Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Presence of God
All solid devotion and devotional practices must be founded upon the truths of faith, and these truths must be borne in mind when treating of the presence of God from an ascetical and devotional point of view. First, it is of faith that God is present by His Essence everywhere and in all things by reason of His Immensity. (Creed of St. Athanasius; Council of Lateran, c. "Firmiter"; Vatican Council, Sess. III, c. 1.) It is also of faith that God is in an especial manner really and substantially present in the souls of the just. This indwelling of God in the souls of the just is attributed by what theologians call appropriation to the Holy Ghost, but in reality it is common to the three Divine Persons.
To put ourselves in the presence of God, or to live in the presence of God, as spiritual writers express it, means to become actually conscious of God as present, or at least so to live as though we were thus actually conscious. It is a simple act which involves the impression of the unseen Being with whom we have immediate relation and familiar converse, whose goodness towards us is assured, and who loves us with an everlasting love; who exercises a particular providence among us, who is present everywhere and "who", in the words of Cardinal Newman, "is heart-reading, heart-changing, ever accessible and open to penetration" (Grammar of Assent, 112). The simple child as well as the advanced contemplative may thus represent God as present to the mind, and live in the consciousness of His presence. It is only the angels and blessed who can behold the face of God.
The servant of God or the devout soul may be mindful of His presence in another way, namely, by the exercise of reason directed by faith. He sees God in the earth, the sea, the air and in all things; in heaven where He manifests His glory, in hell where He carries out the law of His justice. He thinks of Him as present in all things within us and without us, and especially as dwelling secretly in his innermost soul, hidden from all our senses, yet speaking, as it were, to the conscience with a voice that is in us but not of us; the voice of One who is with us yet over us.
One may therefore practise the devotion of living in the presence of God:
- by a lively faith in that Divine presence, that God is near us and within us as Elias says: "the Lord liveth. . . in whose sight I stand" (III Kings, xvii, 1; cf. IV Kings, iii, 14);
- when distracted the mind may be easily brought back to the remembrance of God's presence by the simple reflection: "The Lord is here"; "The Lord sees me";
- when occupied with conversation or business by breathing from time to time some secret aspiration or affection for God and then keeping the mind recollected;
- in dereliction of spirit, by keeping God in mind more faithfully, knowing that nothing can come between Him and the soul but grave sin, through which His special operation in the soul by grace ceases. Men may be said to come to God as they become more like Him in goodness, and to withdraw from Him, when they become unlike Him by their wickedness.
As the immediate preparation for mental prayer, it is fitting and necessary "to place ourselves in the presence of God". This is to be done by an act of faith in the Divine presence, from which should follow:
- an act of adoration;
- an act of humility;
- an act of sorrow or contrition;
- an act of petition for light and grace.
These acts may be made in the interior of the soul. BLOSIUS, Institutio Spiritualis, English version by WILBERFORCE (London, 1900); DEVINE, A Manual of Mystical Theology (London, 1903); ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, Treatise on the Love of God; TYRRELL, Hard Sayings (London, 1898); LESSIUS, De perfectionibus divinis: de Immensitate Dei; VALLGONERA, Mystica Theologia Divi Thomae (Turin, 1890).