St. Augustine asserts that one of the deepest effects of sin is to make human beings value ‘exteriority’ at the expense of ‘interiority,’ i.e. exteriority = material goods, interiority = spiritual goods. While both are God-given goods, they must, Augustine would argue, be rightly ordered. We are constantly seeking and looking and questing after God, but fail to see that He is in the first and last instance at the very foundation and center of our soul, sustaining us at each moment in existence, offering us His purifying love and awaiting our repentant response. “You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you,” as Augustine famously says it.
Journey to Nowhere
I knew a woman who was passionate about her faith, and for many years expressed that passion by running from prayer group to pilgrimage to apparition site to healing Mass to miracle working priest to retreat to awesome talk to relic, all the while feeling like she had just missed God when she finally arrived at each place in her journey. After years of enacting this arduous and weary quest, she had an epiphany one day in her home after a pilgrimage had been cancelled by unforeseen circumstances. She prayed the rosary in her home with her husband, and as she prayed she suddenly discovered God There: in her husband, in her living room, in her soul. The message she heard? Rest in Me, here, now. I am God-with-you.
This sudden flash of insight in no way diminished the value of her quest, her journeys, but rather it was their final terminus, their supreme goal and ultimate end: we journey toward God “without” that we might at last discover Him “within” — within our state in life, within the realities of the present moment, within the deepest core of our heart. What she did realize, however, was that in her endless quests for the new and fresh and exciting existed a secret doubt, an anxious fear that God was really not-with-her in her ordinary present life circumstances; and especially absent in her daily crosses that she knew she was running from. “From that moment on,” she said, “I saw my trip to the grocery store, to the bank, to work to the unpleasant co-worker or to watch a movie with my husband was my daily pilgrimage to God.”
And, I will add, when she daily journeyed to the holy Mass, all those diverse pilgrim roads were caught up into Christ our Way who even now allows us, in the Eucharist, a foretaste of our journey’s never-end in that Mystic Sup with the Far-Near Trinity.
Let me leave you with a fabulously relevant quote from Church Father St. Gregory Nazianzen:
Let us then take care not to despise these things. How absurd it would be to grasp at money and throw away health; and to be lavish of the cleansing of the body, but economical over the cleansing of the soul; and to seek for freedom from earthly slavery, but not to care about heavenly freedom; and to make every effort to be splendidly housed and dressed, but to have never a thought how you yourself may become really very precious; and to be zealous to do good to others, without any desire to do good to yourself. And if good could be bought, you would spare no money; but if mercy is freely at your feet, you despise it for its cheapness. Every time is suitable for your ablution, since any time may be your death. With Paul I shout to you with that loud voice, ‘Behold now is the accepted time; behold Now is the day of salvation.’ (Oration XL on Holy Baptism, January 6, 381)