Of the Excellence of Practicing the Presence of God and the Great Benefits That It Contains

by admin on August 4, 2010

Seek the Lord with strength and perseverance, says the Prophet David; seek his face ever (Psalm civ. 4) . The face of the Lord, says St. Augustine, is the presence of the Lord, Thus to seek the face of the Lord ever, is to walk ever in His presence, turning the heart to Him with great desire and love. St. Bonaventure says that to walk always in this exercise of the presence of God is to enter on the bliss of heaven here on earth, since the bliss and happiness of the saints consists in seeing God continually without ever losing sight of Him. Since in this present life we can­not see God clearly as He is — that is proper to the blessed — let us at least imitate them in such way as we can and our frail nature allows, by striving to be ever regarding, looking up to, and loving God. As God our Lord has cre­ated us to stand eternally before Him in heaven and enjoy His presence there, so He would have us here on earth attain to some first sketch and outline of that blessedness by ever walking in His presence, looking up to Him and rev­erencing Him, albeit in the twilight. Now we see in a glass darkly, but then face to face (I Cor. xiii. 12). That clear vision is the reward and glory and blessedness that we hope for; this dim twilight apprehension is the meritorious means whereby we are to arrive thither. But, after all, we do imitate the saints in such fashion as we can, trying never to lose sight of God in the actions which we do. The saints and angels who are sent to our aid to guard and defend us, discharge these ministries in such a way as never to lose sight of God. So said the Angel Raphael to Toby: I seemed to eat and drink with you, but I used another invisible food, and another drink that cannot be seen by men (Tob. xii. 19), being sustained by God. The angels ever see the face of my Father who is in heaven (Matt, xviii. 10). We in like manner, though we eat and drink, converse and deal with men, and seemingly are altogether taken up therewith, ought to contrive that that should not be our food and entertainment, but another invisible food that men see not, which is ever to be regarding and loving God and doing His most holy will.

Great was the exercise which the saints and those holy patriarchs found in walking ever in the presence of God. I kept the Lord ever before my eyes, because he is ever at my right hand that I may not slip (Psalm xv. 8). The Royal Prophet was not satisfied with praising God seven times a day, but he aimed at keeping God ever before him. This exercise was so continual with those holy men that their common manner of speech was: As the Lord liveth, in whose presence I stand (III Kings xvii. 1). Great are the benefits and advantages which follow from walking ever before God, considering that He is looking at us; and therefore the saints made such efforts in that direction, since that is enough to secure a man’s behaving in a very orderly and very proper manner in all that he does. Other­wise, tell me, what servant is there whose behavior is not quite correct in presence of his master? What servant so bold as in presence of his master not to do what the master bids him, or dare to offend him to his face? What thief would dare to steal, seeing the judge looking on hard by? But God is looking at us: He is our Judge, He is all-power­ful, He can make the earth open and swallow down to hell the man who offends Him; who shall dare to offend such a God? And so St. Augustine: “When I consider, O Lord, that Thou beholdest me always and watchest over me night and day with as much care as if in heaven and on earth Thou hadst no other creature to govern but myself alone; when I consider well that all my actions, thoughts, and desires lie open clearly before Thee, I am all full of fear and covered with shame,” Certainly we are under great obligation to live justly and righteously from the considera­tion that we do all things under the eyes of a Judge Who sees all things and from Whom nothing can be hidden. If here the presence of a grave personage puts us on our good behavior, what should the presence of God do!

St. Jerome, on the saying of God to Jerusalem by the Prophet Ezechiel, Thou hast forgotten me (Ezech. xxii. 12), says: “The remembrance of God banishes all sins.” St. Ambrose says the same. And in another place St. Jerome says: “The remembrance of God and the walking in His presence is such an efficacious motive that we should never do anything to displease God if we remembered that He is present and beholds us.” For Thais, the sinner, this thought was enough to make her give up her evil life and go into the desert to do penance, as we have said above (Treatise V, Chapter 16). Holy Job said: Are not all my ways under his eyes, and does he not count all my steps? (Job xxxi. 4), God is looking at me as an eyewitness, and is counting my steps; who should dare to sin or to do any duty badly?

