APPLICATION OF THE WILL TO THE HOLY EXERCISE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD
We have spoken of the operation of the intellect; we will now say a few words on the application of the will to the holy exercise of the Divine Presence. And it is necessary to understand that to remain always before God, with the mind continually fixed on Him, is the happy lot of the Blessed; but in the present state it is morally impossible to keep up the thought of the presence of God without interruption. Hence we should endeavour to practise it to the best of our ability, not with a solicitous inquietude and indiscreet effort of the mind, but with sweetness and tranquillity.
There are three means of facilitating the application of the will to this exercise.
1. The first method consists in frequently raising the heart to God, by short but fervent ejaculations, or loving affections towards God present with us. These may be practised in all places and at all times, in walking, at work, at meals, and at recreation. These affections may be acts of election, of desire, of resignation, of oblation, of love, of renunciation, of thanksgiving, of petition, of humility, of confidence, and the like. In whatever occupation you find yourself, you can very easily turn to God from time to time and say to Him:
My God, I wish for Thee alone, and nothing else. I desire nothing but to be all Thine. Dispose as Thou pleasest of me, and of all that I possess. I give myself entirely to Thee. Thy will alone be done! I renounce all things for the love of Thee. I thank Thee for the great graces Thou hast bestowed upon me. Give me Thy holy love. But for Thy mercy, O Lord, I should be at this moment in hell. I delight in Thy felicity. I would that all men loved Thee! Never permit me to be separated from Thee. In Thee I place all my hopes. When shall I see Thee and love Thee face to face? Let all that I do and suffer be done and suffered for Thee. Thy holy will be always done!
The ancient Fathers set great value on all these short prayers, by which we can practise the presence of God more easily than by long prayers. And St. John Chrysostom used to say, that he that makes use of these short prayers or acts shuts the door against the devil, and prevents him from coming to molest him with bad thoughts. At certain special times it is necessary more particularly to enliven our Faith in the Divine presence. First, in the morning when we awake, by saying: My God, I believe that Thou art here present, and that Thou wilt be present with me in every place to which I shall go this day; watch over me, then, in all places, and do not permit me to offend Thee before Thy Divine eyes. Secondly, at the beginning of all our prayers, whether mental or vocal. The Venerable Cardinal Caracciolo, bishop of Aversa, used to say, that he who makes Mental Prayer with distractions, shows that he has been negligent in making the Act of Faith in the presence of God. Thirdly, on occasion of any temptation against patience or chastity; for example, if you are seized with any sharp pain, or receive any grievous insult, or if any scandalous object be presented to you, instantly arm yourself with the Divine presence, and excite your courage by remembering that God is looking at you. It was thus that David prepared himself to resist temptations. My eyes are ever towards the Lord; for he shall pluck my feet out of the snare (Ps. xxiv. 15). I will keep my eyes on my God, and He will deliver me from the snares of my enemies. You must do the same when you have occasion to perform any very difficult act of virtue. You should imitate the valorous Judith, who, after having unsheathed the sword, turned to God before she gave the stroke, and said: Strengthen me, O Lord God, in this hour (Judith, xiii. 9).
2. The second method of preserving the presence of God by acts of the will is to renew always in distracting employments the intention of performing them all with the intention of pleasing God. And therefore, in the beginning of every action or occupation, whether you apply yourself to work, go to table, or to recreation, or to repose, say: Lord, in this work I do not intend my own pleasure, but only the accomplishment of Thy will. In the course of the action endeavour to renew your intention, saying: My God, may all be for Thy glory! By these acts the presence of God is preserved without fatiguing the mind; for the very desire of pleasing God is a loving remembrance of His presence. It is also useful to fix certain times, or particular signs, in order to remember the Divine presence; as when the clock strikes, when you look at the Crucifix, when you enter or leave your room. Some are accustomed to keep in their room some particular sign, to remind them of the presence of God.
3. The third method is, when you find yourself very much distracted during the day, and the mind oppressed with business, to retire at least for a little in order to recollect yourself with God. Were you on any day to feel bodily weakness, arising from excess of labour and long fasting, would you not take some refreshment in order to be able to proceed with the work? How much more careful should you be to treat the soul in a similar manner, when it begins to fail in courage, and to grow cold in Divine love, in consequence of being a long time without food; that is, without prayer and recollection with God? I again repeat what Father Balthasar Alvarez used to say, that a soul out of prayer is like a fish out of water; the soul is, as it were, in a violent state. Hence, after being a long time engaged in business and distracting occupations, a Christian should retire, if I may say so, to take breath in solitude, recollecting himself there with God, by affections and petitions. The life of bliss in Heaven consists in seeing and loving God, and therefore I infer that the felicity of a soul on this earth consists also in loving and seeing God, not openly as in Paradise, but with the eyes of Faith, by which it beholds Him always present with it; and thus acquires great reverence, confidence, and love towards its beloved Lord. He that lives in this manner begins, even in this valley of tears, to live like the Saints in Heaven who always see God’s face, and therefore cannot cease to love Him. Thus he that lives in the Divine presence will despise all earthly things, knowing that before God, such things are misery and smoke; and will begin in this life to possess that Sovereign Good Who contents the heart more than all other goods.