The Exercise of the Presence of God

From The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical & Mystical Theology by the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D.

The affective knowledge of God leads us to the holy exercise of the presence of God. We shall now note briefly the foundation, the practice, and the advantages of this exercise.

A) Its foundation is the doctrine of God's omnipresence. God is everywhere, not only by His all-contemplating vision and His all-pervading action, but likewise, by His substance. As St. Paul told the Athenians: "In Him we live, and move, and are." This is true from both the natural and the supernatural point of view. As Creator, after having given us our being and our life, He preserves us and quickens our faculties by His concurrence. As Father, He begets us unto the supernatural life, which is a participation in His own, He co-operates with us as principal cause in its preservation and its growth, and He is thus intimately present in us, within the very centre of our soul, yet without ceasing to be distinct from us. As we have said above, it is the Triune God that lives in us: the Father, Who loves us as His children, the Son Who deals with us as His brethren, and the Holy Ghost Who gives us both His gifts and Himself.

B) The Practice of This Exercise. To find God, then, we need not seek Him in the heavens.

  1. We find Him close by in the creatures round about us. It is there that we look for Him at the outset. One and all suggest to us some divine perfection, but it is especially so of those creatures which, endowed with intellect, are the dwelling places of the Living God. These constitute for us the steps, as it were, of a ladder by which we ascend to Him.

  2. We know, moreover, that God is near those that confidently invoke Him: "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him," and our soul delights to call to Him now by ejaculatory prayers, now by long supplications.

  3. Above all we recall the fact that the Three Divine Persons dwell within us and that our heart is a living tabernacle, a Heaven, wherein They give Themselves to us even now. It is enough, then, simply to recollect ourselves, to enter within the inner Sanctuary of our soul, as St. Catherine of Sienna calls it, and contemplate with the eyes of faith the Divine Guest Who deigns to abide there. Then shall we live under His gaze, under His influence; then shall we adore Him and co-operate with Him in the sanctification of our souls.

C) It is easy to see the advantages of this exercise for our sanctification.

  1. It makes us carefully avoid sin. Who shall dare offend the majesty of God while realising that God actually dwells within him, with His infinite holiness that cannot endure the least blemish, with His infinite justice obliging Him to punish the slightest fault, with His power to punish the guilty, above all with His goodness, forever seeking our love and our fidelity!

  2. It stimulates our zeal for perfection. If a soldier fighting under the eyes of his commander is inspired to multiply his feats of valour, should we not be ready to undergo the most strenuous labours, to make the greatest efforts when conscious that not only does the eye of God watch us in our struggle, but that His victorious arm ever sustains us? Could we lag, when encouraged by the immortal Crown He holds out to us, and above all, by the greater love He bestows on us as a reward?

  3. What great trust does not this thought inspire in us! Whatever may be our trials, our temptations, our weariness and our weakness, are we not assured of final victory, when we recall that He, Who is All-powerful, Whom nothing can resist, dwells within us and invests us with His power? Doubtless, we may sustain partial reverses and experience excruciating anguish, yet we are certain that, supported by Him, we shall conquer, and that even our crosses will but make us grow in God's love and multiply our merits.

  4. Lastly, what a joy for us is the thought that He Who is the Joy of the Elect, and Whom we shall see one day face to face, is even now our portion, Whose presence and conversation we may enjoy all day long!

The knowledge and the habitual thought of God are, therefore, most sanctifying. The same is true of the knowledge of self.

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