THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD
The exercise of the presence of God consists partly in the operation of the intellect and partly in the operation of the will. The intellect represents God as present, and the will unites the soul to God by acts of adoration, of love, of humility and the like. In regard to the intellect, the presence of God may be practised in various ways.
We can imagine that Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, is present; that He is in our company, and that He sees us in whatsoever place we may be. We can at one time represent Him in one Mystery, and again in another: for example, now an Infant lying in the Manger of Bethlehem, and again a Pilgrim flying into Egypt; now a Boy working in the shop of Nazareth, and again suffering as a criminal in His Passion in Jerusalem, scourged, or crowned with thorns, or nailed to a Cross. St. Teresa praises this method of practising the presence of God. But it is necessary to remark, that though this method is good, it is not the best, nor is it always profitable. Hence, should you wish to practise it, you must do it sweetly, only when you find it useful, and without labouring to represent in the mind the peculiar features of our Saviour, His countenance, His stature, or colour. It is enough to represent Him in a general manner, and as beholding all we do.
The second method, which is more secure and more excellent, is founded on the truth of Faith, and consists in beholding with eyes of Faith God present with us in every place, in considering that He encompasses us, that He sees and observes whatever we do. We indeed do not see Him with the eyes of the flesh. Nor do we see the air, yet we know for certain that it surrounds us on every side, that we live in it; for without it we could neither breathe nor live. We do not see God, but our holy Faith teaches that He is always present with us. Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord? (Jer. xxiii. 24). And as a sponge in the midst of the ocean is encompassed and saturated with water, so, says the Apostle, in God we live and move and are (Acts xvii. 28). And our God, says St. Augustine, observes every action, every word, every thought of each, as if He forgot all His other creatures, and had to attend only to us. Hence, observing all we do, and say, and think, He marks and registers all, in order to demand an account on the day of Judgment, and to give us then the reward or the chastisement we have deserved.
This second way of practising the Divine presence does not fatigue the mind; for the exercise of it we need only enliven our Faith with an affectionate act of the will, saying: My God, I believe firmly that Thou art here present. To this act we can easily add the acts of love, or of resignation, or of purity of intention, and the like.
The third way of preserving the remembrance of God’s presence is to recognize Him in His creatures, which have from Him their being, and their power of serving us. God is in the water to wash us, in the fire to warm us, in the sun to give us light, in food to nourish us, in clothes to cover us, and in like manner in all other things that He has created for our use. When we see a beautiful object, a beautiful garden, or a beautiful flower, let us think that there we behold a ray of the infinite beauty of God, Who has given existence to that object. If we converse with a man of sanctity and learning, let us consider that it is God Who imparts to him a small portion of His own holiness and wisdom. Thus, also, when we hear sweet sounds, when we feel a fragrant odour, or taste delicious meat or drink, let us remember that God is the Being Who by His presence imparts to us these delights, that by them we may be induced to aspire to the eternal delights of Paradise.
Let us accustom ourselves to behold in every object God, Who presents Himself to us in every creature; and let us offer Him acts of thanksgiving and of love, remembering that from eternity He has thought of creating so many beautiful creatures to bring us to His love. St. Augustine says: Learn to love your Creator in creatures; and fix not your affection on what God has made, lest you should become attached to creatures and lose Him by Whom you, too, have been created. This was the practice of the Saint. At the sight of creatures he was accustomed to raise his heart to God; hence he exclaimed with love: Heaven and earth and all things tell me to love Thee. When he beheld the Heavens, the stars, the fields, the mountains, he seemed to hear them say: Augustine, love God, for He has created us for no other end than that you might love Him.
Thus, likewise, St. Teresa, when she beheld the plains, the sea, the rivers, or other beautiful creatures, felt as if they reproached her with ingratitude to God. Thus also St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, holding in her hand a flower or an apple, and looking at it, became enraptured with Divine love, saying within herself: Then my God has thought from eternity of creating this fruit for my sake, and to give me a proof of the love He bears me! It is also related of St. Simon Salo, that when walking through the fields he saw flowers or herbs, he would strike them with his staff, saying: “Be silent! Be silent! You reproach me with not loving that God Who has made you so beautiful for my sake, that I might be induced to love Him: I hear you! Cease! Reprove me no longer; be silent!”