Not long ago I had a conversation with a man who is a convert to Catholicism. I asked him what was it that brought him into the faith. He replied that when he was a young man the company he worked for got a job to do some restoration work in a Catholic Church. When he and his boss met with the parish priest to go over the work needing to be done he was struck by the sight of the priest genuflecting before the tabernacle as they entered the church. In that simple action he realized that God was present in that church. This awareness remained with him and grew and it began the process and journey that eventually led him into the Catholic Church. He told me, “Prior to that I had a notion that God was everywhere yet not really present. In the Catholic Church I have found God truly present.”
God truly present! This is the Catholic intuition. It is what underlies our understanding of the sacraments, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, the Catholic approach to prayer, mysticism and (in fact) the entire life of discipleship. The understanding of God truly present is also foundational in our belief in the communion of saints which we just celebrated on November 1st with the Feast of All Saints. It is not just that saints were good men and women who did good deeds (worthy of being nominated for CNN’s annual “Heroes” celebration). God became truly present to the world in the lives of the saints and these men and women became truly transformed and reflective of the presence of God. (The Catholic understanding of relics is rooted in this reality.) The saints are, in fact, quite subversive because their very lives witness against a materialistic-only view of reality as well as a vague sense of the Divine that is content in keeping God removed and far off. These are both tendencies seeking to be persuasive in our world today, yet the saints witness to something both different and real – the incarnational and sacramental truth of the Christian faith.
God truly present as opposed to a vague sense of God who is everywhere but really nowhere.
This awareness is not some “add-on” nor corruption of true Christianity. It is the essence of true Christianity and it is grounded in creation through the Word of God and the very incarnation of the Word of God. Throughout the whole of Scripture we find this awareness being revealed and proclaimed.
In today’s gospel (Mk. 12:28b-34) Jesus (who is the Word made flesh) specifically holds together the love of God and the love of neighbor in such a unity that the two cannot be separated. Love, if it is to be true, must be present and real. In the first Letter of John we have a developed reflection on this twofold commandment to love God and neighbor: Those who say, “I love God”, and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars: for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (1 Jn. 4:20-21)
Love of God and neighbor, if it is to be real, must be present. And where true love is, present is God. The saints reveal this truth to us – not just through what they did but through their very lives transformed and reflective of a God not content to remain removed but continually seeking to be present.