“You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.”St. Augustine
These inspiring words are from the Confessions of St. Augustine. They describe how, as a young man, Augustine looked for God in all the wrong places. It was not God who needed to be found but him—as it is with us.
In the whirlwind of the past ten months or so, we have seen the impossible become the mundane and the ridiculous become commonplace. Thousands have died, from both natural and manmade causes, and many have become numb to all the suffering, division, hatred, and violence we have been enduring. As if a perfect storm, these realities occurred during a presidential election year, which is tumultuous even in “normal” times. The past year, though, saw a radical escalation in seeing others as inferior and just plain wrong—and faith got placed on the back burner.
Many have come to believe that they are surrounded by enemies because God has been pushed to the background. Yet he continually proclaims out to the world he loves beyond comprehension: I am still with you. As if walking through the Garden of Eden after the Fall, he asks us: “Where are you?” (see Genesis 3:9). God does not become distracted by the various details of our lives or the labels we place on ourselves. God “races” towards us because he loves us.
In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI highlights this profound reality—God’s love is at the root of his pursuit of us: “In the love-story recounted by the Bible, he comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the apostles, he guided the nascent Church along its path” (no. 17).
The manner in which God seeks to win our hearts is through the person of his Son Jesus, who has the most potent, necessary, and embracing message for all people who are living through these tumultuous times: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In our current situation, we are faced with a real temptation to be physically alive but spiritually dead. We can walk, talk, and participate in society but not be truly alive with God’s presence with us. We must always fight this temptation. When the soul flees from God, the body follows.
When humanity caves in on itself and forgets God, we begin to see others as threatening, as enemies; we no longer see them as people who, like us, have been made in the image and likeness of God. Our world is broken and in need of healing; our country is wounded and in need of first aid; our families have been torn apart and in need of mending. All of these sad realities are present because many have run away from God. Like Augustine, we seek our fulfillment from anything and everything but the divine. We need a transcendent reorientation.
With God’s grace, we can move towards seeing our neighbors—no matter who they are or what they represent—as people to be loved freely rather than as enemies to be opposed. Faith is the healer. As Benedict XVI says, God “encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives” (Deus Caritas Est, no. 17).
The dignity of humanity is rooted in God himself, as we are his creation. He wills that we are in contact with his life and love. A vibrant connection to the sacramental life of the Church ought to impel Catholics to look at others in the light of the truth, rather than through the shallow lens of this fallen world. God literally runs towards us; he initiates faith and seeks to bring us into a relationship with his Son (see John 15:16).
“He has loved us first,” Benedict says. “And he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has ‘loved us first’, love can also blossom as a response within us” (Deus Caritas Est, no. 17).
Let true love urge us on as a response to the race of God for our souls. No program, election, social media post, article, or theory will win the day—only a relationship with Jesus will. Let his pursuit of our hearts pave the road towards a better tomorrow for our families, neighbors, and country. Then the race will end with his embrace.