THE PRESENCE OF GOD PRESERVES FROM SIN
The Practice of the presence of God is justly called the foundation of the spiritual life. The spiritual life consists of three things: the avoidance of evil, the practice of virtue, and union with God. The practice of the presence of God preserves the soul from sin, leads it to virtue and unites it to God in holy love.
The Practice of the presence of God preserves the soul from sin. Indeed, there is no more efficacious means of subduing the passions, of resisting temptations, and consequently of avoiding sin, than the remembrance of God’s presence. The angelic Doctor says: “If we thought that God was looking at us, and saw all, we would never, or scarcely ever, commit a sin.” And St. Jerome has written that the remembrance of God’s presence closes the door against all sins. “The remembrance of God,” says the holy Doctor, “shuts out all sins.” And if men will not dare in their presence to transgress the commands of princes, parents, or superiors, how could they ever violate the laws of God if they thought that He was looking at them? St. Ambrose relates that a page of Alexander the Great, who held in his hand a lighted torch whilst Alexander was offering sacrifice in the temple, suffered his hand to be burnt sooner than be guilty of irreverence by allowing the torch to fall. The Saint adds, that if reverence to his sovereign could conquer nature in a boy, how much more will the thought of the Divine presence make a faithful soul overcome every temptation, and suffer every pain rather than insult the Lord before His face!
All the sins of men flow from their losing sight of the Divine presence. “Every evil,” says St. Teresa, “happens to us because we do not reflect that God is present, but imagine that He is afar off.” And David said the same: God is not before his eyes; his ways are filthy at all times (Ps. x. 26). Sinners forget that God sees them, and therefore they offend Him at all times. The Abbot Diocles went so far as to say that “he who puts away the remembrance of the presence of God becomes either a beast or a devil.” And justly; for he shall be instantly assailed by carnal or diabolical desires which he will not have strength to resist.
On the other hand, by the very thought that God was looking upon them, the Saints bravely repelled all the assaults of their enemies. This thought gave courage to holy Susanna to resist the temptations of the Elders, and even to despise their threats against her life. Hence she courageously said to them: It is better for me to fall into your hands without doing it than to sin in the sight of the Lord (Dan. xiii. 23). It is better to fall into your hands and to die without sin than to offend God before His face. This thought also converted a wicked woman who dared to tempt St. Ephrem; the Saint told her that if she wished to sin she must meet him in the middle of the city. But, said she, how is it possible to commit sin before so many persons? And how, replied the Saint, is it possible to sin in the presence of God Who sees us in every place? At these words she burst into tears, and falling prostrate on the ground asked pardon of the Saint, and besought him to point out to her the way of salvation. St. Ephrem placed her in a monastery, where she led a holy life, weeping over her sins till death. The same happened to the Abbot Paphnutius and a sinner called Thais. She tempted him one day, saying that there was no one to see them but God. The Saint with a stern voice said to her: “Then you believe that God sees you, and will you commit sin?” Thais was thunderstruck, and filled with horror for her sinful life: she gathered together all her riches, clothes, and jewels which she had earned by her infamous practices, burned them in the public square, and retired into a monastery, where she fasted on bread and water every day for three successive years, always repeating this prayer: “O Thou Who hast made me, have mercy on me!” After these three years she happily ended her life by a holy death. It was afterwards revealed to Paul, a disciple of St. Anthony, that this happy penitent was placed among the Saints on an exalted throne of glory.
Behold the efficacy of the remembrance of the Divine presence to make us avoid sins. Let us then always pray to the Lord, saying with Job: Set me beside thee, and let any man’s hand fight against me (Job. xvii. 3). My God, place me in Thy Presence: that is, remind me in every place that Thou seest me, and then let all my enemies assail me: I shall always defeat them. Hence St. Chrysostom concludes: “If we keep ourselves always in the presence of God, the thought that He sees all our thoughts, that He hears all our words, and observes all our actions will preserve us from thinking any evil, from speaking any evil and from doing any evil.”