Homes are not beautiful if they are empty. Things are beautiful by the presence of God. —St. Thomas Aquinas on Psalm 25
So many today never think of God, and some, even when they do think of God, consider him only as a puppet-master, a policeman, or a watchmaker. But God is much more marvelous than these little ideas, more wonderful than can be captured in any imagination. Also, God is personal, someone we must come to know, not just a force in our lives. But how shall we go about thinking of him?
I propose to you a little book from an Irish Dominican priest, no more than 45 pages, which offers an answer. It is called The Presence of God, and in it, Fr. Anselm Moynihan presents the different ways that God is present to us, the ways that he surrounds and cares for us, the ways that he can be present within us. It is not an academic book, but it will teach you. It will also inspire you and console you. It is simply a book about God and what he does for us.
The notion of the presence of God, as you might imagine, is fundamental for the entirety of the spiritual life. All through the Bible we find the words lipne Adonai, “before the face of the Lord.” Many associations might flow forth: being under his gaze, being part of his concern and care, recognizing him, and even gazing upon him in turn.
Fr. Anselm moves through all of these ideas and shows us how we can respond to God’s presence. In his discussion of the gaze of the eyes of God, we learn the importance of purity of heart. Reading about God’s presence by his providential care for us, we discover the root of all surrender to divine providence, and we learn how we can be certain of his work in our lives and how he delights in working through us, through our prayers and our labors. We hear then how God is present in all his works, manifesting his own glory in them (in us!), and we are told how we can respond with true devotion.
But the most important topic of this little book is the indwelling of God, the way that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can make their dwelling within us. After giving us a way to think about the Trinity, Fr. Anselm tells us how our God can be our soul’s guest and our dearest friend. He reminds us that God can make himself a home here in our souls, a secret communion with us, a sanctuary where we alone are called to give praise to him. Baptism into the saving grace of Christ communicates this indwelling, which remains so long as we follow Christ and his teachings in the Catholic Church. Finally, Fr. Anselm gives us some principles for moving forward in our spiritual life, describing the wonderful (and yet ordinary!) ways that God brings his faithful face-to-face with him.
This book would be a great gift for a teenager at confirmation, for a faithful grandparent, or for anyone in between—even for you! It’s important to care for your own soul! This little book, which goes to the core of spirituality, has endured for 70 years and is receiving even more attention in our days. It can be purchased from the publisher for less than $10.
May this small treasure guide you to great peace in seeking the presence of God.
Editor’s note: Dominicana offered a brief review of The Presence of God a few years ago, but we recommend it again as a perennial spiritual classic.
Image: Andrej Rublëv, Angels at Mamre (Holy Trinity)