“The source of Christian joy is the certainty of being loved by God, loved personally by our Creator, by the one who holds the entire universe in his hands.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Rome Diocesan Congress, June 23, 2006)
With these words, Pope Benedict placed an emphasis on an experience of love, an experience that goes beyond the limits of human love. It’s the love that God showed us when he sent his only Son to save us from sin so that we could be filled with his divine life even now as we look forward to our eternal home with him in heaven.
So in this season of Lent let’s focus on how we can find that meaning as we discover God and experience his love in our hearts. The good news is that while we may be searching for God, he is searching even harder for us. Every day, he is reaching out to us, inviting us to enter into a loving relationship with him. So let’s look at some of the ways we can accept his invitation and come to the “certainty of being loved by God” that Pope Benedict spoke about.
Retreat to Your “Inner Room.” When he taught his disciples how to pray, Jesus told them: “Go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6). This “inner room” is not a physical place. It is an interior place in our hearts, the deepest part of who we are. It’s a place of quiet, where we can meet the Lord personally.
The world is filled with noise: cell phones equipped for voice, e-mail, and texting; social networks like Facebook and Myspace; and countless Web sites that offer us many ways to communicate, stay informed, or just waste time. As valuable as these tools may be, they have also created a situation in which external stimulation can come to us all day and preoccupy us. All this information, all this noise, can make it very hard for us to “be still” and know that Jesus is with us (Psalm 46:11).
When we go to the movies, the show captures our attention. All the concerns of our lives dissipate as we enter into another world for two hours. In a similar way, we need to learn how to leave the world behind, enter our “inner room,” and be with Jesus for a time every day. We need to learn how to remove the obstacles and quiet the noise of the world for a while so that we can hear Jesus and sense his love and presence.
During Lent, try to reduce the noise as best you can. Develop a plan that will help you get to that inner room. Perhaps this involves physically getting to your church for a time of eucharistic adoration. Maybe it means turning off the television and silencing your cell phone while you pray. Maybe it means literally finding a quiet room in your home that is free from everyday distractions. Whatever your strategy, set aside a specific time to be with God alone. Find the best way to still your mind so that you can experience the Lord.
Being Versus Doing. The world encourages us to identify ourselves according to our functions instead of our relationships. We talk about our work, our home, our children, our hobbies, our skills, and our talents. We judge ourselves based on our successes or failures. To a certain degree, this is only natural, and it can be helpful in setting our goals for our lives.
But experiencing God’s love is not about doing, it’s about being. Now we can easily define doing. It’s activity. But how can we ever define being? It’s such a hard concept to put into words. Probably the best way is to look at an analogy. Just as we love our children simply because they are ours, God loves us simply because we are his children. He appreciates it when we do good things, but his first and foremost love is because of who we are.
When he was on the earth, Jesus called his Father “Abba,” a word of intimacy and familiarity that Jewish children used for their fathers (Mark 14:36). When he taught his disciples how to pray, Jesus told them to call God “Abba” as well (Matthew 6:9). A few decades later, St. Paul wrote that God has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts, teaching us to cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15). This means that every day, the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, is telling us: “Do you know that you are God’s child? He loves you! He wants you to know him!” All we have to do is learn how to hear the message.
Of course, doing is a necessary part of life. We have to work if we want to pay our bills. We have to cook if we want to eat. But being is still more important, especially if we want to get to know God and experience his love.
Our functional minds tell us to say our prayers every day, to go to Mass on Sunday, and to obey all the commandments. But true Catholic spirituality is not a matter of complying with all of the rules. We pray and celebrate Mass because we want to meet Jesus. We obey his commands because we don’t want sin to separate us from him.
Unless we come to Mass with the desire to surrender our lives to Jesus, unless we come eager to listen to what he wants to tell us and ready to receive whatever gifts he wants to give us, we will likely miss out.
So let’s try our best to emphasize being over doing this Lent. Let’s learn to look at ourselves as children of God, beloved sons and daughters who were created to receive life and love from God. If we can see ourselves in this light, our times of prayer and Mass will become more and more about meeting Jesus.
Contemplating Jesus. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, our ultimate happiness “consists solely in the contemplation of God,” in communion with the One who loves us eternally.
If you want to learn how to contemplate Jesus, a good way to start is with your imagination. Try picturing yourself standing in the middle of a rain shower. Imagine Jesus raining down grace all over you. Or maybe you can imagine yourself sitting with Jesus or taking a walk with him. Imagine yourself being so caught up in his presence that you hang on his every word. Be humble. Have no pretensions. Bare your soul to him. Tell him your ups and your downs; your joys and your sorrows.
Once you have opened yourself up in this way, begin to meditate on Jesus and his truths. Tell yourself: “Jesus is the eternal Son of God, and yet he loves me.” Or tell yourself: “Jesus gave up his life for me. That’s how deeply he loves me.” Or tell yourself: “Jesus is with me right now, listening to me and wanting to give me a taste of his love.”
The goal in this kind of contemplation is to bring our hearts, with all of their thoughts and memories, all of their strengths and weaknesses, into communion with Jesus’ own sacred heart. All we want to do is give our hearts to him and let him give us his own heart in exchange.
Sensing His Presence. As you come into communion with Jesus, be as receptive as possible to whatever he wants to do in you. We can’t stress this point enough. Be receptive. Be open. Receive. Trust in God’s goodness and his love. Perhaps he wants to speak a word to your heart. Maybe he wants to heal an old wound. Or he may ask you to do something that you’ve been putting off.
Whatever you sense God saying or doing in you, put your confidence in him. Even if you can’t sense anything at all, believe that Jesus is present with you. Remember what he promised: “Knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Remember St. Peter’s words: “Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
Sometimes we can sense what the Holy Spirit is doing. People who contemplate Jesus are frequently filled with a deep peace and a great joy. Others find themselves thinking about God’s awesome presence and feel moved to say: “I love you Jesus” or “Jesus, I give you my life.” However, the most common experience that we find when we contemplate Jesus is a sense of God filling us with love and peace.
If you try to contemplate Jesus for just ten minutes each day, you will be amazed at what you sense in your heart and what you see come into your mind.
Here I Am, Lord! Every day, Jesus invites us to come into his presence and have communion with him. “Come to me,” he promises, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He wants to fill the deep needs in us. He knows that his love is the only thing that will fully satisfy us. He wants us to know that real happiness and true meaning can be found in him. So let’s take up his invitation every day this Lent. May God bless you, and may he richly reward all of your efforts as you contemplate his love and his presence.