Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
The reader might be tempted to pay a backhanded compliment for this title by noting that I have a remarkable grasp of the obvious. Understandably. Where else would God be present but in the here and now? But do we accept, let alone understand, God’s desire and our need for God to be present to us exactly where we are — each of us — right now? Two attitudes toward God often stand in the way of our spiritual development. The first may seem as obvious as the title of this article, but the second is more subtle and, potentially, more pernicious. 

The first relegates God’s relevance to the past, be it one’s own childhood, or the entire historical past. Most of us are well enough catechized to know, if not actually respond as if, Jesus Christ is more than an historical figure. Jesus is the incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, a divine Person who takes on a human nature in addition to a divine nature existing for all eternity. Once “the Word was made flesh,” he “made his dwelling among us” (cf. Jn 1:14) through his physical presence on earth, his crucifixion and death on the cross. He also rose in his body, now in a glorified state, to which eyewitnesses testify, and after ascending into heaven, sent his Holy Spirit into his Church, his mystical body on earth.
Once incarnate, always incarnate, Jesus did not shed his body and return to being “only” the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus Christ remains fully present among us on earth in the assembly, called the “church” (ecclesia) and is most really present when the assembly gathers at Holy Mass to celebrate that presence. In a sacramental way, when we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, his entire reality — body, blood, soul and divinity — is incorporated into our personal selves as incarnate spirits, and builds up his mystical body, the Church.

This is so much more than seeing Jesus as just a figure of the past, a nice guy who did good deeds, healed people, taught some guidelines for clean living, and inspired others to do the same. His mission is ongoing in the present and lived out in the day-to-day lives of believers following the “Great Commission” to go out in the world and proclaim that good news, the Gospel of his redeeming presence. 

Of course, we know this. IF asked, however, many Catholics express some reticence in proclaiming they really believe it. I will not cite statistics here, but everyone is aware that the thought of God being SO present to us as to want to get involved in every aspect of our lives — our plans, relationships, economic state, sexuality, our work and what we consider entertainment, alone or with others — is a bit much for many to accept for real. A God whom I can put on call waiting or voicemail won’t mess up my life.

When I speak to young men and women receiving Confirmation, I try to leave them with a sense of God’s love for them and desire to support their lives. I tell them Jesus is our friend, who wants to give us the very best, the Holy Spirit, which is the love between him and his Father. Most of us value friendship, even as we acknowledge the difficulty of finding good friends, who are loyal and dependable. Friends always welcome us. We are happy to be with them. In fact, many will say that this character of being a welcoming community — a communion of friends — is the most desirable feature of a “successful” church.

Yes, friends do meet friends where they are — but true friends do not leave friends where they are. Friends do not lead friends into sin and, wanting them to be the best they can be, will often take risks and make great sacrifices — of patience, presence and persistence — to support them by active accompaniment, constructive advice and even gentle correction.

The last time I read the Gospels, it seems to me, Jesus always does that with all whom he encounters. He does not reveal a bullying God, but a God with all the characteristics of a good friend. He meets us where we are — whether in some state of illness (lepers, paralytics, blind, etc.), at our workplace (the woman at the well, Peter and Andrew at their nets or Matthew at his tax collector’s post), in the middle of some immoral act (as the woman caught in adultery). All these lives, compromised by sin or fate, are changed, freed and restored. The only question then is, am I ready to accept God in the present — or would I prefer that God fade into the past. At least for now.

If you or I have played this game with God — and God will keep coming back, because good friends just do that, they do not give up on a friend — then we ought to remember that we are not the first. St. Augustine famously prayed, “O God make me holy … only not yet.” But if not now, then when? That’s the second attitude — an attitude of ingratitude, really — that I will deal with God sometime in the future. It is the “religion is for old (… sick, naïve, wounded, fill in the blanks …) people” excuse. “I can live my life fine” without God for now. Okay. Give it time …

The dangerous deception lies that in thinking that wasting time without God in the here and now can be recouped “when I really need him” someday. What a way to treat a friend! It is said that there are no atheists on a sinking ship. Indeed, if I see God as a bother or a drag on my present lifestyle, where I am too busy with other things, then I might miss the obvious: I am making a god of those “other things.” If I take only a moment to think, how many of those things will be there much longer? It’s only a matter of time before they will fade or give out: the knees, the energy, the money, even the sagging tattoo. Clinging to things that pass is like doing pushups in quicksand: the more we dig in, the deeper we sink. 

Of course, Jesus will always find us where we are. After all, he descended to such depths of human disgrace — and, make no mistake, the Romans invented crucifixion for just that, and they were good at it — to show us how far God will go to save us from ourselves and the thickets into which we sheep-like creatures will wander. Yes, God will be there in the future for us, if the road does not cave in before we get there. And that is the rub. Because sometimes it really is too late. I do not wish to trigger memories most of us eventually acquire about the call, the heated argument, that missed moment all of us will regret that did or did not happen. 

Suffice it to say, if we want to put Jesus in our past or future only, it’s our choice. But for God’s sake, why wait or bait fate? God is waiting for you and me now. God has waited for all eternity for a chance to come into our lives right now. “It only takes a moment.” Does it sound like a song? A brief pause. A deep breath. A prayer begins whenever we just stop to let God meet us where we are. In the present. The moment that prayer begins, God is already on it.