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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
The Worship of God With Our Minds
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We believe that, provided we believe in these divine attributes and live them, we shall understand in a way we could not possibly fathom here on earth who God is when we see him face to face. The condition for our beholding the face of God and enjoying our union with him in eternity is that we worship this God in whom we believe. To worship God is the fundamental responsibility we have, we who believe in God and believe in the attributes which he has. Our duty is to worship this God; it is our greatest privilege here on earth.
To worship God means to honor God; it means to adore God; it means to pay God the homage that he deserves and the veneration he demands as a condition for our possession of God in the life to come. We believe in God now, we hope to see God in heaven. The bridge between believing in God now and seeing him in eternity is our worshiping God here on earth.
My plan is to devote three conferences to this subject as follows: the worship of God with our minds; the worship of God with our wills; and the worship of God with our bodies. This means that we are to worship the God in whom we believe as the human beings that we are; that's why God made us human beings. There is an absolute sense in which the inanimate creation gives honor to God; there is a way in which the angels worship God; but we are neither inanimate beings nor are we angels; we are human beings. We have a spirit called our soul which animates the body. In our soul we have the power of thinking and of willing. In our bodies we have all the external senses but we also have internal feelings and emotions - all part of our body. We are therefore to worship God in the three ways that God made us to worship him: with our intellect, with our free will, and with our bodily faculties. In the present conference our focus will be on the privilege that God has given us to be able to worship him in this life as both the condition and the prelude for our worshiping him in eternity: our worshiping God here with our minds.
I identify five principal ways that God expects us to worship him with our minds. Actually the number of ways in which we are to worship is beyond counting. These five ways necessarily overlap, they interweave; but I have found over the years it helps my students to keep things separated. We are to worship God with our minds by our reason, by our faith, by our thoughts, by our memory, and by our convictions. We dishonor God by any doubts, we honor him by our firm convictions.
We are to worship God by our reason. We are to worship God more generously, more faithfully, more deeply, more constantly by our reason. God made us rational beings so that we might use our ratio, our reason. A rational person is one who uses his reason. God has given us our reason that we might honor and glorify him by using our reason. And we do so first and most fundamentally if we use our reason first to know by our reason that there is a God.
As St. Paul told the Romans and the Romans of all ages:" The invisible attributes of God are clearly seen; his everlasting power and divinity being understood by the things that are made." There are two chapters in Sacred Scripture, Wisdom 13 and Romans 1, that under divine inspiration the authors castigate in the most unmeasured terms those who do not use their reason to reason to the existence of God. That's the main reason why God gave us a reason, so that seeing the world that he made, beginning with ourselves, we might conclude the perfect, simple, childlike logic there must be a God.
We are furthermore to use our reason to know the will of God. A term that has almost gone out of vogue in ethical circles these days, what for centuries we've called the natural law.
Our reason tells us we do not want to be injured or, worse still, killed. Our reason tells us therefore we should not injure or, worse, kill someone else. Murder, which has become a fine art, which is not merely legalized but legislated in most of the countries of the western world, is utterly, abysmally irrational: it's mad. The western world is killing itself. And we don't have to appeal to faith, as those who are defending murder are trying to push us. No! It is simply irrational.
Our reason tells us that we don't want people to steal from us. Our reason therefore tells us we should not steal from others.
Our reason tells us when we talk to somebody, in their telling us what we think is on their minds, they are telling us the truth. Our reason therefore tells us when we speak to others we should not lie. God wants us to use our reason. We honor him if we do.
Our present Holy Father, having lived much of his lifetime under communist domination, said the last thing the communists want is to engage in a reasoned dialogue. Nobody reasons himself into atheism; you've got to abdicate your reason to deny God.
St. Augustine on one occasion asked: "I put this question to you. Can you find anything in human nature that is higher than reason?" The answer is no. That is what makes us what we call ourselves: rational beings. That's the definition of man: rational animal. Consequently we should offer this highest of our faculties and the noblest power of our nature in worship to God, Who wants us to use our reason in glorifying his name. Christianity is not emotionalism; Christianity is not founded on feeling; Christianity is based on the bedrock of reason.
