A Theology of Presence: Experiencing the Presence of God In Your Life – Lent 2016


Here, Father Anthony shares us one of his homilies talking about the encounter of God with Moses and Jesus’ message for us. He invites one of his parishioners to talk and share their life changing experience when she found her relationship with Jesus.  

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Text: Experiencing the Presence of God In Your Life

Probably a lot of you are like me that you’ll get on a kick of eating a certain food over and over and over again. And then you’re just sick and tired of it so you put it away for a while and you come back to it after a period of time. So, for me it’s been sandwiches. I was eating sandwiches like crazy in the Fall and the Summer and I had to stop. And then, this week, I came back to the sandwich.

The Sandwich

So, I bought my 15-grain bread. I got two pounds of turkey and I took, like, a quarter of a pound and I put it on the bread. And then I didn’t have any Boetje’s but I just had yellow mustard and made my sandwich, had my pickle. It was delicious! That evening, I went over to a family’s house to visit with them and we had a great time and it was time for dinner and they came out with soup and bread. And then it dawned on me… it’s Friday and I ate meat on Friday. Has anyone been there before?

By no means am I taking away from the significance of us as Catholics fasting and abstaining on Friday. I mean, there’s something special about that. You know, we fast and we abstain so we remember the Passion of our Lord and what he’s done for us. It’s an expression of our unity as a family. A custom. Like when we have Thanksgiving we have certain meals and things of that nature. And it can be very powerful prayer to fast and abstain if we enter it in the right way. With that said, when I realized it and it dawned on me I didn’t have one bit of a sting of conscious and the first thing that I did was I turned my heart to the Lord and I blessed Him. I had a heart-to-heart experience with our Lord.

Now, I often talk about how we want to have a heart-to-heart experience with the Lord. And, that’s what the season of Lent is about after all. So, I wanted to share a little more on that. Reflect a little more on that as a family. So, say with me, “heart- to-heart” [congregation responds], “heart-to-heart”. That’s what we want to have.

The Ten Commandments and Moses

Okay, let’s look back at today’s first reading and the Gospel passage and we’ll see what Lord wants of us. In the first reading, we hear the story of God giving the ten commandments to His people. And the scene before this took place, Moses went up Mount Sinai. The rest of the people were down below. And he’s talking with God and they’re having this discussion about how He saved them from Pharaoh, from the slavery of Egypt and that they are very special in His sight. And He tells him that I want to address the people. So, in three days I’m going to come down the mountain and talk with the people, be with the people.

So, he tells Moses, “Look, when this happens I’m going to have a cloud cover you so that they realize that you’re special too and I want them to prepare for this special event. I want them to abstain as well as to purify themselves, to clean themselves”. So, three days later after Moses instructed them, the Lord shows up and this was a tremendous experience. The whole mountain began to shake. Billows of smoke were coming off the mountain. Peels of thunder and lightning. They all heard this trumpet blast and then the Lord spoke and He spoke with His people.

He gives them the commandments and what you don’t pick up in the English translation is that this is said in second person singular. So, it’s like saying that every single person heard it for them particularly. Greg Marty, thou shall not steal. Minerva, honor your father and your mother. Each person heard this to them specifically. And this shook them, really, at the core. And they were afraid of what God was going to do next because they haven’t had an experience like this before.

Now, Moses himself experienced it and he was ready for it and he was conversing with God up on the mountain. So, he was able to withstand this experience of God’s mighty mighty voice and all the things that took place. And yet, the people weren’t able to. And their gut reaction, their knee-jerk reaction was to distance themselves from God.

So, they told Moses, “Moses, how about this? In the future, we don’t want to be around this. Why don’t you go talk to God and then you tell us what He says?” We see this pattern in the life of God’s people throughout all of history. At a certain point they start looking to their left and right and they see that the other nations have kings and they say that they want kings. And so, God tells them, “I want to be your king.” ”No, no. We want earthly kings.” “Fine, I’ll give you earthly kings.”

And so, another barrier between man and God. They also had the sacrificial system which is a very important thing. It’s a way for the people to express their sorrow for their sins and to try to make up for it. And in today’s Gospel passage we see the sacrificial system taking place in the temple in Jerusalem. Just another example of something between God and man.

Jesus’ Message

So Jesus, as we fast-forward, goes up to Jerusalem goes in to the temple and he sees the corruption. He’s very upset by this. This is his Father’s home, his Father’s house. So, he takes a cord, makes a whip. He overturns the tables. He shoos away all of the animals that are in the temple and there’s a lot of animals there. And he says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”.

I think there’s another message that the Lord wants us to understand because, certainly after he clears out the temple, after a half-hour they’re up to their same antics they were before. As I understand it, in the temple there was this ongoing sacrifice of animals. Because there is a lot of sacrifice taking place and so the flow of blood was just constant. But, for a brief moment. Maybe it was ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes. Or maybe, simply symbolically, Jesus puts an end to the sacrifice of those animals. And I think what the Lord is saying to us, this prophetic message is, there will not be this thing between you and God anymore. I will be the way the truth and the life. I mediate. There won’t be any of this barrier stuff anymore. Now, we can go all the way back to how it was supposed to be, where you and God can come face-to-face.

A Theology of Presence and Absence

I think this was the message that our Lord was sending at the very beginning of His ministry. And we believe it was the beginning of His ministry because they make this comment, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” And if they just hung out with Jesus during his ministry they would have seen him do all sorts of miracles and signs and wonders. And plus, they give a date. They say this temple was under construction for 46 years, if you do the math, it was probably around the year 27 AD. So, this takes place at the very beginning of his ministry it seems and so they ask for the sign.

