Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Become aware of God’s love and presence in the here and now

Published: January 26, 2002

By Judy Hoelzeman

After the tragedies on Sept. 11, church attendance spiked. People flocked to churches and synagogues. According to a motivational psychologist, they went to church to calm their fears and to have profound questions answered. Their most basic questions were: “Does God love me?” and “Is God with me?”

This year, there are about six weeks between the feast of the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. This time falls between the two greatest celebrations of God’s loving presence: God’s becoming human with us in the incarnation and God’s redeeming us in the death of Jesus on the cross.

During these weeks, Scripture readings focus on signs of God’s presence, showing us how these two cosmic events affect the here and now. What a perfect time to soak in the Scriptures assuring us of God’s love — and to have our profound questions answered. What we need to know most, in tragic times or in quiet times, is the same: God loves us and is with us.

The story of the Magi read on Epiphany is a familiar one. But its deeper meaning is that Jesus is manifested to all people — to the ends of the earth. Jesus is present and real, here and now, every time we gather to celebrate Eucharist.

The feast of the Lord’s Baptism follows Epiphany. The readings continue to assure us of God’s presence and love in the here and now. God says of Jesus, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” We heard this same message at our baptism.

The following week’s readings focus on discipleship and conversion as we move closer to Lent. We hear Jesus’ call to the disciples and their response; St. Paul’s insistence that God chooses the weak to be his disciples; and finally, Jesus’ call to us in Matthew’s Gospel to “light up” a world of darkness. All these Scripture selections emphasize the reality that we are chosen and well loved by God.

According to Father Demetrius Dumm, OSB, a Bible scholar from St. Vincent Archabbey in Labrobe, Pa., Jesus himself needed the assurance of God’s love. Once he heard God say, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” Jesus could more zealously begin to preach the kingdom. He preached and shared what he had experienced — the goodness of God. He was able to convince so many people of that goodness simply because it was so real to him.

Because of the Father’s love, Jesus knew he was not abandoned. He could cooperate with God’s plan and say, “We are going up to Jerusalem,” (Mt. 20:18) even though he knew it would mean rejection, suffering and death. We are in a time between the celebration of two cosmic events. We will soon begin Lent, a time to take a good look at ourselves. But we miss the significance of all these events if we don’t become aware of God’s love and presence in the here and now.

How? Come to Mass anticipating and expecting to experience God. Ask yourself, “How is God telling me about his love in these readings?” “Who in this congregation will touch me with God’s loving hand today?” “What deep hunger will Jesus fill for me when I receive the Eucharist today?”

The Church is here in large part to help us discover and know God’s love. Without this knowledge, deep down, our careful Lenten introspection might be skewed.

Judy Hoelzeman is a member of St. Edward Parish in Little Rock.