God wants us to worship him by our faith. We know what faith is. Our faith is the acceptance by our mind what God has revealed; that we believe not because we can see why what God tells us is true; we don't see why it is true; we believe because God told us it is true. And we know from reason that God exists; we can prove from reason that God made a revelation; we can show from reason that when God speaks he is to be believed.
We are then to worship God by our faith, by humbly submitting our minds in the worship of the one true God who has revealed his truth and tells us humbly, like children, to submit our finite minds to the infinite mind of God. We may say that the highest worship we give God is by our docile, humble, simple, unquestioning faith. Why is this? Because without faith we cannot have hope; without hope there is no possibility of love. In other words, those who believe have a foundation for their hope. People without faith are people without hope. Correspondingly, people without faith are people without love. Our Lord could not have been clearer: in closing the gospel of St. Mark, Christ is recorded as foretelling those who believe will be save, those who do not believe will be condemned. We better worship God with our faith otherwise there is no heaven in the life to come.
How are we to show this worship that we owe God with our minds by believing? God wants us not only to have our faith, put it away, lock it up, and not touch it; in fact it cannot be done; we must grow in our faith. How do we grow in our faith? By striving, through the use of our reason in reflecting on what we believe, to deepen our understanding of what we believe. God has given us both our reason and our faith; he wants us to worship him both with our reason and our faith. We do this by using our reason in reflecting on what we believe and thus deepening, clarifying, sharpening everything we believe. That is what meditation is all about, that's all meditation is; but that is everything. Meditation is using our reason on the mysteries of faith that we believe, and in God's presence prayerfully asking him: "Lord, that I may see more clearing, more sharply, more firmly what I believe." In my estimation the single greatest need in the Church today and especially among priests and religious is to grow in their faith by meditating on what they believe, using their reason in God's presence by reflecting on the mysteries which they believe.
We are to worship God by our thoughts. God wants us to think about him.
So strong is the human desire to have people think about us, that some people don't even care what people think about them, just so they've got them on their minds. Of course we appreciate it if people think well of us.
God wants us to think about him. We should ask ourselves everyday: How much is God on my mind? I honestly believe the single most important question we can ask ourselves in the spiritual life is the one I have just made: how often is God on my mind. And we know psychologically that our minds are at work even when we are asleep. The human mind is constantly active, it is only more active when we are awake. There is great wisdom of making a daily assessment of what my mind is thinking about during the day, and repeating the question and maybe addressing it to God: "My Lord, how much are you on my mind?" All we have to do, with complete honesty, is ask ourselves and give ourselves the answer: what and who is mainly on our minds in a given twenty-four hours a day. Ask that question honestly and you have some measuring rod of your union with God. What a revealing norm of our progress in holiness, if we have to admit God is not on our minds most of the time. And why not? We have on our minds what we want to have on our minds. It means we must remind ourselves of God many times a day; and no one is going to do the reminding unless we do it. That is why we have such things as holy pictures.
All sane philosophy tells us there is nothing on our minds, nothing, which had not first been in the senses, nothing. Imagine, by an impossible supposition, an infant that from the moment of conception never had any feeling; none of the senses were operative: couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't taste, couldn't smell, couldn't touch. The child is born and grows up. Would that human being without having any sense perception have any thoughts? No. If we want to think about God, somehow there must be sense experience: we must see something, we must hear something, we must taste something, we must smell something, we must touch something that will give us thoughts about God. Holy pictures, sacred images, statues, the crucifix, incense, holy water are not trivial in the spiritual life: they are absolutely necessary if the mind is going to continue thinking about what the symbols, images signify.
Consequently, we must feed the mind with thoughts about God; our senses must be nourished by the experiences outside of the mind that will remind the mind of God, so that I will have God in my thoughts. All the believing Christian has to do is remove everything that would in any way remind that individual of God for one week, two weeks, a month, six-months, then what happens? What happened after seventy years of studied psychological starving of the human mind from contact with anything that would remind the human intellect of God? What our super-developed nation needs is to restore all those simple, childlike things that will keep the mind thinking of God and not about everything else but God. If I were to define the modern media in one sentence I would say the modern media are calculated to starve the human mind from thinking about God, everything, anything except God.
