The holy quest for union with God requires all one’s heart, mind, and strength. It takes effort.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
12 December 2014
The crucial importance of effort is often overlooked or ignored in the search for God. However, the search for Divine Love “demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, ‘an upright heart’, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God” (CCC, 30). Effort is, then, to be applied in a fourfold way that includes mind, will, heart and witness of wise counsel.
Advent is a sacred season in the liturgical year of the Church in which Christians strive to open their hearts in preparation for the arrival of the Christ Child, whose birth is celebrated at Christmas. Advent reminds us that our Savior has come, is present among us, and will come again.
Advent, then, is a time of preparation, expectation, and acknowledgment. It is a season in which we recall and give ourselves over to the greatest gift: the Son of God who became man for the sake of conferring divine life on his brethren; the Savior and Redeemer of the world who poured forth his sacred blood and water upon the altar of the cross, giving birth to the Church and her sacraments of life, that we may shed our mortality and take up immortality by living in him and for him, and thus embrace his invitation to eternal communion with God the Father.
St. Augustine wrote that God has “promised men divinity, mortals immortality, sinners justification, the poor a rising to glory.” Jesus Christ is the way to this sublime and glorious promise (cf. Jn 14:6).
Advent is about seeking God, the noblest of all pursuits. Nevertheless, such a pursuit is one in which we are engaged each day, not merely during Advent. The search for the Divine is a journey every person walks at some level, at every time and place, whether they know it or not or accept it or not, because everyone craves the perfect happiness found in God alone. The human person is made by God and for God, which means your origin, purpose, and destiny is God. That is the reality, and there is no escaping it. The human heart should beat ardently for God—although sin introduces a poison that turns its desire toward what can never satisfy—because it was created for the reception of Divine Love.
Everyone thirsts for the sublime and supernaturally infused happiness that God alone can offer. Even the atheist who rejects God (or perhaps, more accurately, struggles the more severely with him) is on the hunt for the divine for the simple reason that he is indeed looking for a way to sate his thirst yet cannot do so apart from God: it is only the infinite and all-powerful Creator who, in communicating the indescribable divine love that he is, is capable of filling the human heart. That no one is or can be complete apart from God is a simple and obvious and profound truth, yet also one which is mysterious and often elusive. The crucial discovery in life, the essence of understanding the life-journey itself, is this: that total sufficiency and fulfillment is found in God alone.
The search for God can be easily derailed, which shrouds the life-journey in darkness and confusion. Pride, sin, ingratitude, disrespect for God, lack of prayer, carelessness about the truth or disregard for it, moral and religious indifferentism, relativism and so forth are all serious obstacles. If you have forgotten you are searching for God or if you are seeking the Divine and Everlasting Beauty in the wrong places and in the wrong way, running down dead-end roads of indifferentism or living in sin-laden rooms of darkness, focus your will anew on Divine Light, on Christ and the possession of God’s love.
The Importance of Effort
One element in the search for God that is frequently overlooked or missing is effort. The search for God must not be looked on as a part-time task, hobby, or trivial interest. Seeking God is of paramount importance and requires diligent effort:
The search for God “demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, ‘an upright heart’, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 30). Effort is, then, to be applied in a fourfold way that includes mind, will, heart, and example of wise counsel. It must be stressed that we should apply not merely some effort but every effort.
The first step in the search for God is to strive to obtain and maintain an upright heart. While having an upright heart means a number of things, it is itself inseparable from repentance. Jesus began his divine and human ministry of salvation by announcing: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). The journey toward God cannot begin apart from repentance. To recognize oneself as a sinner in desperate need of God is to recognize reality as it is, and through that recognition, the door to Christ is opened and we begin a new way of life.
To have an upright heart is to recognize our place in creation, as creatures who are subject to God’s laws and limitations on freedom. Having an upright heart, then, is to follow the commandments. Christ said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15).
To have an upright heart is to live prudently, carefully and in avoidance of temptation, in moral purity and in fidelity to God’s love. It is to live a life of vigilant holiness. “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).
The intellect is to be prayerfully, humbly directed toward God and focused on knowing him as he really is, which can only be accomplished in and with and through Christ, which means listening to and believing the Church. That the Church transmits the voice of Christ to the world is integral—crucial—to knowing what God has revealed and in developing a greater intimacy with him. Christ speaks through his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church: whoever listens to the Church, hears Christ’s voice (cf. Lk 10:16).
Applying every effort of intellect also entails thinking in a new way. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians puts it like this: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8). If we think in these holy, gracious and beautiful ways, we will begin to act the same. Heavenly thoughts produce godly actions.
Appling every effort of the will is found in a resolute focus on attaining God as the greatest possible good. Stated another way, we must desire God more than anything or anyone else, value God above all else, seek God before all else. If I cannot obtain God, possess him forever and be enveloped in his love for eternity, there is little point in living. A life devoid of God is not life at all but death. Direct your will toward the heavenly meadows of God.
Seeking God also demands that we listen to, observe and apply in our lives the witness of others wise in the search for God. Again, St. Paul tells us: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).
Praise of God
As another example, Christians are often familiar with this quoted phrase from St. Augustine’s book Confessions: “you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
It is a beautiful quote. But I think the context of this quote from St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church, is often missed because he connects the restlessness of the human heart with man’s desire to praise God and the delight found in doing so:
You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
Seeking God, then, is connected to praising God. That is only possible through recognition of our place in the divine plan of salvation: that our human nature is fallen, wounded by sin, and that we are in need of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. In seeing our position and our need, our eyes are opened all the more to God’s countless sublime and glorious gifts that he bestows on us daily. Further, we should praise God as the Son of God commanded: by participating in the Sunday Eucharist as an active, conscious member of the divine liturgy: the public worship of the Church.
For it was Christ who, at the Last Supper during the institution of the Mass and the Eucharist, took the bread into his hands, broke it and gave it to the apostles, saying: “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19). “Do this in remembrance of me” is more than an invitation, it is a divine command. But it is a command borne of love, spoken by love, and directed toward our reception of Divine Love and eternal communion with God. It is as much a plea as it is an obligation, for Christ thirsts to join into union with us all and to confer to us all a share in his own divine and supernatural life through his sacrificial gift of Eucharist.
Therein lies the sacred beauty of living the Catholic, sacramental life in the heart of the Church: the reception of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in Eucharist. The gift of life from Life Itself!
Enter into Advent by applying every effort in the search for God, by engaging your whole intellect, will and heart. It’s all about your permanent, eternal happiness. Delight in God! “Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice” (Ps 105:3).
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Photo Credit: Deacon Frederick Bartels. All rights reserved.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.