Experiencing God Today

The following was written by Anthony Massimini, Ph.D.

We experience God within ourselves and in today’s society and culture. Part 2

God does not reveal doctrines and theological formulas to us.  God reveals him/herself to us–his/her life and love.  We in turn assent to God’s self-revelation by believing in God and returning our life and love to God.  

   As we grow in our experience of God’s self-revelation to us, our understanding grows and we create words, formulas and doctrines that officially express who God is and what God has done for us.  Thus we have formulated the Apostles Creed, and the Nicene Creed that is recited at Mass.  In these creeds, we express the oneness of the faith of the entire People of God, the church.

   Within these Creeds, each of us then understands, interprets and applies the one faith according to our own way of discerning–in common with the discernment of the whole People of God.  This includes our own personality.  Many of us, especially those who are older, will remember that our image of a saint usually came from looking at a holy card.  The artist’s depiction often made the saint look like he or she was experiencing some form of ecstasy, or possibly was about to levitate off the ground.  What does a saint, or even a regular holy person, really look and act like?  The right answer of course is that a saint, or a regular holy person looks and acts like us when we are responding to God’s self-communication according to our own personality.   

  The only changes that would be required would be to correct anything about our personality that would interfere with our relationship with God and others, e.g., a quickness to anger or criticize, a bad attitude, etc.  These faults actually hide our true self, so getting rid of them will help us live as we truly are and  therefore have life in abundance.  

    Fr. Ormond Rush’s book, The Eyes of Faith–The Sense of the Faith and the Church’s Reception of Revelation, is an excellent theological course on the sense of the faith.  In it he says that our response to God is so personal that within the one Catholic faith, each of us writes and lives our own catechism.  So we should get to know ourselves as well as possible.  And we should respect our personal dignity as baptized Christians and 21st century expressions of Christ.  We grow and evolve in spirituality and in our resemblance to Christ, not by separating ourselves from ourselves but by making ourselves all that God intends us to be, in the grace of Christ.

The sense of the faith must be present and alive in today’s culture.  Our challenge is to make our culture an expression of Christ, without imposing our religion on anyone.  In a special way, we do this by working to make our culture a clear and effective expression of the Principles of Social Justice and the Spiritual Disciplines.  

   We must avoid two extremes: 1) imposing our religion on our society and culture, and 2) separating our faith altogether from our culture.  The first extreme especially arises when the bishops try to impose their power on our society.  The  second extreme is the danger that I will discuss below.
In 1994, The National Catholic Reporter printed an article about Briggs & Stratton’s closing of one of their plants and moving their production to Mexico, thus putting many long time, American employees out of work.  In the article, the paper mentioned that the executives are Catholics, and it questioned their adherence to Catholic social principles.  

  The closing of the plant could have been a necessary and ethical move.  That’s not the story. The story is that in 1996, Briggs & Stratton sued the NCR for 30 million dollars for revealing that the executives are Catholics and for questioning their adherence to Catholic social principles.  Along the way, the company’s vice president made this statement, “My religious upbringing has absolutely nothing to do with the basic economic decisions made by the company.” 
Fast forward to today: In this week’s edition of “America” magazine, (June, 2012) a chief executive of a corporation is quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t know the common good if it bit me.”  

   The two statements typify the pressing need for business executives, and people in every part of our society, to take the time and make the effort to find their own sense of the faith, and bring it to life in today’s culture. 

  Executives may know the principles of Social Justice, but that knowledge is useless unless they know how to apply the principles and bring them to full life in their business.  It’s like saying that they have an idea of who Jesus is, but don’t know how to recognize and relate to Jesus in the flesh.  A flesh-less Jesus is not the real Jesus. 

  An abstract understanding of the Principles of Social Justice, and the Spiritual Disciplines that give the principles life, is not social justice in the flesh.  When business executives, along with workers, teachers, health care providers, scientists, artists, et. al. don’t know the real, flesh-and-blood Jesus, they give anemic service to others, or no service at all.  Businesses, for example, do not just provide a profitable service for the entire community.  Instead, they turn business on itself so that “business is business,” i.e., a way of making profit for the few, to the detriment of the workers, the community, and the environment.   People suffer, and our culture suffers.

   Vatican II’s language is a bit clumsy but it’s message on this point is clear and strong: 

  They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come (cf. Heb. 13:14), think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities.  For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation (2 Thess. 3:6-13; Eph. 4:28).  Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.

June 11, 2012
         Mythologist Joseph Campbell once told the story of two policemen in Hawaii who were driving a patrol car along the top of a cliff when they saw a man about to jump off the cliff.  As the driver screeched the car to a halt the other policemen ran out and grabbed the man just as he jumped.  For a long frightening moment, the policeman held on to the man’s wrist at peril to his own life, until the other policeman arrived and joined in pulling the man up.

   When people asked the policeman why he held on, especially since he was married and had children, he explained that he never had any thought of letting the man go.  Campbell explained that the policeman’s act showed our basic human oneness.  The same oneness shows when a soldier falls on a grenade to save his buddies.    

  We all share in this same oneness; it is built right into us and into the universe itself.  Our individuality and uniqueness arise from it.  As unique as we are, we basically depend on one another. The basic energy of our lives is to love one another.  In the sub-atomic realm, if any particle separates itself from the whole, it loses its meaning and dies.  The same is true for us.  