We are to worship God with our memory. We remember what we want to remember. And the opposite is also true: we forget what we want to forget. We then glorify and worship God if we have memorized as many ideas, events, episodes and sayings about God as our state of life allows us. The more, the better. Is my memory sufficiently worshiping God? Do I have things on my memory that if I really wanted to I could put them there?
St Augustine says: "Great is that power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God, a spreading limitless room within me." God wants that limitless room to be filled, as far as we can, with him, what we have learned here on earth, what we have memorized we will retain for all eternity. An ocean of implications opens up before us.
Let's cultivate our memory and remind ourselves - nobody is going to do it for us - remind ourselves of the wonderful things that God has been giving to me over the years. And the older we are, the more we can put into that memory by which we can glorify the all-good God. We should repeat from memory the prayers we have learned by heart. It is good to memorize sayings of our Lord, Gabriel's annunciation to our Lady, our Lady's Magnificat, the beatitudes. Let's not be embarrassed when we enter eternity, and have to admit the warehouse of our memory does not have much of the things of God.
We should be selective in what we allow ourselves to remember. There are thoughts that will come to our minds that the moment they occur should be put out of our minds. There are two brooms we should have in our lives: one to sweep the room and one to sweep our minds; all kinds of ungodly things that God does not want us to remember. If you don't want to remember them, you won't. But they keep coming back. You keep sweeping them out. As we grow older we live more and more with our memories. Fine! But let them be memories of the things of God, the sacred experiences of our lives, the blessings of which we can keep thanking God until we won't have to be remembering the past, because we will have an eternal future building on the memory we have stored up of the things of God.
Finally, worshiping God by our convictions. Convictions are the judgments we make about which we are absolutely sure. The word conviction literally means being conquered, controlled, what we could almost say enslaved. If I am absolutely sure of something, it then is that by which I measure and guide my life. Convictions then are certainties. We worship God by fostering the convictions we know are true. Why? Because God has told us they are true. God is therefore glorified by our convictions, provided that the convictions we have are those based on his revealed truth, that we are absolutely sure must be true because God could not lie.
My vocation has been dealing in the intellectual apostolate with people who do a lot of thinking, speculating, and have either strong convictions or some who are in doubt. I believe the main reason for the crisis in the Catholic Church today is that so many once convinced Catholics who had convictions are now confused and in doubt.
What God wants and what the world needs is men and women of strong, unqualified faith convictions. People of conviction are people of courage. There is no surer way of weakening the human will then make the person doubt: I wonder; maybe yes, maybe no. There is no gray in the Catholic Church's teaching, there is surely no gray in Christ telling his followers: You are either with me, or against me.
On the very practical level of our lives, resist doubts, the slightest doubt about the faith like a plague. Watch what you read. Watch what you listen to. Watch the company you keep. It is strongly convinced believers that strengthen the faith of other believers. St. Paul tells us faith comes by hearing. None of us would have the faith today unless someone shared what he or she gave us. That being true, no less than we first received the faith from believers, we nourish the faith, we strengthen the faith, we support the faith by associating, I don't mean just physically but in every possible way, with those who believe. Foster your faith convictions in the goodness of God no matter what evil or suffering or pain he may send you; never doubt his goodness. Foster your convictions in the mercy of God no matter how often or deeply you have sinned; don't let a shadow of doubt arise in your mind about God's mercy. Foster your convictions in God's providence: that nothing ever is a coincidence, nothing, everything is part of the all-wise, infinitely loving providence of God.
"Most Holy Trinity, you have given me a mind so that I might worship you here on earth in anticipation of my seeing you in the New Jerusalem on high. Keep my mind from wandering among creatures; keep my mind centered on you, my Creator. Deepen my faith in you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that my every thought will be for your greater glory. Amen."
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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