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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

To Savor the Presence of God

In Psalm 34:8, we are asked to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. What does it mean to taste the Lord's presence? When it comes to savoring the presence of the Lord, Holy Communion comes to mind, in particular those moments in which time seems to stop and something beautiful is granted the heart. We savor a mystery even if we are unable to find words to express it. Without fully realizing it, faith opens at least to an instant where we find satisfaction for those deep needs that drive us in ways we do not understand, toward a destination that is hidden from our grasp, but in this hidden moment, suddenly is given in meaningful fullness. This is the Sacred Banquet in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace and a pledged of future glory given us.

While God is always present to everything at every moment, this food is fed to us in a form that our tradition calls "Real Presence." Such presence is called "real" not because all the many other modes of Christ's presence are less real, but because under this special presence, Christ as especially given Himself to us as true spiritual food. The Manna from heaven heals our many spiritual wounds, nourishes us for our journey to our heavenly homeland, fortifies us in the battle for integrity with each believer is entrusted, and binds us together around a single table, the altar of sacrifice. This personal presence of God is never static - but always explodes in encounter either for our eternal beatitude or diminishment. He always comes anew and never the same way, so that at each new coming, every moment might be sanctified. Here, through ancient rites instituted by Christ and handed on since the first ancient communities of faith, the Real Presence of the Risen Lord mysteriously transports us through the unrepeatable circumstances of our lives to the Cross, that threshold of the Father's heart suffered for our sake, uniting us anew and more wondrously than anything else until that moment in the power of the Holy Spirit, if we are disposed to Him, into a single fellowship of mutual abiding with the Living God. To dispose us, the Holy Spirit convinces us of both sin and, even more, the merciful love of God. Those who avail themselves of frequent confession and commit themselves to lives of penance understand this paradox. One is eager to take up ascetical practices, to fast, to pray and to render thousands of acts of service and love once one considers the great price that was paid and the great gift of having one's own sins remitted. When we repent of our sins, weep over them and humbly confess them out loud, the Holy Spirit sanctifies our weaknesses to make us more confident in Divine Mercy than we are confident in our own human misery. Each time we remember the goodness of God, stand up, and go to Him by following the way of faith, hope and love, we learn to surrender into the arms of the Father and to accept ourselves for who we are before Him. The rejoicing of His heart at our return is more than this present life can bear, a mystery so beautiful that it causes one to weep and laugh all at once. Because it makes us vulnerable to such divine horizons in the Heart of God, a good confession always leads to a beautiful Holy Communion. One other way to savor the Lord's presence is through mental prayer. Contemplation rooted in living faith sees the mystery disclosed in the Real Presence of Christ. In fact, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can occasion such contemplative prayer. In this kind of prayer, a holy conversation between the soul and the Lord unfolds - solemn questions and sober answers are poured out between the Heart of God and the human heart. Familiarity with the Bible, especially the psalms, helps us ponder and enter into this richness. Yet prayers as simple as repeating the Name of Jesus or the Holy Rosary enter this same sacred place. Woe to those who purposely remain ignorant of the words of the Word, for without allowing the Church to guide them, they risk all kinds of self-contradictions that will betray the Presence that they seek. Even so, there is a mystery here. For it is most often the case that the less one understands or remembers of this holy exchange, the more meaningful this conversation becomes. Such is the standard, the rallying point, of mental prayer if this prayer is to learn to savor the presence of God. The less we cling to what we understand and the more moved by love, the more deeply the Word and the Spirit etch into our hearts that exquisite truth that the Father yearns for us to know. This is a general loving knowledge, a taste for Divine things, an intelligence of the heart, an awareness baptized in Divine affections, and human affections grounded in a truth that the natural light of reason cannot know. We must learn to be caught in this delicate paradox of love and fear, joy and sorrow, encounter and absence, Mercy and misery in which the Holy Trinity has chosen to abide. There are even moments when all of this crescendos before this coming Threefold presence of unity and distinction, relation and possession, and we feel invited into a deeper surrender, pulled in fact as if by deep currents in a sudden storm of love. This is to be buried in the Divine Presence and to allow the Living God to bury Himself in the soul. Those who allow prayer to take them into this unfamiliar place have tasted something not of this world and nothing in this world tastes the same them. To taste and see the Lord in this way is to have something about us die even as life becomes more intense than ever before. We ache, we pine, we hunger, we thirst - for we have savored the delight, the purpose, the Banquet, the Cup of God Himself. Even if our human weakness is terrified by this mysterious "I know not what," we swoon in the shadow of Him who comes for us.

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