If you go back to the time of St. Augustine, one of his most famous sermons was directed to an audience that was hostile to God, busy about many things and he spent weeks with this audience teaching them about the presence of God. If you go back to the writings of St. Thomas in the second part of the Summa where he was talking about the Eucharist, he said the Eucharist, which is the reception of the body and blood of Christ, is the greatest visible sign of our living in the presence of God. If you study the famous breast plate of St. Patrick of Ireland, it was always the same theme: God above me, God in front of me, God behind me, God within me.
St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine priests and nuns, always taught his priests to teach the presence of God to those wherever they went. This expression, the presence of God, is one of the most powerful theological expressions we have in Catholic theology. The presence of God is achieved through the cultivation of a spirituality that finds you meditating and contemplating on the factor of God in your life. Each one of us can justify our frenzy activity on a daily basis. But, if throughout our days and life on this earth we have never made God real to us, then we have missed one of the greatest theological lessons that Christ wanted us to learn.
If you go outside the Catholic Church, you have classic examples of individuals who in their own way experienced the presence of God in a unique way. Just go back to the book called Markings by Dag Hammarskjold, the former secretary general of the United Nations, and how he experienced God. He wrote, I do not know who or what put the question, I don't remember when it was put. I don't even remember answering, but at some moment I did answer yes to someone or something and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that therefore my life in self surrender had a goal. From that moment I have known what it means not to look back and to take no thought for tomorrow.
That was just a repetition of the beautiful line of Thomas Wolfe when one night he described a vision he had about hearing a voice - I do not know who it was he said, but I know the voice was to lead me and that one day I would leave this place on earth for a better place and that I would leave my friends on this earth for greater friends and that one day because of the power of God in my life, I would go out beyond the earth, out beyond the stars, out beyond the planet Mars into the arms of God.
All of us have a final date with God in the place that we call heaven. But that is only going to be realized by understanding what the presence of God in our lives should mean to us and to others. In the New Testament the word heaven is mentioned over six hundred and eleven times reminding all of us that we have a divine date with God based on our charity, based on our compassion, based on our love of God that we bring to ourselves and to others. If you take most of the Catholic expressions that you have heard throughout your entire life, very few of them would equal in importance the expression the presence of God. God present within you. God living within you. God teaching you. You following God on earth. We have the Old and New Testament. We have the teachings of the Church and the sacraments. All giving us reminders of what this expression, the presence of God should mean to each one of us. God is not totally concerned about our success, our position, our status or our wealth. He is concerned about whether while on earth His presence lived in you and you translated this presence to others. If all of these talks that you have heard over your Catholic life about actual grace and sanctifying grace, don't bring a greater closeness of you to God then there is something wrong in your everyday way of living. We are only on this earth for a brief span of time and every religious leader of the great religious orders has taught for centuries that the spirit of God, the presence of God, the love of God must shine on us so that others will see our God-like character.
I received a letter from a relative of Cardinal Bernardine. You might recall that Cardinal Bernardine died of cancer and basically at one time in his life was accused of having a sexual affair with a young man who eventually denied it and totally apologized to the Cardinal. The relative who wrote me the letter took a segment of the letter that I had written years ago to the Cardinal that he had found quite helpful and my letter read in part along this line:
Dear Cardinal Bernardine: In the life of every priest there is always a good Friday. You soon will experience an Easter Sunday because of the exemplary life that you have led on earth. You preached to us many, many times about walking with God, thinking with God, and having the presence of God experienced in your life and in the lives of others. Your life was not only an inspiration; your memory will be a benediction.
The relative who sent me this letter said the Cardinal kept this up until the day he died. He was always anxious to radiate God, he was always desirous of making people find God through him. If each one of us radiates God and each one of us has people who find God through us, then that expression presence of God is not just an expression, it is a reality. For those who have this reality in their lives each one of you will always walk worthily in the vocation to which God has called you.
back to top