The Lord wants us to have a heart-to-heart relationship with Him. It’s a message that we have to go back to over and over and over again. As Christians we believe in a theology of Presence not a theology of absence. You’ve heard me say this before. A theology of absence is when a Christian believes that the default experience of God is where God is often distant and faraway. Only when it really hits the fan does He show up and console us and care for us. But more often than not we’re not supposed to know God is around. That’s what people think when they have a theology of absence.

But we actually believe in a theology of Presence. That He doesn’t leave us orphans. That He will come to us. That He will be with us until the end of time. So, a theology of a Presence means that the normal experience of the Christian is that we have a sense of His Presence. Maybe it comes to the heights of ecstasy like some of the saints. Or maybe it’s in more subtle ways but we can know that He is in this room. You can imagine that if somebody sent you flowers once a week, a secret admirer, and you get flowers for like a year. A bunch of roses. You love it. You’re not creeped out by it. You enjoy these things. And they never reveal who they are. How can you ever have a personal, heart-to-heart relationship with that person? And so too with our relationship with God.

There could be a lot of reasons why we have these obstacles in our relationship with the Lord. And that could be addressed and overcome. But, we’re supposed to have a closeness with our God. Well, that’s the basic message I wanted to share for today. But, wanted to invite Mary Aubry to come up because I wanted you to hear another example of how another parishioner is experiencing the Presence of God in their current life.

Mary Aubry

[Mary begins speaking] Good morning. I just want to share with you how Jesus has changed my heart and come more fully into my life. Over three years ago, I answered the Holy Spirit’s call to deepen my faith by going on a personal faith-journey. I left St. Pat’s at that time and I walked into a church full of strangers, something that I never thought I could do on my own. It wasn’t long after the service began that I felt a warmth come over me. It started in my heart and I was just filled with a sense of peace. And I knew, without a doubt, at that moment that I was not alone. That Jesus was right there with me and I was exactly where God wanted me to be.

A Life-Changing Experience

Many people have come into my life since then. Believers who live by example and share their love of God with me and others. They have and continue to help me grow in my faith and my beliefs. That’s Jesus working through them, teaching me to be more like them, and bringing me closer to God. The past year has been so amazing. I accepted an invitation from my husband to attend Crucio. In that three day experience, I had a deeper understanding of myself, my faith and keeping that faith alive. I came home absolutely on fire for Jesus feeling such joy and love and peace. And I don’t want that feeling to ever go away.

It’s up to me to do what I need to do to keep the fire alive in my heart. Last summer, I accepted Fr. Anthony’s invitation to attend the evangelical training camp. I have grown in ways I never thought possible, ways far outside my comfort zone. A year ago I could not imagine myself co-leading a small group. Well, God had other plans and Jesus is my co-pilot. Small group experience has helped me build a closer relationship with others and with my best friend, Jesus, by delving deeper in discussion of God’s word. I have learned to sit quietly inviting Jesus into my heart and feel that familiar warmth and peace. Next weekend, I will celebrate one year since receiving God’s healing grace. A miracle. After 36 years of chronic pain, I remain pain-free. Jesus is with me all the time, every moment of every day.

Don’t Pass Up That Opportunity

By accepting these invitations and experiencing all that I have, I realize it has been Jesus working through other to bring me into a relationship with Him. As I have grown closer to God, I want to bring others to Christ and share the Good News of the Gospel. Through all my experience, one thing I’ve learned is this: if you are ever invited or even feel an invitation to enter into a closer relationship with Jesus, don’t pass up that opportunity. I’m gonna say that again. If you are ever invited or feel in your heart an invitation to enter into a closer relationship with Jesus, don’t pass up that opportunity. Because you never know what graces and blessings God has waiting for you. Thank you and God bless.

[Congregation applauds and Fr. Anthony speaks]

I want to thank Mary’s boldness. I just asked her last night and a few other people for the other masses and they did an extraordinary job. Sheila Herman this morning had a beautiful story, just very moving and Tim as well, Tim Gibbons last night. And for those who are interested in small groups right now we are in this experimental phase of just practicing. Eventually, after we get enough practice and fell comfortable we’ll open it up more to the community. But, God really wants us to have that heart-to-heart relationship and it’s happening. I pray that we continue to witness to each other and bless each other in this way. How about we just close this homily with a little prayer? If you please bow your heads. Let my words be your words. You’re welcome to repeat them in your heart if you like.

Closing Prayer

Come Holy Spirit. Be within our hearts and within our lives. Heavenly Father, we thank you and praise you for our family as we grow together we’re not alone on this journey. We pray that you will strengthen us and give us companions, very specific people who can help us and who we can help. If there are any obstacles that prevent us from sensing Your Presence and recognizing You in our life, experiencing Your renewal and Your joy and delight, right now we ask you to take those away. Show us what they are. Old feelings, regrets, ways of seeing You that just are not on the mark. Give us the courage and the willingness to just step forward, just as Mary said. If we have any inkling to go forward, to give us that strength.

About Fr. Anthony Co


Father Anthony Co grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago. While completing his studies of philosophy and Eastern religions at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Fr. Anthony received his calling to the priesthood. Immediately after graduating from U of I, Fr. Anthony entered Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary and for the next five years he prepared for Holy Orders for the Diocese of Peoria, IL. He was ordained to the priesthood at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in 2005 and offered his Mass of Thanksgiving on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Father Anthony has served throughout the Diocese of Peoria, ministering to college students and various parishes. He is now pastor of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Andalusia and a college chaplain.

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