Who Is God? A Holy Week Reflection
of living a sacramental life in Christ as children of mother Church. It is the Catholic life of prayer and holiness, virtue and self-sacrifice, which includes the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, and Eucharist. Answering the question of "who is God?" is thus not achieved by ignoring history or the Church. Rather, God reveals himself in history and through the Church. If we want to know God, we need believe the Church, for in a real way the Church is Christ, since she is his one body.
Learning who God is, then, is a way of life. It is a life infused with the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, in which we assent in faith to all that God has revealed through the Church; we trust in hope that Christ will fulfill his promises; and we burn with a passionate, complete love for God above all else. We perceive God and know God because we belong to him: totally and entirely. That is ultimately the meaning of the spiritual life: to live in union with God, caught up forever in his fiery embrace of infinite, unsurpassable love.
However, there is a multitude of Christians who have apparently lost the capacity to perceive God. And knowing who God is, is all about an experience of the awareness of God. Pope Benedict XVI often calls our attention to this tragic situation when he speaks about how today many people live as if God does not exist. He is not merely speaking to unbelievers, atheists, agnostics and so forth, but rather to Christians. We could ask, what has happened? Perhaps, however, it is better to ask, what is to be done?
Repentance: The First Step In Returning To God
"I said: Here I am! Here I am! To a nation that did not call upon my name (Is. 65:1). Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19-20).
The great mystics and spiritual writers often refer to a "first conversion" that marks "beginners" in the spiritual life. This is the point on the journey at which, aided by actual grace, a baptized person realizes that he has strayed from the path of God's friendship and firmly re-adjusts his stride in the proper direction. Here a sincere, heartfelt repentance is experienced as the person encounters face-to-face the reality of who he is: a sinner in dire need of Christ:
"To acknowledge one's sin, indeed -- penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one's own personhood -- to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God. . . . In effect, to become reconciled with God presupposes and includes detaching oneself consciously and with determination from the sin into which one has fallen. It presupposes and includes, therefore, doing penance in the fullest sense of the term: repenting, showing this repentance, adopting a real attitude of repentance -- which is the attitude of the person who starts out on the road of return to the Father" (John Paul II, Reconciliation and Penance 13).
We cannot know God apart from an interior attitude of deep and prayerful repentance that is manifested exteriorly through a change of behavior. We have to seek God fully and completely; it is then that the door is opened (see Lk 11:9). Like the lost son, we too must journey back to the household of the Father (see Lk 15:11 ff.), which presupposes the desire to do penance: Father, "I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants" (Lk 15:19). It is crucial to give ourselves entirely over in abandonment to Christ, to shun the worldly, and embrace the ascetic life of simplicity and mortification:
"Put off the old man that belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:22-24).
Find God Through A Life Lived For Love of God
Again, the sacred season of Lent applies here, for its disciplines aid us in giving ourselves over to Christ. For instance, through prayer we are established in loving communication with Christ; through fasting we engage in voluntary and innocent acts of suffering in which we conform ourselves to the suffering Christ; and almsgiving is a form of self-sacrifice for the sake of another. The disciplines of Lent are integral aspects of the spiritual life, for they serve as conduits into a deeper experience of God by focusing our entire being on the "things of heaven," rather than on the "things of earth" (Col. 3:2), which, with the help of God's grace, leads us along the interior path of perfection toward our final end: eternal life with God.
It is no accident that little attempt has been made here to say much about who God is. That is because answering that question involves an intimate relationship with a Person; with a Someone, not merely a "something." Such a relationship is born and nourished by living one's life in a particular way: it is an interior life of holiness, humility and unceasing prayer, recreated with Christ and infused with the indwelling Spirit, docile to the compassionate and delicate movements of God in the soul. It is a life as a child of mother Church, as a son and daughter of God. It is the life of fidelity to Christ, always mindful of the self-gift of his sacred humanity on the Roman cross for our sake, in which we diligently strive to become like him: as "little christs."
Want to know who God is? That answer will not come easily, for it involves sacrifice and death to self. There are no shortcuts; there are no "techniques" to learn. However, as Blessed John Paul II often said, "Be not afraid!" For Christ himself has died for us. Set sail on the journey of the interior life of grace and the experience of God's presence within. After perhaps some long difficulty and a number of trials, you will find that you have risen from the valley floor and tread lightly upon the heights, for the indwelling Spirit will have re-created you anew. Then your voice will join in unitive harmony with the Song of Songs:
Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth! More delightful is your love than wine! Your name spoken is a spreading perfume -- that is why the maidens love you. Draw me! We will follow you eagerly! Bring me, O king, to your chambers. (1:2-4)
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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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: who is God, what is God, the experience of God, the personal God, Christ, Jesus our life, F. K. Bartels
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