Being Aware of God's Presence

01-07-2018From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

One of the amazing conveniences we so take for granted is our ability to travel great distances in short periods of time. Back in the nineteenth century, many people migrated to the west on different trails by wagon train. The Oregon Trail that began in Kansas City was 2,170 miles long and brought the travelers to valleys in Oregon. That trip by covered wagon took four to five months at a rate of fifteen to twenty miles a day. Today we can easily travel that distance by airplane in a matter of hours and by car in a matter of a few days.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, reflecting on the journey of the Magi to find the Christ child. We do not know exactly where they started out from or how long their journey was, but we do know they were led by a star and were determined to find the person it was leading them to. They were not put off by the humble surroundings of the child Jesus in a stable, but in awestruck wonder bowed down in homage and offered Him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Our journey to the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in our church or any other church in the surrounding area is merely a matter of a few miles and a short drive. It is good to know where Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament and to come into our church building or any Catholic church building with a spirit of reverence and humility. But more than the physical distance we travel to come into a church building, we also have the challenge of navigating through our thoughts, distractions, and lack of attentiveness to truly be focused  on Whose presence we are in and who He truly is. While it is good to briefly greet those we meet in the church building, it is even more important to help one another recognize what a holy and special place we are in. To come to church and gab away as if Jesus is not there creates an atmosphere of irreverence. Our society has not only lost respect for Jesus, His love for us, and our need for Him, it has dismissed Christ-centered values that have guided saints and countless people through life to the Kingdom of Heaven. We began our New Year of 2018 last Monday celebrating the Feast of the Solemnity of the Mother of God. The Gospel for that day (Luke 2:16-21) presented us with the shepherds who followed the bidding of an angel and went to see Jesus in the manger. They left “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.” It is so easy to take for granted and even be unaware of Whose presence we are in and His joy at our presence. If the feeling is not mutual on our part, then we are depriving ourselves of the joy the simple shepherds knew upon coming into the presence of the Christ child. Our reverence begins at the doors of the church as we bless ourselves reverently and come to a pew and genuflect in joy, humility, gratitude, and wonder. That sets the tone. Without reverence in the presence of Jesus our presence in a church building becomes a social event, not a sacred encounter. Lack of reverence not only impedes our personal encounter, but also distracts others.

At the end of the Gospel on the Feast of the Solemnity of the Mother of God we see the Christ Child being brought to the temple on the eighth day after His birth and being given the name Jesus. The name Jesus actually means God Saves. In Jesus we are saved from misguided thoughts about who God is and how much He loves us. Anything that diminishes our awareness of God’s presence and love in Jesus leads us into darkness and fosters confusion, ignorance, and misguidance in our lives. The more we can see Jesus in our lives and be in His presence, the more we see how we are saved from hopelessness, human limitations, and false opinions and values. As intelligent, creative, and productive as we are, we come to the point where we do not have all the answers, courage, or ways to peace in this life and the reality of eternal life when we die. That is not a time to despair but to humbly open our minds and hearts to Jesus as our Way, Truth, and Life. Those who are an intimate part of our lives direct our thoughts, words, actions, and decisions in so many ways every day of our lives. They do not demand love from us, but allow love to come freely and joyfully from our hearts. Jesus does not demand that we love Him, but asks us to invite Him into our lives. He does not seek our presence just for special occasions such as Christmas, Palm Sunday, or Easter. He is not there just for weddings, funerals, Confirmations, Baptisms, or First Holy Communions. As the four Eucharistic Prayers for Special Occasions all proclaim as they begin: “You are indeed Holy and to be glorified, O God, who love the human race and who always walk with us on the journey of life.” He is there. Do we see, acknowledge, and welcome Him?

The other title or name given to Jesus and frequently used during the Christmas Season is Emmanuel, the name which means God is with us. God is with us! What can we do during this New Year to heighten our awareness and appreciation of His presence? I suggest we focus on being reverent as we come into our church building or any Catholic church. That will not only help ourselves personally but be a help and inspiration to others. Take some time each day to pray quietly, slowly, and reflectively. Find a good spiritual book to read. I recently finished reading Lessons in Hope where the author George Weigel speaks about his work in writing the biography of Pope John Paul II, at Pope John Paul’s personal request. One of the beautiful and inspiring things to see is how Pope John Paul II prayed frequently every day. His life was not centered on Jesus Christ, but in Jesus Christ. His prayer made him a human being and model of reverence and envelopment in the life and love of God. Without prayer, reverence becomes a challenge and at times nonexistent. With focused prayer reverence and awe will flow from our hearts, making us like the shepherds who left the presence of Jesus “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” We are so blessed in countless ways. Praise God! Thank you God!

Fr. Wald