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Featured Article: Our Black Shepherds - Given the traditional European/American profile of the Church in the United States, there has always been urgings from the smaller ethnic groupings, Hispanic, African American, Italian, Polish, Asian, etc to have episcopal representation. And each group has its own story to tell with getting bishops appointed. Read Full Story

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The Experience of God's Presence

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Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, we humans get lost in the clamor and noise of Madison Avenue and mass media over the din of how do I pay the mortgage or rent, keep food on the table, and pay the medical bills that we can hear little else. So we need some time to settle down (or center ourselves) on the essence of being human. What does it mean to be created in the image and likeness of the Creator God who is true being (the great I AM?) To assist in this "getting back to the basics" effort, it is good to re-visit what the great teachers and masters of the past have to say about our primary calling or vocation as human beings.

I have been reading the book "Everything Belongs," (Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM) each year during Lent for some time. This year another book was added, "The Woman at the Well," (Fr. Adrian Van Kaam, CSSp.) The authors of each of these books have obviously basked in the loving caress of God's presence (in my opinion.)

The experience of God's presence and recognizing that presence is at the root of our Spirituality. All the Spiritual masters understood this and their experiences have been documented from the unknown writer of "The Cloud of Unknowing, to the more contemporary Howard Thurman, Fr. Thomas Keating, OCSO, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Fr. Henri J. M. Nouwen, and Fr. William A. Barry, SJ., just to name a few.

The experience of God's presence had a significant impact on St. Thomas Aquinas. In the mid-thirteenth century, he began what has been considered by many the most comprehensive writing on the explanation of God (called the Summa Theologica.)

He worked on it for 10 years then stopped because he had communed with God; and, God revealed to him a small portion God's unconditional indescribable love. When someone asked him why, he responded, "What has been revealed to me has convinced me that all that I have written is worth just so much straw. It has little value."

HE HAD AN EXPERIENCE OF GOD!

What others considered the most important work on the study of God was considered by its author as "so much straw" (or of little value) in comparison to the incomprehensible joy and ecstasy of God's love for us.

Does John 3:16 ring a bell? Yes, our Creator God came into our midst and lived among us as the "Word made flesh," who experienced everything we have gone through and more!

Julian of Norwich said: "Jesus reminds us that his crucifixion is the worst thing that happened in human history and God made the best of it to take away all of our excuses."

Yet, that is how God proves God's love for us.

The late Adrian van Kaam, CSSp, renowned spiritual writer and one of the world's leading psychologists wrote his book "The Woman at the Well" in 1976. The entire book is dedicated to a Spiritual exegesis of this story. It is, also is a truly moving spiritual journey through the story dialogue.

Following is a quote on one of the passages: "The Lord speaks his 'If you only knew' not only to the woman at the well but to each of us. He speaks me:

'ÖIf you only knew that I am the incarnation of the Infinite Love you have been longing for deep in your heart.
'If you only knew that my longing for you surpasses infinitely your longing for me. 'To really reach you, I need your asking."

The woman at the well did not come easily to believe in Jesus. However, she did undergo a transformation and became not only a believer, but an ambassador spreading the Good News to the entire community. Recall - she left her water jar (her "stuff" "worth so much straw") and went into the town and told the people about Jesus. That water jar that had imprisoned her to her sinfulness (by having to go to the well at that time of the day) was no longer important - She had the ultimate epiphany experience. Many of the people of that town became believers in Jesus because of her testimony.

In our own human weakness and sinfulness, we waste countless hours trying to overcome issues that are insignificant (worth so much straw, or of little value.)

We spend hours brooding over little hurts, old wounds, that we diligently grasp in a death grip vice that continues to imprison our spiritual and sometimes even our physical well being. Petty jealousies, greed, and desire for vengeance paralyze our willingness to forgive and to love.

We often want something someone else has, just because they have it and we don't. Their home; Their car; Their grades in school; Their job; or even Their clothes. We become so obsessed with the "stuff" that we have little time or space for God, until we feel that God has indeed abandoned us, leaving a huge void in our lives. It takes enormous courage and faith to let go of the "stuff" - break the chains of jealousy, greed, and vengeance that imprison us in sinfulness.

Yet when we do have the courage to love, and forgive, and unload that "stuff"; that enormous void becomes filled with the overwhelming, incomprehensible love of God who is all forgiving, all loving.

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