Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Lost Catholic Practices? Meditation on God and His Divine Attributes"

Father John J. Lombardi

"God is never loved accoutering to His worthy by any creatures. And to the enlightened reason this is a great delight and satisfaction: that it's God and its Beloved is so high and so rich that He transcends all created powers and can be loved according to His merits by none save Himself." Bl Jan van Ruysbroeck

Did you know the Holy Bible speaks of God-metaphorically-as having eyes? ( cf. 2 Chr. 16:9), a mouth? (Dt. 8:3), and hands (Ezr 7:9)? Did you realize we should both fear God (Dt 6:13) as well as thirst for Him (Ps 42:2)? Did you know Bible writers like to ascribe physical actions to God such as walking (Gen 3:8); shooting arrows (2Sm 22:15)?, and sleeping (Ps 44:23)? Did you know God has "Trinitarian traces of feeling"-- that He somehow experiences grief because of sin (the Father in Gn 6:6; the Son in Lk. 19:41ff, and the Holy Spirit in Eph 4:30)?

Better yet: Could you ever explain-or, at least, try to explain---God as Three Divine Persons and yet essentially One? Or how God incarnated and became a Man? Or: God being born from a woman-Virgin?

On this Trinity Sunday, celebrating the ultimate mystery of our Faith-God-as-He-Is-in-Himself-let us thank God, like St Augustine suggests, that we worship Him precisely because He is mystery and that if we ever thought we understood God, we would not be worshipping God, but an idol.

Do you really know God? Do you try?

Perhaps you may say, or think: "I know how to love my neighbor, I know how to love my friends, but.   Do I know how to love God?" People have always been good at loving other human beings, and these last few decades every church and school has emphasized reaching out lovingly to the poor, sick and dying. This is all well and good-indeed, necessary ("faith without works is dead"-Jas. 2:17 ). However, when was the last time you heard a sermon or talk on loving God- actually knowing more about Him, ways of praying to Him, and honoring His many attributes? And yet love of God is the First Commandment! Catholics have a rich tradition of meditating upon God and His Divine attributes-though often untapped-based upon the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition of two-thousand years of spiritual history. These ways and helps of meditating upon God (the Ultimate Reality) are helpful, inspiring and especially needed today. Some of these ways have existed for two millennia, and yet "We're not getting the word out!" Can you think of anything better, more important to think about and dwell upon-than God? Following, below, are some meditations for you and your soul life, based upon "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma," by, L. Ott; and: "The Spiritual Life," by A. Tanquerey

Bible -"Ever since the creation of the world, His (God's) invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what He has made" (Rm 1:20). "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8).  Each time you pray, offer this prayer with your heart: "May I know Thee, O God, that I may love Thee.".   This may help us to love God more because we know Him more.

Q. Why is meditating on God Himself "lost" today?

A. For some there is a possible tendency today to inordinately focus on self (we may term this psychologism or subjectivism); or on one's own holiness (spiritualism), or upon other, secondary, aspects of the Faith (intellectualism). Modernism is the au courant philosophy which encourages focusing upon man as endless subject, while neglecting God and spirituality. Also, today, there is an emphasis on action, doing and productivity-to the detriment of the contemplative life, and the holy leisure of meditating upon God and supernatural realties ..  For this, and other reasons, the First Commandment is Love of God, and should help us eschew humanistic idols.

Q. Do Catholics really emphasize worship of God? A. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" states official Church doctrine: "The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian life and Faith. It is the mystery of God Himself" (#234). This dogma points us to God Himself and embodies the First Commandment-worship of Him. The lost practice of meditating on God Himself and His attributes- so stressed in the past- is now much forgotten and little taught. But remember: this is an excellent way to stimulate your soul. For, St Augustine said: "Our souls are ever restless until they rest in thee, O God."

Q. What do Catholics teach on learning more about God?

A. We teach the distinction between God-as-He-Is-in-Himself and ways that lead to Him. Teachings about God, names of Him and dogmas in Religion, are not God-as He-Is- in Himself, they are "pointers to Him". These necessary "mental bridges" help us humans understand Him better, but can never reach or totally define Him. Read the following statement from "The Catechism of the Catholic Church," slowly and meditatively (perhaps it will take years to understand it): "We do not believe in formulas but in those realties they express, which faith allows us to touch. 'The believer's act of faith does not terminate in the propositions, but in the realities which they express' (St Thomas). All the same we do approach these realties with the help of formulations.  to assimilate and live on it more and more" ( # 170). Thus: Catholics form a radical middle between the skeptical nihilist who denies the possibility of knowing truth whatsoever, and the fundamentalist who thinks he knows God perfectly and literally, thus denying His mystery and transcendence. Catholics emphasize both mystery and positive knowledge.

Q. How have some persons lost the practice of Love of God? A. Catholics are not regularly taught the practice, value and need of meditation. Meditation, as a sacred discipline, is an assimilation within, of thoughts about God: which are orthodox (true), safe (proven by the saints) , and spiritual (linking us with God Himself, "soul to Spirit").  While pilgrimaging thru this world we need to prepare our souls and senses, here and now, for the Beatific Vision--which will be fully revealed later-"We see as in a mirror darkly, but then we shall see face to face" (ICor 13:12). Meditation, then, in a sense, is a mystical foretaste of Heaven while on Earth-an interior practice partaking in divine realities. Do you want to forego and ignore this?

