Who Is God? A Holy Week Reflection
An experience of God's personal and loving presence is the highest goal of human nature
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.
Whether admitted or not, whether embraced of not, we cannot achieve our human fullness apart from seriously considering the question of who God is. To attempt to ignore or bury this question is futile; for it will again rise to the surface: "Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?" (Ps. 139:7). If we do not ardently seek to answer this highest and most pressing question, we shall have failed miserably, and thus remain stunted, incomplete, unsatisfied and pitifully unhappy.
Therefore to despise the question is to turn from light toward darkness; it is to trade infinite and lasting beauty for evanescent created objects; it is to stifle, reduce and even constrict the intellect and its exalted potential to one of an unfulfilled state of dreary isolation; it is to self-define our own being as less than fully human and thus grovel in the murky depths of a paltry, near beastly existence. Simply, we cannot achieve the exalted status for which God has destined us apart from answering this question. Therefore the goal of human nature is to do so.
However, some merely want to know what God is, as if defining God or understanding something of his attributes is satisfactory; but that is not enough. For to be fully human is to strive to not only answer this question, but go far beyond it, reaching into God himself through a participation in God's own divine life by the free gift of grace. Yes, we need -- in fact crave -- not to know simply what God is but rather who he is.
Given God's transcendence and complete lack of dependence on anything outside of himself, how is it possible for mere mortals to know the eternal, omnipotent and omniscient God who is Creator of all that is visible and invisible? Some would, therefore, insist that this question of "who is God?" is unanswerable. I beg to differ. If we look upon Christ crucified, the boundless yet paradoxical love of the infinite God for mere finite men is revealed in astonishing brilliance. In Christ the self-gift of God to mankind is unveiled. Indeed, we can hope to know God! For the Son of God assumed human flesh and became man: in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, who "reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature" (Heb. 1:2-3).
Lent: Answer The Question
The sacred season of Lent is precisely about learning who God is. As we enter into Holy Week, provided we do so fruitfully, we enter into the very life of God as we voluntarily choose of our own free will to participate in the Paschal Mystery; that is, as we immerse ourselves in the mysteries of the life of Christ, we become like God. This is not something we do metaphorically or only symbolically, rather it is something real: we are to become "little christs."
But let us back up some. Answering the question of "who is God?" is not simply a matter of idle reflection or meditation; nor is it achieved in only gazing upon the wonders of creation; nor will this question be fully answered in the reading of Sacred Scripture only, and so forth. As important as these things can be, we must not attempt to answer this question in that spirit of subjectivism which insists upon our own ideas. For Christ himself has set before us a journey by which we are to come to know God.
What is this journey? It begins with God's call to us, which is a gift of grace. Here we recognize, however subtly or strongly, the need to "connect with" or know or belong to God. We begin to pray, to seek to enter into an intimate relationship with the divine Other through open disclosure of the secrets of our heart. We begin to look upon Christ with eyes of love. But that is not enough; for if we are to know who God is, it is necessary to become a member of the divine family.
St. Paul tells us that those who have been baptized are baptized into Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:3). Through the sacrament of Baptism we are purified of our sins, incorporated into Christ and the Church, and given the incomparable gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-42). In 1 Peter we read that Baptism "now saves you" (3:21); in fact, the Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation (cf. Jn 3:5; CCC 1257). The two principal effects of this sacrament, the doorway to eternal life, are purification from sins and new birth in the Holy Spirit (CCC 1262). Baptism gives to us the gift of sanctifying grace by which we come to share in God's own life as adopted sons and daughters of the divine family.
There is a great deal that could be said here. But it is important to understand that this journey of which we are speaking is one 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
© 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 »