One of the easiest ways to live in God’s presence is to look upon Jesus, the divine Son of God. The Son of God became man so that man might become, in turn, the adopted son and friend of God. In becoming man, God has made it easier for us to understand His love for us. Witness His gentle appeal: “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” “No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends.”
Such an appeal makes it much easier for us to approach Him than it was for the chosen people before Christ, who never saw God and knew Him only as the Divine Spirit. But we, through the humanity of Christ, find ready access to union with the Divinity. The man Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem, who walked along the dusty roads of Galilee, who talked to the woman at the well of Jacob, who raised Lazarus from the dead, and who finally died on the Cross, was truly the Son of God.
Union with Christ means union with God
Since Jesus is one with God the Father, union with Jesus — even in this world — is the purpose of our life. He is the One whom we must love most deeply, so that we may reach the perfection of nature and find true happiness. To love Jesus of Nazareth with an intimate, personal love is to love God with an intimate, personal love, for Jesus is God.
Therefore, if we have Jesus in His sacred humanity ever before our eyes, if we look upon Him with love and try to live a life of personal friendship with Him, pleasing Him in all things, we will have already attained, to some degree, an intimate love of God.
Now we can understand why it is so helpful to meditate on the life of Jesus and why St. Teresa of Avila could suggest this method to her nuns: “The soul can picture itself in the presence of Christ, and accustom itself to become enkindled with great love for His sacred humanity and to have Him ever with it and speak with Him, ask Him for the things it has need of, make complaints to Him of its trials, rejoice with Him in its joys, and yet never allow its joys to make it forgetful of Him. It has no need to think out set prayers but can use just such words as suit its desires and needs.”
We may represent our Lord in many different manners, depending on the disposition and the state of holiness we have attained. If we are just a beginner, we might find it advantageous to perform our daily work in the presence of Christ, imagining Him to be nearby, using some holy card or painting for our image of Him.
If we have learned to pray and to live a virtuous life, this simple imaginary presence will not satisfy us. We will want to read and reread the Gospels, make a study of Christ, and then try to walk in His footsteps — even to the Cross. Only the continual study of Christ can make us conscious of His presence and ensure our imitation of Him.
Circumstances can help you think of Christ
Let us see how we might put this into practice. We find that our work and efforts are not appreciated by those whom we are trying to help. At such times, do we think of Christ deserted by the Apostles, when the soldiers came to seize Him? His own believed Him a failure.
Perhaps the monotony of everyday life begins to wear us down, and there seems to be no hope of change. Do we recall Christ, the model of patience, waiting thirty years to reveal His mission to the world? Do we at least pray to Him, feeling confident that He can help us?
Or, perhaps we are poor. Christ Himself often slept by the seashore.
Or, we are snubbed, called a fool. Was not Christ shunted from Pilate to Herod to Pilate again? Should our lot be better?
Or, we suffer terrible physical or mental pain. There is no apparent reason why we should suffer. But the innocent Christ wore a crown of thorns and was nailed to the Cross. Should we be better off than the Son of God? He was innocent. Are we innocent of every sin?
The liturgical year is beautifully arranged to make us conscious of the role Christ can play in our life. The Child in the crib can awaken within us an attraction to His life of poverty, obedience, and simplicity. When we look at Him in the crib, we see more than a helpless baby. We see the Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world. We see the Peacemaker between God and man. During Lent, and especially at Passiontide, the Church can teach us to carry the Cross and live the Passion in our daily life. And for those who would like to think of Christ and imagine Him as He really is in His glorified human body, the Church presents the Liturgy of Easter Sunday and the immediately succeeding weeks.
You can attain continual communion and Friendship with Jesus
But, again, we must use daily effort in order to make any progress. Just as a child learning to walk must first learn to crawl, then to stand with support, then take a few steps alone, until gradually he can walk with steady step, so also the child who reaches out to God and desires to live in continual communion with Him must, as a general rule, first go through all the stages of spiritual walking.
Some people may think that this living in the presence of Jesus in His sacred humanity is impossible. But is it not true that mothers who love their children live continually in their presence? Why, then, should it be impossible for those who love Jesus to think of Him often and try to please Him?
Jesus has always held first place in the thoughts of holy Christian men and women. St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, after the apparition on the road to Damascus, lived continually in the presence of Jesus. He preached one gospel: Jesus crucified and our new life in Him. “For I decided to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
The spirit of St. Paul is still alive in the Church. In our own day, this is well illustrated in the life of Fr. Titus Brandsma, O. Carm., who was at one time Rector of the Catholic University of Nijmegen, Holland, and an authority in the field of Carmelite mysticism. In 1942, the Nazis sent Fr. Titus to the dreaded concentration camp of Dachau, where he was isolated in an unused dog kennel and forced to mimic the barking of a dog each time a guard passed. After great torture and suffering, the aged priest died on July 26, 1942. The Nazis sent his breviary to his confreres in Holland, but they had failed to notice that the priest had inserted between the lines of the breviary the story of his suffering. And there, too, he had written his last song, a real prayer, a conversation with Jesus. In the hour of his greatest affliction, he could converse intimately with our Lord, since, during his life, he had learned to live in His presence:
A new awareness of Thy love Encompasses my heart:
Sweet Jesus, I in Thee and Thou
In me shall never part.
No grief shall fall my way, but I Shall see Thy grief-filled eyes;
The lonely way that Thou once walked
Has made me sorrow-wise.
All trouble is a white-lit joy That lights my darkest day;
Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Thy love has turned to brightest light This night-like way.
If I have Thee alone, The hours will bless
With still, cold hands of love
My utter loneliness.
Stay with me, Jesus, only stay; I shall not fear
If, reaching out my hand,
I feel Thee near.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Healy’s Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.