Q. What are these "attributes" Catholics think about? A. Attributes-which seem many and diverse to us, are not a multiplicity in God (which would be contrary His Divine simplicity), but are various "qualities" and "perfections" and ways for us to approach His splendor and transcendence. These attributes are human attempts of limited ideas attempting to define God, which are, in fact united and whole within Him-they point us to His Divine Essence (God-in-Himself),but can never "capture" God fully. Like trying to describe the quality of "green' in a plant to a blind person, we can begin but surely fall far short in our attempt. Elusive is reality in its inner recesses-we can never totally capture it. Whatever we can know or say about God is always surpassed by what we don't know, or can say about Him.

Q Can you list some attributes? A. Perfection: "Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Mt 5:48). God contains in Himself all perfections which we see on this earthly plane. Perfection is that which is free from defect. St John of Damascus teaches: "The Divine Essence is perfect, is in no way deficient in goodness, in wisdom and in power, It is without beginning and end, eternal, boundless-absolutely perfect.".  +(Meditation): How can you think about God's perfect-ness more in your prayer time? How can you become perfect (yes that's a Bible command-Mt 5:48 ) in your moral, spiritual, marital, professional life, and thereby imitate God? What do you need to perfect in your life to imitate God more?

  • Infinity: "That is infinite which has no end, no bound. As God does not originate from any other being, and as He is in no way composed of parts, there exists in Him no basis for limitation of His Being as for us.  +You are finite, even your thoughts, and the current one about infinity, included. God is boundless-you can never "net Him" with a thought or spiritual concept. Therefore, instead of pride or frustration, praise and honor Him, a Being Who is so unlike the rest of us mortals! "Stretch your mind" by meditation and contemplation-allowing God to dwell within, and overtake, you and your finiteness: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Jesus Christ.  " (Phil 2:5)
  • Simplicity: Simple is that which is without parts, not divisible. God is a pure spirit: the immateriality of God is implied by His pure actuality: i.e., there is no growing in God as for humans. He is "pure act" and has no composition, parts, and is not dependent, as we are, on anything or anyone; He has no origin.  +Trust in Him more after realizing more deeply how much you need Him--He gave you your very being and life. Simplify your own life of possessions and collections-esp the ones in your head and heart.
  • Unicity: "Hear, O Lord, the Lord God is Lord alone" (Dt 6:4). God's Oneness helps us know there is but one God, and thereby defend against polytheism (many gods) and gnosticism (which posits many eternal sources of life) .  God is both transcendent (way high above us) and immanent (within us when in a state of grace)-Catholic Christianity preserves this important distinction while avoiding the opposite extremes which culminate in heresies and even death of our souls and spiritual lives.  +Though a Trinity, God is a Unity: this should provide endless infatuating spiritual adulation-an entrancing mystification. Spiritually plunge into His divine Essence-fathomless and alluring, like no other person-thru focusing on how the three Divine Persons are intimate and yet distinct--and become more integrated in your own words and deeds.
  • Truth and Veracity: God is ipsum esse subsitens ("subsistent being")-He needs no other being, like humans, "to be," to have existence. God is both Being and Truth.  Every created thing is a realization of a divine Idea.  God is the origin of moral, logical and ontological truth; and He possesses an infinite power of cognition-God knows all created things in their origin, in one, successionless act of love and knowledge . In God the subject ( God as thinker), and the object of cognition (that which is thought), and the act of cognition (the process of thinking), are all identical and "instantaneous," while for humans, they are belabored and sequential, and not unified). We have to "think thru things," "use brain power" and concepts to arrive at truth, whereas God does not learn "more truth" as we do, nor does He activate thinking steps, or need concepts ("mental bridges") to arrive at truth: He knows everything all at once-- He is not "learning on the job" as we are. We humans discover, God knows--real-izes.  +Is my thinking process stimulated by God, the Bible, the Sacred Tradition of my Church-am I feeding my mind and brain with good, "holy food"? Am I lying with my thoughts or words in life?-How can I be more truthful-like God?
  • Goodness: "None is good but God alone" (Lk 18:19). Something is good in itself if it perfect according to its nature.  The absolute goodness of God is the basis of His Infinite Bliss.God is substantial goodness and communicates His goodness to His creatures.  Moral goodness: He is holy ( kadosh), exempted from profanity; this expresses God's sublimity over worldliness and over all sinfulness.  Thus there is a tremendous distance between the holiness of God and sinfulness of man.  +I cannot be good myself--I can only participate in God's goodness. Therefore: how can I become more one with Him?-thru prayer, love of God and neighbor?
  • Absolute benignity: He bestows upon creatures countless blessings and gifts of the supernatural order.  +Count three blessings each day God has given you.  Beauty: God unites in himself, in the most perfect manner, the three "requisites of the beautiful" (acc. to St Thomas Aquinas ): integritas: absolutely perfect; consonance: infinite being and simplicity are perfectly harmonized; claritas : brightness of Being.  +How can you, like Moses, ( Ex. 33:18ff: ""I will let my beauty pass before you") seek and love God's beauty and Presence? What darkness can God help you to enlighten?
  • Immutability-exempts all change from God-"With Whom there is no change or shadow of alteration" (Jas 1:17) .  This is based on His pure actuality (he has no need of growth, he has no potentiality. When God creates outside himself He does not effect a new act in an unfolding, linear pattern, but rather He manifests a new realization of the eternal resolve of His divine will.   +While your friends, family members and co-workers, unfortunately "change their tunes," thank God for not changing His "tune" or Himself-ever!.  St Theresa said: "All things are passing, God alone is changeless". How can you directly rely on Him more-for everything?-Immensity of God: spacelessness connotes the negation of spatial limitation as w/ humans. The Fathers call God incomprehensible, uncircumscribed, immeasurable "He encompasses everything while He alone cannot be encompassed" (-Pastor Hermae).  +God is pure Spirit and without length, height or breadth
  •  Omnipresence: He is everywhere-present in created space.   "God is not far from us, for in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:27).   +Bound-less and in-finite, the Lord is all-pervasive, are you letting Him into your little heart and soul?...And, so, now, consider the following:

