Presence of God, Practice of

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A spiritual exercise in which a person cultivates a habit of recalling the presence of God, with silent acts of love, without interrupting one's other occupations. Although, in a strict sense, placing oneself in the presence of God is an act of the intellect, one does this in order to raise the heart to Him in acts of adoration, love, contrition, etc. While a purely speculative exercise is not a prayer, the simple averting to God by an act of faith is a prayer, for it involves the will as well as the intellect.

The doctrinal basis for the practice is the presence of God in all things by His immensity, the divine indwelling, and the Eucharistic presence. Through His immensity, God is present in a threefold manner: by His power, inasmuch as all things are subject to His domain; by His presence, inasmuch as all things are bare and open to His eyes; by His essence, inasmuch as He is present to all things as the cause of their being (cf. Acts 17.28). God is present in the souls of the just through grace: "if anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with Him" (Jn 14.25). Also, in the Eucharist Jesus Christ is present, true God and true man.

One can respond to these modes of God's presence in different ways. By looking at, or considering, sensible creatures, as, for example, the sun, the stars, the flowers, one can raise his mind to God, who is present in these, and in all things, by His immensity. Or one may practice the "imaginative" presence by looking at a picture of Christ or by summoning up to the imagination an image of Christ as being present here and now. Further, one may practice the "intellectual" presence of God by thinking of Him with the aid of reason enlightened by faith, with little or no use of a particular image. Thus, one makes an act of faith in God's presence by His immensity or by the divine indwelling. Too, one can practice the "affective" presence of God, turning the will toward Him as present here, or one can make an act of "spiritual communion" by willing to receive Christ, who is present in the Eucharist.

Intellectual and affective acts of God's presence are inseparable. The former without the latter would be mere speculation, and the affective act is not possible without at least a fleeting thought of God. Thus, the exercise of the presence of God, like formal mental prayer, terminates in the act of the will. All types of practice of God's presence are useful in that they turn the mind to God. The affective, rather than the intellectual element should be fostered. If the affective element prevails, the will moves the mind easily to think of God, even when the mind is primarily occupied with some other subject.

The cultivation of this practice is recommended by the saints and other spiritual authorities. It helps one to acquire a firm will in the presence of temptation. It arouses a horror of sin, a strong desire to practice virtue, and a continual desire to serve and love God.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 1, 8.3. pius xii, Mystici Corporis 79. teresa of avila, Complete Works, ed. silverio de santa teresa and e. a. peers, 3 v. (New York 1946). Mental Prayer and Modern Life, tr. f. c. lehner (New York 1950).

[k. j. healy]