There is a Latin rhyme that goes like this: Ora et labora, Deus adest sine mora. In English, we can translate it this way, keeping the rhyme: “Work and pray; God is here without delay.” Ora et labora is well known as a motto of the Benedictine Order. What I am considering now is the Deus adest part: “God is here.”
If we really had an abiding sense of the presence of God, how very differently would we act; how much better would we pray; how much less would we sin!
When we go into a church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, we can consider the three modes of Divine presence which are there: God’s omnipresence, His sacramental presence in the tabernacle, and His presence in our souls if we are in the state of grace. Here, I would like to consider these three modes of the Divine presence.
God is everywhere. It is easy to think backwards when we consider God’s omnipresence, and falsely assign the priority to space, making God to be present in it — almost as if the space came first. But space is a mere relation between created material things. But the universe, with all its vastness, is but a created material image of God’s immensity, which is bigger than it, and which contains it. Saint Paul, in addressing a pagan audience, said that God is “not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and are” (Acts 17:28). We can say that He was here first — before there was even a “here” in the material sense. “In the beginning God created heaven, and earth” (Genesis 1:1). What existed before that? Only God.
Saint Vincent Pallotti was so impressed with the omnipresence of God that he rarely wore his hat. Sounds funny, I know. But consider, one takes off his hat — if he is a gentleman — in the presence of a greater person, or of a lady (Hence the expressions, “to tip the hat,” or “hat tip.”). Saint Vincent was attentive to the Divine presence all around him, even while walking on the street, and therefore would take off his hat.
If we are (God forbid) in the state of mortal sin, and if we are not in a church before the Blessed Sacrament, we are still in God’s presence. Should we, in that state, reflect on the Divine presence and not rather put Him out of our minds, we will not long want to remain in that state. And putting the most present Being in the universe out of our minds is very easy. After all, there are so many things we have at our fingertips to excite our senses and dull our intellects. Distractions abound.
II. Sacramental Presence
In the tabernacles of our Catholic churches, the Holy Eucharist is placed in the ciborium, pyx, or luna, there to be adored, thanked, petitioned, and told how sorry we are for our sins. He is not there in Sacrifice (if the Mass is over), nor as Sacrament (for we are not receiving Him just now), nor yet as Holy Communion (which happens after we have received, and are taken into Him). But He is present for us to render to Him all those homages which are his due, the principal four of which I enumerated in the first sentence of this paragraph. Beyond that, He is there for us to love, to speak to, and to commune with in that devotion we know as “spiritual communion.” (This fourfold distinction of Real Presence, Sacrament, Sacrifice, and Holy Communion comes from Father Feeney’s “The Eucharist in Four Simple Mysteries.”)
In the space that is occupied by the accidents of bread, Jesus Christ is truly there: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is the same Man-God who, “for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary…” It is that same Jesus who underwent all the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries for the glory of His Father and for love of us. We may speak to Him, hidden there under sacramental veils, of any of those mysteries narrated in the Gospels. And we may speak to him of our own personal joys, sorrows, and glories.
What is contained in the tabernacle is not a “part” of Jesus. It is the whole Jesus multilocated in all the tabernacles of the world where the Real Presence dwells. The whole Incarnate Word is present in all the Hosts contained in one tabernacle, in one Host, and in the smallest fragment of a Host. And yes, I did say that the Precious Blood is there. This is true even though we do not reserve the consecrated wine in our tabernacles. Since He who is present is the glorified Jesus — not a lifeless cadaver — He is present with His Blood, too. Theologians call this the principle of concomitance. His human soul, with a Man’s intellect and will — that very soul that suffered mental agony in the Garden of Gethsemane — is there to be consoled and to console, to know us as man and to be known as Man.
III. Divine Indwelling by Grace
“The kingdom of God is within in you” (Luke 17), said Jesus to his disciples. This does not contradict the reality that the Church is something transcendent and therefore larger than any of its members. It simply states the great truth that the members of the Church contain Heaven’s kingdom in themselves. It is an internal, as well as an external, reality. It is both mystical and juridical.
Let us briefly consider the various ways the Divine Kingdom is within us: First, if we are in the state of grace, we have the Indwelling of the Holy Trinity in our souls. Saint Thomas says that God is present in the just soul “as the known in the knower and the loved in the lover” (ST Ia, Q. 43, A 3). One might say that this great truth became a holy and consuming idée fixe for Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, who delighted in calling the Holy Trinity, “My Three.” This expression of hers does not reveal a false monopoly she thought she had on God, but rather the intimacy with which she could relate to the Three Persons. (She, by the way, has just had her canonization approved.)
Aside from the Indwelling of the Trinity, we have sanctifying grace itself, which is heavenly glory inchoate, while heavenly glory is grace consummated. If we are in the state of justification (sanctifying grace), we also have faith, hope, and charity, the first two of which will give place respectively to vision and possession, while the third endures forever. Too, we have the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are “of such excellence that they continue to exist even in heaven, though in a more perfect way” (Leo XIII Divinum Illud Munus). And let us not forget the Beatitudes, which are supernatural acts that flow with ease, resulting from the Gifts. For Saint Thomas, the Beatitudes are a “preparation,” “disposition,” and even, “some beginning of” the “happiness” of Heaven.
I have quoted him before on this, but I cannot help citing Saint Maximos the Confessor on the divine indwelling: “If, as St. Paul says, Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (cf. Eph. 3:17), and all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in Him (cf. Col. 2:3), then all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in our hearts. They are revealed to the heart in proportion to our purification by means of the commandments.”
And I have also quoted an anonymous Carthusian writer on this point before, but cannot state the case any better than he:
The great truth that the Holy Spirit utters in the depths of our soul ‘in unspeakable groanings’ [Rom. 8:26] is that the Infinite God is present there, living and loving, and offering Himself to us unceasingly, as Truth to the mind and Charity to the heart; and that we have only to make an act of faith in order to possess Him and enter into relations of eternal love with Him. Qui credit in me habet vitam aeternam [“He that believeth in me, hath everlasting life” — John 6:47] … hath eternal life. The present tense fits exactly. (They Speak by Silences by A Carthusian, p. 4, bold emphasis mine.)
We might make a practical resolution to have some time every day alone with God in order to cultivate the Divine Presence. If He is present in us as the known in the knower and the loved in the lover, shouldn’t we be aware of this, if not at every moment, at least from time to time during the day?
Deus adest vere! Truly, God is here!