Do Not Forget God

On the other hand, all the disorder and perdition of the wicked come from their not remembering that God is pres­ent and is beholding them; this is what Holy Scripture goes repeating many times, speaking in the person of the wicked: There is none that seeth me (Isaias xlvii. 10) : He will not see our ways (Jerem. xii. 4). St. Jerome has noted this in the twenty-third chapter of Ezechiel, where the prophet reproaches Jerusalem with many vices and sins, and sums up the cause of them all in the fact of her having forgotten God. And the same cause is assigned in many other pass­ages of Scripture. As a horse without a bridle, and a ship without a rudder, goes upon rocks and destruction; so when this bridle is removed, man is carried away by his disor­derly appetites and passions. He keepeth not God before his eyes, says the Prophet David, nor sees him present before him, and therefore his ways, that is, his works, are stained with faults at all time (Psalm ix. 5).

As for the blessed St. Basil, the remedy that he gives in many places for all temptations and troubles and for all untoward events and occasions that may occur, is the pres­ence of God. Thus, if you want a brief and compendious method of attaining perfection, a method that contains and embraces in itself the strength and efficacy of all other methods, here it is; and therefore God taught it to Abra­ham: Walk before me, and be perfect (Gen. xvii. 1). Here as in other places of Scripture the imperative is taken for the future, to emphasize the infallibility of success. It is so certain that you will be perfect, if you live always look­ing at God and observing that He is looking at you, that from that point you may give yourself out for such. For as the stars from the aspect of the sun, which they have present and to which they look, draw light to shine within and without themselves, and virtue to influence the earth; so just men, who are as stars in the Church of God, from the aspect of God, from seeing Him as present and turning their thought and desire to Him, draw light whereby they shine with true and solid virtues in their interior, which God sees; and on the exterior, which men see, they shine with all decency and comeliness and draw virtue and force to edify and advance others. There is nothing that illus­trates so well the need that we have of keeping ever in the presence of God as this comparison. Mark the depend­ence that the moon has on the sun and the need that it has of keeping ever before it. The moon of itself has no light, but only what it receives from the sun according to the aspect wherewith it regards it. It works on sublunary bodies according to the light which it receives from the sun, and so the effects wrought on them wax and wane according to the waxing and waning of the moon. And if any object gets in front of the moon, so as to disturb the aspect and sight of the sun, in that instant at once the moon is eclipsed and loses its light and splendor, and withal a great part of its efficacy to work, which it holds by means of the light. The soul stands in the same relation to God, Who is its sun.

This is why the saints so much recommend to us this practice. St. Ambrose and St. Bernard, speaking of the constancy and perseverance which we should have in it, say that, as there is no instant or moment in which man does not enjoy the bounty and mercy of God, so there should not be any instant or moment in which he does not keep God present in his memory. Sicut nullum est momen­tum quo homo non utatur vel fruatur Dei bonitate et miseri-cordia, sic nullum debet esse momentum quo eum praesen-tem non habet in memoria. And elsewhere St. Bernard says: “In all his actions and in all his thoughts the religious should endeavor to remember that he is in the presence of God; and all the time that he is not thinking of God he should hold for lost. God never forgets us; it would be right that we should try never to forget Him.” St. Augus­tine on the verse, I will fix mine eyes upon thee (Psalm xxxi. 8), says: “Lord, I will not turn my eyes away from Thee, since Thou never turnest Thine from me.” And the prophet: Mine eyes are ever fixed on the Lord (Psalm xxiv. 15). St. Gregory Nazianzen says our remembrance of God should be as often and as frequent as our breathing, and even more: Non tam saepe respirare quam Dei meminisse debemus. For as we need to breathe to refresh the heart and temper the natural heat, so we need to have recourse to God in prayer to restrain the disorderly ardor of con­cupiscence, which keeps stimulating and exciting us to sin.

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