It is almost a truism anymore to say God is everywhere. And so He is. Amen. But if we, after hearing the true statement, can get away from sentimentalizing it for a moment in order to understand its meaning, we might just die of shock.
Let me begin by wishing everyone out there a most blessed Holy Week. May this year’s commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, sow the seeds of profound love for Him in each of our hearts, and enable us to be more spiritual. Amen.
As a personal note and explanation as to why I haven’t written an article recently: I have been quite busy trying to get our fine art painting business up off the ground, RobertRobbinsArt.com. Time spent at the easel with brush in hand is only a quarter of the work. The other three-quarters is spent marketing, finances, and networking with other artists. As a kind of miracle of providence, I was able to get my first exhibition at the local art center written up as a news story, which should be in print today. The exhibition is of the landscape in spring, and all that entails. I try to glorify God through my landscapes, and approach a contemplative aesthetic through them—if that is even possible! Anyway, that is why I have not written this “column” for some time. Now, back to the article.
I am no teacher of Catholic doctrine. As I think we have hashed that idea out here before, I need not relive it here. But I am a Catholic, which means that I have a certain sense of the spiritual, and I have a certain (oh, what to call it?) right to talk about spiritual matters. These are how we live out our Catholic faith, and not the content of that faith. Hence, any suggested practice in spiritual matters I may offer is my mere opinion, and is perfectly ignorable. (Here ends disclaimer paragraph.)
I walk by faith, and not by sight—at least I try to anyway. But what does this practically mean, having a sense of the spiritual? To read Catholic Twitter and the Catholic Blogosphere, one might get the impression that spirituality were taboo, or, if not that, at least relegated to those who don’t shave or eat and live in hovels in desert places. All that is talked about, so far as my monitor shows, is correct doctrine and disciplinary law. Don’t get me wrong: these are indispensable and necessary to be a good and faithful Catholic, but they are not sufficient in themselves to bring about our conversion and salvation.
Ultimately, teachings must be put into practice, to have any worth. You know, the whole works versus faith thing, which tripped up half of Europe five hundred years ago? Today, we Catholics tend toward Protestantism, not in the theory of faith, but in consequence of our actions, or inactions. And lest anyone think I am pointing fingers, let him or her be assured: I am pointing fingers—I am pointing my finger directly at myself! Mea culpa, mea culpa…
In neglecting that one seed of the true faith I worked so hard to sift from all the rotten falsehoods, I forgot to plant it. I have it. It is here in my pocket, as it were, next to my rosary. But that’s just the problem. It isn’t in the earth, transforming the dirt of my daily life into a fruitful flower and odor of sweetness ascending to Heaven. Were I as spiritual as I work to be doctrinally correct, St. John might have a rival to contend with his visions of the Celestial Palace found in Revelation.
So why were all the saints so spiritual? The better question is, why were all the spiritual persons so saintly? I answer that, it is because of one reason, and one alone, which accounts for all the varied mystics and contemplatives in the history of our holy religion: they loved God more than themselves. St. John was given his visions of paradise precisely because he loved God more than anyone else, save the Mother of God. Who was at the elbow of Christ at the Last Supper? John. Who was at the Cross when Christ breathed His last? John. Who was at the tomb on Easter morning? Oh, well you get the idea. As an aside, have you ever wondered why St. John was spared martyrdom when all the other Apostles were not? The answer is simple: He wasn’t spared martyrdom. St. John died to himself every day he denied himself and followed Christ, and desired to be ever in His presence. That’s the essence or form of martyrdom. Physical death is only accidental to it.
So how to be more spiritual you ask? Well, I am no mystic or contemplative, but I know the answer to that question: love God more than oneself. “Okay,” you say, “but then what?” Then I’d say, buckle up, because it’s going to be one rollercoaster of a ride! When we stop loving ourselves more than God, and make Him the object of our every desire and action, then a spiritual adventure is just bound to be around the corner. Sin is boring. Sanctity is fun. Unless ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
So how do we live out this spiritual dimension of our faith? How do we love God more than ourselves? It is the hardest thing to do, I know. God is everywhere, as we have said, but the Self is everywhere, too. The Self is a kind of demigod which is ever vying for worship against the true God. But if we allow the truth of the truism to shine in our brains a little longer, we will see that God’s presence illuminates every detail of our existence. You are brushing your teeth in front of the mirror in the bathroom: God is there. You are eating a burrito in the parking lot of a Walmart: God is there. You are kneeling, reciting your rosary with your family: God is there. He doesn’t distinguish between persons, nor places.
To really put into practice the presence of God is a truly startling experience. It wakes us up to the omnipotence, not so much of Him, but of ourselves. The feeling is not unlike that of Adam and Eve hiding themselves behind leaves. To become aware of God is to become aware of ourselves, and to become aware of how shamefully we love ourselves more than God. Heretofore, it was only you. Now there’s this Presence that is not you, at first like a kind of imagined and feared ominous mist (the Self unconsciously knows its doom is nigh!), but then, if the spiritual practice of the presence of God is kept up, that vaporous notion evaporates into something more like an ever enveloping bearhug for the soul, or like a firelight and warmth of a winter hearth after laboring in the cold outside, or a sweet and tantalizing waft of wild flowers in a nearby field, perceived but unseen, or, as St. John of the Cross puts it: All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.