A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Divine Indwelling

Fr John Kelly

by Fr John Kelly ocso

Where is God? Since God is everywhere we can find him in all things by stirring up our faith. Although he is everywhere there is a special place of presence that I wish to discuss in this article, namely, his presence in our own hearts.

St. Teresa urgently asks the question, where must we seek God? She cites Augustine who says, that he sought God in many created things outside himself. Eventually, however, he found him within his own heart. Teresa recommends that we go to a solitary place, close our eyes and worship God in our own hearts. She calls this the ‘prayer of recollection’ because we withdraw our attention and affections from the world around us and focus them on God within us (Way of Perfection C. 28).

John of the Cross writes in a similar vein. “Why do you search outside when within yourself you possess riches, delights …your Beloved whom you desire and seek?” He is within you, ‘love him there adore him there’ (Spiritual Cant. 1, 7). But John reminds us that there is one difficulty; ‘he is hidden’ within our hearts. Faith, however, overcomes this difficulty.

Francis de Sales also favours this method or prayer. I would like to suggest that this method of prayer is not an optional method, one amongst many that we are free to overlook, if we so wish. God has condescended to enter my heart and he wishes to inspire and guide me from within. Working from within he will be constantly nudging me and empowering me to return love for love. Hence I need to be in touch with him. John of the Cross assures us that God is seeking us much more than we are seeking him. “In some people” says John, “he dwells alone. In some he is pleased; in others he is displeased. He lives in some as in his own house, commanding and ruling everything. In others he is like a stranger in a strange house where he is not allowed to give orders or do anything.

“It is in the person in which less of one’s own desires and pleasures dwell that he lives more alone, more pleased and though as more in his own house, ruling and governing it. In this person neither any desire…nor affection for created things dwells. In such a one God dwells secretly with a very close intimate embrace” (Living Flame, 4, 14).

I have given a lot of quotes so as to back up what I am saying with the authority of church doctors.

The divine indwelling and its implications for our life can scarcely be overemphasised. It is because he lives within us that the Spirit can teach us and empower us to practise virtue. But in this article I am more concerned with teasing out the implications of the divine indwelling for our life of prayer.

Vatican II (L.G. 40) tells us that we all have the Holy Spirit and he is leading us all to love God. The affective love of God, which is the root of all spirituality, is practised mainly in prayer. God stands at the door of the heart and knocks (Rev. 3, 20); he wants our love. If we ‘love him in our heart and adore him’ we give him what he most desires. “If people love me…I and the Father will come to them and make our home in them” (Jn.14, 23). God makes his home in us when he lavishes his love on us and we return his love and obey him.

God dwells within us and longs for our love. John of the Cross assures us that he is seeking us far more than we are seeking him. John says that each human being is an ‘infinite capacity for God’ (2 Ascent. 17,8). But ‘nature loathes a vacuum’. Fortunately, God longs to fill this capacious vacuum. He lives within us, constantly offering us his love, knocking at our door. If we recollect ourselves and pray we open the door. A loving encounter ensues and God’s purpose in creating us is fulfilled.

Not only does God long for union with us but by our very nature we too long for God whether we realise it or not. Deep down in every human being there is a desire for unlimited happiness, which can only be obtained by the total possession of God. Only God can fill our ‘infinite capacity for God’. In Augustine’s words, ‘God has made us for himself and our hearts will not rest until they rest in him’.

Only because God is within us that we can recognise him outside us

When we pray we often try to find God in things outside us. Obviously this is commendable because it puts us in contact with God. But we must not forget that it is only because God is within us that we can recognise him outside us. From within he opens our eyes to his presence all around us. There is tremendous divine activity taking place in our own hearts as God tries to get possession of every corner of our being and our affections. Surely it is appropriate that we co-operate with the Lord’s initiative and enter into communion with him at the level of the heart. Only I myself can do this. No one else can do it for me. I and I alone have the key to the door of my own heart. Unless I open the door of my own heart it will be forever closed. God will be left standing in the cold, knocking in vain, while I ignore him.

The Marist Messenger records with sadness the recent death of Fr Kelly. May he rest in peace.

Tagged as: ,

Comments are closed.