Arts and Culture

A Personal Relationship With God

Third in a series

Re-reading Bernard Cooke’s “The God of Space and Time” (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, $4.95, pp. 208) has been an especially enjoyable experience for me.

Part of that enjoyment comes from remembering the wonderful courses I took under Cooke many years ago at Marquette University in Milwaukee. While re-reading the book I can almost hear Cooke’s voice and once again experience the genuine excitement and wonder present in the classroom during Cooke’s lectures in the 1960s.

What a great teacher he was! What a great blessing he was in my life and in the lives of many! I think what has especially appealed to me at this point in my life is Bernard’s insights into the mystery of the human person and especially his stress that the richest human fulfillment can be reached through a personal relationship with God.

Reflecting on both Old Testament texts and especially the experience of the early Christians reported in the New Testament, Cooke stresses that the early Christians had a special experience of the risen Christ and through Christ an experience of God the Father. Cooke emphasizes that this experience was not just the experience of Jesus’ teaching or of Jesus’ miracles. It was an experience of this person who had died but whom they were now experiencing as alive and present to them.

Commenting on how Christians can experience the risen Lord, Cooke writes the following:

“What this means is that prayer, in some form or other is a necessary part of a Christian’s life of faith. This prayer can take many expressions, many forms; … Essentially it is a directing of one’s attention, one’s consciousness and one’s affection to Christ (or to the Father). As such, it is a process of communication, mysterious, but real. This kind of personal contact with Christ, whose reality can be experienced only in faith, has been part of the lives of countless millions of Christians over the past two thousand years.

In a sense, the encounter of the believer with Christ which takes place in prayer begins where the witness of the Christian community stops. The community witness provides the starting point, an always necessary point, for the Christian’s realization of the living presence of Christ. But upon that foundation the Christian goes on to his own personal relationship to the risen Lord, a relationship he can then share with his fellow Christians and in this way be a support to their faith. Neither the faith of the individual Christian nor the shared faith of the community can exist apart from the other.” (p.166)

As I am typing these words I am thinking of next Sunday’s liturgy. How can I communicate to the congregation Cooke’s wonderful insights into the Christian experience of the risen Lord? How can I communicate something of the awe, wonder, and gratitude that I am now experiencing as I re-read Cooke’s book to the community of Christians who will gather for the Sunday Eucharist? Mixed with my feelings of awe, wonder and gratitude is a sense of the important role I can play at the Eucharistic gathering.

I am certain that the Holy Spirit will be present and operative during my celebration of the Eucharist. I also am certain that if I allow it to happen the faith of the congregants will help me to pray, but will I be able to help them pray? I expect their faith, hope, and love to aid me in celebrating the Eucharist, but will my faith, hope, and love help them? I do not wish to become scrupulous about celebrating Mass, but I do wish to be a positive influence in the experience of the members of the community as they pray at Mass.

I think that a great temptation for those who celebrate the Eucharist frequently is to allow the experience to become “business as usual.” To allow that to happen would be a kind of betrayal. It would be a far from proper response to the Holy Spirit’s invitation to us to worship.

When we celebrate a Eucharist we are engaging in an action that more than any other action that we perform indicates who we are and what is most important in our lives. I don’t think any of us can ever celebrate a Eucharist perfectly, but we can try to make it a sign of our faith, hope, and love. We can try to allow the Eucharist to express our belief in God’s love for us and to express our hope and trust in that love. We can allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to animate us so that we become less self-centered and more ready to live our lives as a self-gift to God and to others.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.

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