   Our sense of faith is calling to us to realize and appreciate our oneness with all others, and with nature.  And we don’t have to experience extreme danger in order to experience our oneness.  Contemplative Thomas Merton once was assigned to go into town with another monk to buy some things for the monastery.  When they arrived at the store, the other monk went inside and Merton stood outside on the sidewalk.  As he watched the people passing by he spontaneously realized that he was totally in love with every one of them.  His monastic contemplation had opened him to putting his oneness with others right up front in his consciousness. 

   Merton gives us the way to “hear” God within us and realize and appreciate our oneness in God and with one another.  Just as it took time and effort for Merton to arrive at his contemplative sensitivity, we must take time and effort in our own way.  Our sense of faith gives us both the content of our faith and the ability to receive God’s revelation of that content.  It disposes us to realize our loving oneness with God and all others.  

   If we look deeply into ourselves, we will find there what T. S. Eliot called, “the still point of the turning world,” that silent place within ourselves where God speaks in a whisper.  (1 Kings 19:12,13). Notice that Eliot did not say, “the still point in the turning world:, but “of the turning world”.  We don’t stop the world, or our culture, to hear God within us; we “hear” God while the world is turning, while our culture is running at the full speed it runs at today.  On the PRAYER page, there is a short explanation of Contemplation.  I suggest that you read it and meditate on it.  Clearly, contemplation is not easy in today’s noisy, fast-moving, hyper-individualized culture.  Our Congress, for example, seems deaf to God’s call to oneness.  But as I noted, God has already disposed us to “hear” him, in ourselves and in today’s signs of the times.  Hearing him and responding to him is one of the aspects of our being a spiritually adult, 21st century expression of Christ.       
Jesus did not come to be with only the Jews in first century Palestine.  Nor only with the Gentiles of the Roman Empire.  He came to be intimately present to the whole world–everyone and everything in it, all the way back to the world’s inception and all the way forward until he returns and changes our world into an eternal “new Jerusalem.”  In Jesus we have all of humanity and the rest of nature–all the space/time world, united to eternal/infinite divinity.  Jesus not only represents evolving wholeness-in-love; he is evolving wholeness-in-love.

   To be spiritual adults in today’s world we have to live in the constant consciousness of evolving wholeness-in-love.  While we certainly pay attention to our own views and needs, we have to be able to see beyond them to the views and needs of all others.  As spiritual adults, we have to see the big picture.  When Bobby Kennedy was a senator, he once said, “I have to constantly decide whether I’m a New York senator or an American senator.”  Sometimes he had to vote against New York’s particular need in order to satisfy the bigger American need.

   For example, we have a new health care bill that requires people to buy health insurance so that everybody can have health care.  The principle is clearly a Christian one–we are here to help one another.  But today’s deeply polarized culture militates against our having a reasonable discussion as to what is the best way to fulfill this principle. Not long ago,  I was addressing a Catholic audience and said, “We’re now going to have a Catholic discussion on the best way to provide health care for every American.  Then I laughed and added, “And if anybody gets partisan, you’re out of here!”  The discussion never got started.

  Our sense of wholeness arises from our sense of faith.  In faith, we see as God sees–we see all individuals first within the context of their one, human wholeness. Then we see their individuality and uniqueness.  This of course contradicts our culture’s way of seeing;  we first see ourselves and our own needs, and then we see others and their needs, if we have time or the disposition.  For example, it is legitimate to ask if the corporate executives who send jobs overseas care about the Americans who have lost their jobs in the process.  Christian wholeness (cf. the social principle of Solidarity) shows us that while the foreign workers also need jobs, American corporations have some responsibility to help find jobs for the Americans who lost their jobs to the foreign workers.  In simple terms, we’re all in this together!

   Today’s science sees wholeness-in-love in a similar way, although few if any scientists would use that expression.  Take us for example:  our sub-atomic particles are nestled within our atoms.  Our atoms are nestled within our molecules.  Our molecules are nestled within our cells.  Our cells are nestled within our bones and organs.  Our bones and organs are nestled within our body.  Our body is a nestled expression of the energy that is our soul.  Every part has its own unique individuality, and yet if we remove any part of this progression of nestings, e.g., if we put our atoms on their own, we will fall apart and die.

   Some young people show a problem with wholeness when they hold back from getting married.  They live together for a while, but if this arrangement doesn’t satisfy their individual needs, they split up.  They never quite get to the point where they’re satisfying their common needs.  They show their fear of commitment by not using the word “marriage,” but instead, preferring the word, “relationship.”  By this, they mean they are in an arrangement where they are standing off a bit from each other, fearful of losing their individuality.  Similarly, many say, “I am spiritual but not religious.”  But you can’t be spiritual all by yourself.  We all have to be a loving, giving and “nesting” part of some whole. 

  Recall the statement of Bishop Camara, “When I give food to the poor, the people call me a saint.  When I ask why the poor have no food, the people call me a Communist.  We should all be deeply embarrassed that the people did not call him a Catholic.  Physically, psychologically and socially, we are “designed” to operate within our deep, natural wholeness;  ours is a spirituality of family, friendships, schools, businesses, and all the various social,and religious organizations we are part of, and of our loving oneness with God.  As 21st century expressions of Christ, we operate from our “home base” of wholeness.  

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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