. "Be not afraid!" as Blessed John Paul II so often said, for this journey is nothing but a journey into Love Itself.
Above we asked, what does it mean to experience God? The experience of God is all about an awareness of the manifestation of God within our soul. Constant recollection is required: we must unceasingly strive to give ourselves over entirely to the indwelling Spirit of Love who seeks to embrace us. We must not forget: we are not our own.
When Judas the son of James asked Jesus: "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" Jesus answered, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14:22-23). In that moment we live in "God's world." It is the heaven of "now but not yet." It is a real, true and knowable experience in which we "feel," with the senses of the soul, the touch of infinite love given by the Other who, so mysteriously yet so wondrously, desires in his compassion to kiss the soul with fiery, supernaturally infused bliss for all of eternity. Praise 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
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