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I’ve encountered the living God

Q: Archbishop J, why do you believe that God exists (part 10)?

You may say I am writing all this because I am a priest and an Archbishop. I can assure you that I am a priest and an Archbishop because I struggle hard and long with belief and unbelief.

I have written this series because I have ventured to the edges of unbelief and there found a good reason for my faith. My journey to consecrated life only happened because I wrestled with unbelief and, at every turn, found faith to be far more compelling.


Consecrated Life

The consecrated person—lay and religious, deacon, priest, bishop—put all their stock on the existence of God. We are all in. As St Paul says: “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:12–19).

To dedicate your whole life to God is a heroic journey, especially in an age of such great unbelief. Every consecrated person says to you—’I have put all in, with nothing in reserve’.

If God is not, then we are the biggest fools. But if God is, then we are at the bleeding edge of human living and we hold for all humanity a great treasure that is beyond compare and without equal.


The Experience of God

You have not lived till you have connected with God in a visceral way that completely blows your socks off and turns your little ego on its head because you have encountered the numinous, and limited human interaction and pettiness just cannot hold your whole attention anymore.

This is not a mind game, and nothing can prepare you for it. This is not willing peace or nirvana. This is being plunged into something so big that your ego is running for cover and your only response is gratitude.

In this encounter, you know that you are completely unworthy, not all you believed you were, terribly unprepared, and absolutely the wrong person. Yet, at the same time, you know what it is to be loved right through to the core of your being.

With all your faults and inadequacies, you are loved by a love that cannot be explained to anyone else and yet they all see on your face that you are different. There is no human experience that equates or even comes close.

To be known and loved from the inner of your being, despite and because of all your frailty and foolishness, that single encounter can reorient the soul in ways that we cannot even explain.

But if like the Russian translator you experienced it, even if you have no concept of God, you know it with every part of your being.

You want to know why I believe. Well, I believe because I have encountered the living God. It is not a figment of my imagination. I know this because of what it has done to me, how it has transformed me.

The first impulse is contrition. Faced with such deep love and mystery, the ego dies, and you see your stupidity with great clarity.

The second impulse is gratitude. You cannot help but thank God and people for things small and great. The whole world becomes alive, and all creation is in one great act of giving birth and you are in harmony with it all. Gratitude wells up from the depth of the being in ways that make no sense and yet it is the only response that makes sense.

The third impulse is compassion. Having encountered the living God, how can I hold grudges or hurts or malice for others? I have been loved without reason when I did not deserve, now I too, must love others with an unconditional love.

William James, in his classical text The Varieties of Religious Experience, observes highly developed religious people— “saints” from different religions and parts of the world. He then focuses on what seems most common to all of them:

  1. a feeling of being in a wider life than that of this world’s selfish little interests; and a conviction, not merely intellectual but, as it were, sensible of the existence of an Ideal Power;
  2. a sense of the friendly continuity of the Ideal Power with our own life, and a willing self-surrender to its control;
  3. an immense elation and freedom, as the outlines of the confining selfhood melt down; and
  4. a shifting of the emotional centre towards loving and harmonious affections, towards ‘Yes, Yes’, and away from ‘No’, where the claims of the non-ego are concerned (p 219–20).

When you have encountered God, it is not as if the doubt disappears, but it diminishes until it is no more. It is no longer a question of Pascal’s wager. It is now a question of immersing into the reality that is God.

This is why, I invite every Catholic school to practise meditation in the morning and the Examen in the afternoon. It is to invite our young people to the encounter with God and to begin to nurture that encounter as a usual part of human living. There is no pathway to deeper transformation than to allow yourself to fall into the hands of the living God.


Key Message:

Consecrated persons give their all to God as a witness and gift to humanity. The deep inner transformation by God intensifies the gift and makes it more precious.

Action Step:

Search ‘WCCM Meditation Resources’. Click on the practice and you will find a rich resource on meditation.

Scripture Reading:

Acts 9:3–9