Getting to Know God
Low Sunday* brings to my memory a pious tradition of my own country. On this day, in which the liturgy invites us to hunger for spiritual food — rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite, to desire the spiritual milk, that is free from guile — it was customary to take Holy Communion to the sick (they did not have to be seriously ill) so that they could fulfil their Easter duties.
In some large cities, each parish would organise its own eucharistic procession. From my days as a university student in Saragossa, I remember frequently seeing thousands of people crossing the Coso in three separate contingents made up entirely of men, thousands of men!, carrying huge burning candles. Strong and robust men they were, accompanying Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, with a faith that was greater than those candles that weighed so much.
Last night when I found myself awake several times I repeated, as an aspiration, the words, quasi modo geniti infantes, as new-born babes. It occurred to me that the Church’s invitation today is very well suited to all of us who feel the reality of our divine filiation. It is certainly right that we be very strong, very solid, men of mettle who can influence our environment; and yet, before God, how good it is to see ourselves as little children!
We are children of God
Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite: like children just born into the world, cry out for the clean and pure milk of the spirit. How marvellous this verse from St Peter is and how appropriate that the liturgy should then add: exsultate Deo adiutori nostro: iubilate Deo Iacob: leap with joy in honour of God; acclaim the God of Jacob, who is also Our Lord and Father. But today I would like us, you and I, to meditate not so much on the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, which draws from our hearts the greatest possible praise for Jesus, but on the certainty of our divine filiation and on some of the consequences deriving from it for all who want to live their Christian faith nobly and earnestly.
For reasons that I need not go into now (but which Jesus, who is presiding over us here from the Tabernacle, knows full well) my life has led me to realise in a special way that I am a son of God and I have experienced the joy of getting inside the heart of my Father, to rectify, to purify myself, to serve him, to understand others and find excuses for them, on the strength of his love and my own lowliness.
This is why I want to insist now that you and I need to be made anew, we need to wake up from the slumber of feebleness by which we are so easily lulled and to become aware once again, in a deeper and more immediate way, of our condition as children of God.
The example of Jesus, every detail of his life in those Eastern lands, will help us to fill ourselves with this truth. ‘If we admit the testimony of men,’ we read in today’s Epistle, ‘the testimony of God is greater.’ And what does God’s testimony consist of? Again St John tells us: ‘See how God has shown his love towards us; that we should be counted as his sons, should be his sons… Beloved, we are sons of God even now.’
Over the years, I have sought to rely unfalteringly for my support on this joyous reality. No matter what the situation, my prayer, while varying in tone, has always been the same. I have said to him: ‘Lord, You put me here. You entrusted me with this or that, and I put my trust in you. I know you are my Father, and I have seen that tiny children are always absolutely sure of their parents.’ My priestly experience tells me that abandonment such as this in the hands of God stimulates souls to acquire a strong, deep and serene piety, which drives them to work constantly and with an upright intention.
The example of Jesus Christ
Quasi modo geniti infantes… It has made me very happy to spread everywhere this attitude of being children, little children of God, an attitude which enables us to savour those other words we find in the liturgy of today’s Mass: ‘all that is born of God overcomes the world’; it conquers difficulties and achieves victory in this great battle for the peace of souls and of society.
Our wisdom and our strength lie precisely in our being convinced of our littleness, of our nothingness in the eyes of God. But at the same time He himself is prompting us to get moving, to proclaim confidently his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, even though we have errors and miseries, provided, that is, that, as well as being weak, we are fighting to overcome our weakness.
You must have often heard me repeat the following advice contained in Scripture: discite benefacere, for there can be no doubt that we need to learn how to do good and to teach others to do the same. In this, we have to begin with ourselves, by striving to discover which particular good we should be aiming at, for each one of us, for each of our friends, for each and every man. I know no better way of considering the greatness of God than to start from this inexpressible and simple fact that he is our Father and we are his children.
Let us take another look at the Master. You too may find yourself now hearing his gentle reproach to Thomas: ‘Let me have your finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have your hand; put it into my side. Cease your doubting, and believe;’ and, with the Apostle, a sincere cry of contrition will rise from your soul: ‘My Lord, and my God!’ I acknowledge you once and for all as the Master. From now on, with your help, I shall always treasure your teachings and I shall strive to follow them loyally.
If we go back a few pages in the Gospel we can relive the scene in which Jesus retires to pray and his disciples are nearby, probably watching him. When Jesus has finished, one of them boldly asks him: ‘Lord, teach us how to pray, as John did for his disciples. And he told them, When you pray, you are to say, Father, hallowed be thy name.’
Note the surprising thing about this reply. The disciples share their daily lives with Jesus and there, in the course of their ordinary conversations, Our Lord tells them how they should pray. He reveals to them the great secret of God’s mercy: that we are children of God and we can talk things over with him and spend time with him, just as trustingly as a son does with his father.
When I see how some people set about the life of piety, which is the way a Christian should approach his Lord, and I find them presenting such an unattractive picture, all theory and formulas, plagued with soulless chanting, better suited to anonymity than to a personal, one to One, conversation with God Our Father (genuine vocal prayer is never anonymous), then I am reminded of Our Lord’s words: ‘When you are at prayer, do not use many phrases, like the heathens, who think to make themselves heard by their eloquence. You are not to be like them; your heavenly Father knows well what your needs are before you ask him.’ A Father of the Church comments on this passage as follows: ‘I understand from this that Christ is telling us to avoid long prayers, not long as regards time but as regards the endless multiplicity of words… For Our Lord himself set us the example of the widow who, by dint of supplication, conquered the resistance of the unjust judge; and the other example of the inconsiderate individual who arrives late at night and who, through insistence more than friendship, gets his friend out of bed (cf Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8). With these two examples, he is telling us to ask constantly, not by composing endless prayers, but rather telling him of our needs with simplicity.’
In any case, if on beginning your meditation you don’t succeed in concentrating your attention so as to be able to talk with God; if you feel dry and your mind seems incapable of expressing a single idea, or your affections remain dull, my advice is that you try to do what I have always tried to do on such occasions: put yourselves in the presence of your Father and tell him this much at least: ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray. I can’t think of anything to tell you.’ You can be sure that at that very moment you have already begun to pray.
“Getting to Know God” is an excerpt from the homily given by St. Josemaria Escriva on April 5, 1964. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book “Friends of God”. *Low Sunday is the Sunday after Easter.