For people of faith this is not just a speculative theorem. When we pray we get caught up into this mystery. When we pray, if we allow God to be God, we own the words of Hebrews 10:31:
It is a fearful thing [phoberon] to fall into the hands of the living God.
Fearful, that is, for the small-minded who still prefer to remain in Egypt — what Jews call mitzrayim, “that narrow place” — rather than go out on a risky exodus across the desert into that “spacious land” of God’s Promise.
I think here of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta’s comment on prayer offers us a revolutionary way for thinking about why we pray, and why people of prayer gladly endure every imaginable hardship, dryness and struggle to remain faithful to daily prayer. She says:
Prayer opens the heart, until it is capable of containing God himself.
When one thinks of the fact that Mother suffered an agonizing darkness and desolation for decades, the forcefulness of her exhortation to “pray until it hurts” bears great power.
Whenever I find my prayer to be dry, arduous, aching, or stretching to the point of painful discomfort, I think of her and realize my prayer has just begun. As Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh said it to me when I visited him to talk about St. John of the Cross, “In the mystical tradition, purgative desolation, which produces an intense sense of God’s absence, is understood to be, in reality, an intensification of the divine presence under the form of longing.” That blew my mind.
The ultimate goal of prayer is not getting stuff, or getting our way, but preparing ourselves to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).
St. Thomas Aquinas was known to spend whole nights in prayer. Once during the night he was praying in the chapel of his Dominican priory at Naples. One of the sacristans concealed himself to watch the Thomas at prayer. He later testified that he saw Thomas lifted into the air and heard Christ say from the crucifix on the chapel wall, “Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?” Thomas, the sacristan said, replied aloud, “Lord, nothing but yourself.”
Soon after that experience, Thomas’ secretary, Br. Reginald, testified that Aquinas had yet another experience of God. On the feast of St. Nicholas in 1273, Thomas was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he dictated no more, leaving his Summa Theologiae unfinished. He said to Br. Reginald, “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”
As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him (Daniel 7:9-10).
Perhaps Thomas saw Daniel’s vision and knew his words of straw had to first pass through the streaming fire before he could see God’s unveiled face.
Love without borders
My grandfather (“Pop”) wrote my wife and I a letter several months before our wedding, which I’ve quoted before in this Blog. I think his words articulate far better than I ever could the deepest meaning of divine infinity. Here’s some of what he said,
From now on, it is up to you, Tom, and you, Patti, to love together, to laugh together, to cry together, to respond together, to be joined together. When one is cut, the other bleeds; when one wants, the other gives. There are no rules; there are no formulas; there are no singular pronouns. There is no “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine.” Only “us.” “ours.” I don’t know where Nana begins and I end, or where I begin and she ends. There is and always has been the union of all singular pronouns into a composite image of joy, happiness and fidelity which floods our togetherness which has never lost the first moment of magnetic reverence and worship which blanked out all the world and its occupants. And for over 66 years of oneness, each year has been an exponential factor, a geometric multiplier, that carries our fidelity way beyond the puny magnitude of E=mc2. Long ago we have outscored the dimension of such a feeble concept as infinity…faithful love alone is worthy of a marriage made in Heaven.
So it’s love, above all things, that captures most perfectly the infinity of God. Love knows no end, no bounds, no limits. It “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). Love transformed the widow’s mite into an infinite treasure, poverty into limitless riches…propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem.
Love is the ark appointed for the righteous,
Which annuls the danger and provides a way of escape.
Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment. — Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
“I want to see God” — St. Teresa of Avila at 6 years old
Thank you for enduring my long and winding reflection. Let me allow Job and St. Faustina Kowalska to lift us into God.
Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were graven in the rock for ever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! — Job 19:23-27
On one occasion I was reflecting on the Holy Trinity, on the essence of God. I absolutely wanted to know and fathom who God is … In an instant my spirit was caught up into what seemed to be the next world. I saw an inaccessible light, and in this light what appeared like three sources of light that I could not understand. And out of this light came words in the form of lightning which encircled heaven and earth. Not understanding anything, I was very sad. Suddenly, from this sea of inaccessible light came our dearly beloved Savior, unutterably beautiful with His shining Wounds. And from this light there came a voice which said, “Who God is in His Essence, no one will ever fathom, neither the mind of angels nor of man.” Jesus said to me, “Know God by contemplating His attributes.” A moment later, He traced the sign of the cross with His hand and vanished. Be praised, O merciful God, One God, Holy Trinity, unfathomable, infinite, incomprehensible. Amen. — Diary #30.