"Trinitarian Tips":

"Trinitarian Traces": St Augustine said there are signs of the Trinity in creation-within humans: Our minds, thoughts and love are like a trinity of diverse activities, all unified and one.  A human family is made up of Father and Mother and the offspring of this union, a child.  A clover leaf is three parts and yet unified by one stem. 

Talking to the Trinity: speak regularly to All Three Persons, as in this Prayer (can be sung to tune of "Adoro Te Devote"): Father God of all mankind, You are strong and wise. Creator of Heaven and Earth, beauty for the eyes. You gave us a covenant, urging us to love, help us all like Adam, seeking grace above.  Jesus Jesus, You are Lord, You are my God. Jesus Christ my heart's desire, for You I long. You came down from Heaven to earth, to save the lost, I bow before You, in this wondrous love.  Holy Spirit, Breath of God, Everlasting Flame . You breathe in divinity, quickening the soul. Comforter and advocate, be my holy Love, melt away all life's fears, as the Wondrous Dove: Amen." Talk to God-the-Trinity on a regular, loving basis. Praise, honor and worship God the Father for His power; the Son for His Sacrifice; and the Spirit for His Love. ..

Make the sign of the Cross: Catholics do this regularly -or, at least they, should. It is a reminder not only of the Incarnation-Jesus' enfleshment and His death (the cross), but also a "signal of transcendence"-of God. So do it with mindfulness. Some persons like to kiss their hand or fingers after the Sign of the Cross to show a sign of affection for Jesus and the Trinity. 

The Mass is the perfect expression of the trinity-the prayer of Jesus Himself to the Father in the Holy Spirit-attend much, pray deeply.

Trinitarian Terms: Godhead: God-as-He-Is-in-Himself-seek Him sheerly for His Is-ness and existence, and not only for anything He does for you-He existed long before we came along.  Economic Trinity: God as He acts in the world. God is the Father-Creator; the Son Redeemer; the Holy Spirit Sanctifier-relate to Him in all these various ways as He acts in the world.   Perichoresis is the mutual indwelling of the Three Divine Persons with and in each other: Though triune He is unified; though diverse He is elegantly and divine simple-place your soul, like the Virgin Mary, within His Divine Intimacy of relations and become holy and healed

Prayer: Give your soul to Him, Trinitarian Love. Give generous time and loving effort to God, become less so He gives you more, thru consistent meditation and deeper prayer-daily! Prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: "O my God, Trinity Whom I adore, help me to forget myself entirely so to establish myself in You.  bring me more deeply into Your mystery! Grant my soul peace! Make it Your Heaven, Your beloved dwelling and the place of Your rest."

Briefly Noted

Scripture Readings: Dt. 4:32-34; Rm 8:14-17; Mt. 28:16-20 Fix in your heart that The Blessed Trinity is Lord and that we owe Him our lives. How will you honor both your earthly father and heavenly Father-by respect to authorities; due honor and service them and others?...God helps us to go to God, and call Him our "Daddy/Abba"-Do you have an intimate relationship with God?.  Jesus calls us in to Go Forth into the world. As Catholics we are called to reveal God's identity-His Three-in-Oneness, to others. This is neither optional nor a luxury, but a necessity.

God and religion: This just in--HR bill # 235, sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC; would take churches out of all risk of loosing their 501 C-3 IRS status for speaking up on behalf of belief in God's ways from churches across America. Pray for and support your God-fearing legislators!

Priest in Piano Concert: Fr Paul Maillet will perform classical music at St Mary's Church, Govans/Balt., as a fundraiser for the suffering Steve Becker, who has a rare bone disease and is a quadriplegic: July 10, 7.30pm.410-254-4498.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi