In What The Practice of the Presence of God Consists

by admin on September 3, 2010

THAT we may be able better to profit by the practice of the presence of God, it is necessary to explain in what it consists. It consists in two points, that is, in two acts, one of the understanding, the other of the will. The first act is that of the under­standing, which is always required and presupposed for any act of the will, as philosophy teaches. The first thing, then, must be to consider with the understanding that God is here and in every place, that He fills the whole world, that He is whole in the whole, and whole in every part and in every creature, how small soever it be. Of this we should make an act of faith, since this is a truth that faith proposes for our belief. He is not far from each one of us, since in him we live and move and have our being (Acts xvii. 27-28). You must not imagine God as far from you or outside of you, since He is within you; “I sought, O Lord,” says St. Augustine, “outside of me Him Whom I held within me.” He is within you. God is within me with a more inti­mate and inward presence than that whereby I am in myself; in Him we live and move and have our being. It is He Who gives life to all that lives, and strength to all that has power, and being to all that has being. But for His sustaining presence all things would cease to be and fall back into nothing. Then consider that you are in God, sur­rounded and encompassed by God, swimming in God. Those words, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory (Isaias vi. 3), are very good words to express this.

Some may help themselves further herein by considering the whole world full of God, as indeed it is, and imagining themselves in the midst of this infinite sea of Godhead, surrounded and encompassed therewith as a sponge would be in the midst of the sea, all soaked and full of water within and all surrounded and encompassed with water on all sides without. And this is not a bad comparison for our limited understanding, though it falls far short and wants much of declaring what we mean. For this sponge in the midst of the sea, if it rises up, strikes the surface and if it sinks down, strikes the bottom and if it is carried to one side or the other, it strikes the shore; but in God there is nothing of that. If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I go down into hell, thou art there; if I take wings in the morning, and fix my abode on the furthest verge of the sea, there also thy hand shall guide me and thy right hand shall hold me (Psalm cxxxviii. 8-10). There is no end or boundary to God, for He is immense and infinite. And, further, as the sponge after all is a body, it cannot be entirely penetrated by the water, which is another body; but we are entirely and all throughout penetrated by God, Who is a pure spirit. But, after all, these and other like comparisons, though they fall short, are helpful and good to give us to understand in some sort the infinite immensity of God and His intimate presence within us; and therefore St. Augustine alleges them.

Nevertheless, it is to be observed on this practice that, to realize this presence of the lord, it is not necessary to form any idea or representation of God by means of the imagina­tion, fancying that He is here at our side or in any other definite place, or to imagine Him as having such or such form and figure. There are those who imagine Jesus Christ our Redeemer in front of them or by their side, and that He goes with them and is ever looking at them in all that they do, and in this manner they walk always in the presence of God. And of these, some imagine they see before them Christ crucified, others as bound to the pillar, others in the prayer in the Garden, sweating drops of blood, others in some other stage of the Passion or in some joyful mystery of His most holy life, according to what strikes each of them most; or at one time they imagine Him in some stage, at another in another. And although this is very good, if it can be done, yet commonly speaking it is not what is best for us, since all these figures and imaginations of bodily things are wearisome and fatiguing and go far to break people’s heads.   A St. Bernard and a St. Bonaventure must have known how to do this sort of thing differently from us, and find in it much ease and relief..  Thus they entered into those gaping wounds of Christ and found their way into His side, and that was their fortress and their refuge and their place of repose, thinking they heard those words of the spouse in the Canticles: Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come, my dove who dwellest in the holes of the rock and in the hollow of the wall (Cant. ii. 13-14). At other times they imagined the foot of the Cross planted in their heart, and received in their mouth with the greatest sweetness some drops of the blood that ran and streamed from the fountains of the Savior.   Ye shall draw waters with joy from the fountains of the Savior (Isaias xii. 3). It was all very well for these saints to do this, and they found much good in the exercise; but if you were to try to spend the whole day in these considerations and in this presence of God, you might carry on in this manner for one day or one month, but you would lose a whole year of prayer because you would break your head over it,

The reasonableness of this remark will well appear from this fact. Even for making the composition of place, which is one of the preludes to meditation whereby we try to ren­der present to ourselves the subject of our meditation, imagining the event actually to be happening before our eyes, writers on prayer observe that the imagination must not be drawn on too much in representing the shape of these corporeal things thought of, lest you break your head and come in for other awkward consequences and illusions that may happen thereby. Now if for a prelude to medita­tion, which is done in so short a time, calmly and at leisure, without involving anything else that requires attention, so much wariness and caution is necessary, what must it be to endeavor all day long and in the midst of other occupa­tions to preserve this composition?

But this practice of the presence of God which we speak of here, excludes all these imaginations and considerations and is very far removed from them, since in the first place it is not necessary to feign that He is here, but to believe it, since such is the truth. Christ our Redeemer, inasmuch as He is man, is in heaven and in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, but He is not in every place; and so when we imagine Christ present as man, it is an imagination that we frame to ourselves; but as God He is present here and in me and in every place; He fills it all. The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the round of the earth (Wisdom i. 7). We have no need to imagine what is not, only to rouse ourselves and believe what is. Secondly, the humanity of Christ our Lord may be imagined and figured by the imagination, since He has a body and a figure, but God as God cannot be imag­ined or figured as He is, for He has neither body nor figure, but is a pure spirit. Even an angel we cannot imagine as he is, nor our own soul either, for it is a spirit; how much less can we imagine or visualize God as He is!

But how are we to consider God as present? I say that we can do no more than make an act of faith, presupposing that God is here present without seeking to know how or in what manner, as St. Paul says Moses did: Invisibilem tan-quam videns sustinebat—”God being invisible, he considered and held him present as if he saw Him (Heb. xi. 27), with­out seeking to know or imagine the way in which He is. It is as when one converses with a friend at night, without dwelling on the manner of his presence nor remembering that at all, but simply rejoicing and delighting in the con­versation and presence of such a friend. In this manner we must consider God as present; it is enough to know that God is here as our friend to rejoice in Him. Stay not to look how He is present, a thing that you will never make out, because it is now nighttime for us. Hope for the day dawning; and when the morrow of the next life comes, then God will discover Himself, and we shall be able to see Him clearly as He is. When he shall appear, then we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (I John iii. 2). Therefore did God appear to Moses in the cloud and shade, that you may not see Him, but only believe that He is present.

All that we have said so far belongs to the first act of the understanding, which must be presupposed. But we need to observe that the main part of this exercise does not consist in that; for not only must the understanding be occupied in beholding God present, but the will also must be occupied in desiring and loving God and uniting itself with Him; and in these acts of the will this exercise chiefly consists, of which we shall speak in the following chapter.

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