Where do we expect to find God?

Where do you - and I - expect to find God? I suspect that this is a question most of us ask from time to time, and especially young adults. If it seems that lately we have not found Him often, could it be that our list of places and situations where we expected to find Him is too narrow or too limited or that we were not sensitive enough to discern His Presence? Through today's Scripture readings, God is seeking to expand, to stretch, our narrow or limited list and to make us more sensitive to His Presence.

Do we expect to find God in the ordinary routine moments and events of life? Or, do we think that he comes only in dramatic or spectacular ways? In today's first reading from the First Book of Kings, the prophet Elijah finds God - not in the strong and heavy wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a tiny whispering sound. The lesson is clear: God often comes to us, not in the spectacular or wondrous, but in the ordinary routine moments and events of life. And that is precisely where we find Him: in such ordinary things as a quiet smile, an encouraging word, a helping hand, the warm sun or the cool breeze or the refreshing rain, or in such routine events as a supper meal, taking time to listen, saying "I'm sorry" when we hurt someone.

Do we expect to find God in what appears to be His absence? Today's passage from Saint Matthew's Gospel describes so vividly the situation of the disciples being violently tossed about in their boat while Jesus seemed nowhere in sight. The lesson is clear: separation does not necessarily mean real absence: although the disciples could not sense His Presence, Jesus was nonetheless really present to them, first praying for them on the mountain and eventually coming to them. We all experience times and situations when God seems very distant from us, seemingly unconcerned, so far away! Can we hold on in the dark, in the seeming absence, which is really separation, not absence? I share with you words which I heard many years ago but have never forgotten: "Never deny in the dark what you once saw or heard in the light!" The paradox is precisely this: when the Lord seems most absent, He is, in fact, though not experienced as such, the most present.

Do we expect to find God in the midst of difficulty, heartbreak, tragedy, suffering, death? Today's Gospel passage also describes Jesus walking on the water towards the frightened disciples and soon thereafter catching hold of the sinking Peter. The lesson is clear: in those situations where we least expect to find God, there He is in the midst of them encouraging us; "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid," and catching hold of us as we begin to sink and cry out: "Lord, save me."

Above all, do we truly realize that we do find the Lord in His Real Presence among us: His Presence in His Living Word, which He speaks more to our hearts than to our minds and in His uniquely real Presence in the Holy Eucharist: in every Mass in which we take part and in the tabernacle within each Catholic Church. His presence is also real in the other sacraments which we receive.

Yes, this weekend God is seeking to expand, to stretch, our awareness of how He is present to us, not only in those ways in which we expect Him to be present, but also in other ways which we may have not considered or expected. But, how do we learn to find Him in these diverse situations? Only through a kind of spiritual radar, whose other name is faith. Faith alone, with its vision and power, can enable us to discern God's presence where, up to now, we least expect to find Him. Faith alone, with its vision and power, can enable us to perceive more deeply, beyond our senses, the Lord's presence in His Word, in the sacraments and uniquely in the Eucharist.

Our Holy Father "makes the point that the essence of faith is that something meets us that is greater than anything we can think of for ourselves. This is literally what happens to the disciples as they see Jesus walking on the water. Jesus summons them to faith - a way of approaching reality that entails leaving behind our old way of measuring things and seeing all according to this Something Greater that meets us. We should not be surprised that Christ often will come in ways that we least expect, as Elijah found out in that tiny whispering sound. And when such faith takes hold of us, we want everyone we know to share in it, as Saint Paul testifies today" (cf. Magnificat, August 2011, Vol. 13, No. 6, pp. 97-98).

But, this kind of spiritual radar, this faith which is this Greater Something that meets us, this is a gift and like Peter, we must ask the Lord for it. We can ask with confidence because we are so much like Peter, described in today's Gospel passage. Like Peter, we believe, but not enough. Like Peter, we trust, but only to a point, which is precisely when we begin to sink. However, the Lord Jesus did not abandon Peter in his wavering faith and weak trust. Nor will the Lord abandon us. He stretches out His hand to catch us, so as to strengthen our faith and trust. Through His faithful presence at our side, gradually we begin to expect to find Him in the ordinary, in His seeming absence and in terrible trouble. More and more we discern His hidden but real Presence as we listen to and reflect on the Living Word He speaks to our longing hearts, as we encounter Him in the Holy Eucharist and receive Him in Holy Communion, as we kneel before Him present in the tabernacle. And then, we shall want everyone to know and to love him as we are seeking to do: which really means taking part in the New Evangelization.

As young adults, the Lord really desires to use you as the heralds to your peers of His enduring Presence and faithful love. In fact, this is the primary reason for our diocesan Young Adult Ministry. As you get together in a variety of situations, you experience shared interests, mutual support, friendship, and the growing awareness of how much God loves you and desires for you to be united closely to him within the Community of His Disciples, the Church. Once you have tasted the goodness of the Lord in tangible ways, discovering that the practice of our faith is not boring, burdensome or negative, but rather, life-giving, supportive and enriching, you cannot but want to share this positive experience with others, especially your peers. You want them to taste the joy and strength which come from our union with Jesus within His Church.

In fact, many of you have said that you were encouraged to go to Mass regularly and practice your faith again because the inspiration of so many other serious young adults made you think about what was missing in your own lives. Let me quote briefly what a young woman shared on our blog.

"About two years ago, I came back to the faith after eight years, or perhaps even more. One of the first things my spiritual director suggested I do was to contact the Young Adult Ministry office….And I did….One of the things that struck me was that I could see - in many young adults - love for our Faith, and more importantly, love for God. They are great examples of love, which was something I didn't think existed. I have to thank Young Adult Ministry because today I am in love with God and with our Catholic Faith. It truly changed my life. Not only did I learn about my Faith but I also learned what true love was and what a true friendship was. I think God for giving me the opportunity to be part of the young adults in the Diocese of Arlington. Some of the greatest people I know are part of this diocese."

As I reflected on this testimony, I could not help but think that Young Adult Ministry is one way in which we can expect to find God's love made real and present.

Today as Jesus comes to us in Holy Communion and every day, let us say to Him: "Son of God, increase my faith and deepen my trust in You, so that more and more I shall be able to find You in those situations where I would least expect and discern Your Real Presence in both Your Word and Your Sacraments, above all, in the Eucharist! Lord, save me, for You alone can!"

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011