The nearness of God

Mrs Breige O’Hare spoke on the 4th day of the Novena in Dromantine. Breige worked for nine years in Family Ministry in the diocese of Down & Connor. Responding to a need she saw for a more Christ-centred faith development Breige is now working throughout Ireland and the UK – with individuals, small groups, parishes and dioceses – to develop and deliver tailor made activities and ministry formation. Breige also conducts Gospel-based retreats, ongoing training and formation, facilitates group discussions and Parish missions. Her publications include Whole Parish Catechesis for Advent and Lent (Columba Press 2005) and The Nearness of God, (Shanway Press 2011). The following is an edited version of her Reflection.

“Where do you live?” Jesus’ soon-to-be apostles ask him in the gospel we listened to just now.

We know in our heads what the answer to this question is: it comes later in John’s gospel when Jesus tells his disciples that God lives in love in them. We know this in our heads. Do we believe it; do we believe that Jesus is talking about each one of us… about you…   about me. God lives in love in me. God lives in love in you.

St Thérèse shares with us a loving God who sees and accepts our small gestures of love, the Abba “Daddy” God who delights in us, a God who is at home in love with us. Today I want to help us to see that this God is not just Thérèse’s God; she invites us to get to know him for ourselves and to appreciate that he is at home with each one of us. Today I want to help you to experience a little more of the nearness of God.

We do it with a PowerPoint presentation but not one that will appear on the screen. Instead, this one is in your own head. It has three slides and you can carry it about with you, wherever you go.

The first slide is of a baby, the second a sink full of dishes and the third… the third is your own picture and we will get to it soon.

The picture I have in my head is of my first child, Grainne. I will never forget the day she was born and the moment when I was able to hold her in my arms. Looking down at this amazing, wonderful creature, in awe as she grasped my finger in her tiny hand, my first thought was: you belong to me. It was quickly followed by another, one which to this day makes my heart pound: You belong to me… and I belong to you. From that moment, I knew that I would do anything to protect and take care of my precious, beautiful child.

The experience of a mother’s or father’s love for a child is a glimpse of the love God has for each one of us. The image of the baby points us to the experience of a God who says to his people, you belong to me and I belong to you… you will be my people and I will be your God. It is a God who would do anything, go anywhere to be near to us. This God says to you: you belong to me… and I belong to you. This God is mad about you…

Sink full of dishes
When we think of God who longs to be with us, maybe the experience of the baby helps but we still have our own ideas about how close God is prepared to come and just where exactly he is prepared to go. Therese had an amazing boldness with God, the innocence and delight of a child in relationship with God… What about us?

Perhaps we can be forgiven for a certain reluctance, for being a bit concerned about God closeness. We’ve been trained over the generations that we need to clean up, present our best selves so that we might be worthy of God’s presence within. The sink of dishes reminds us of the Jesus who was happy just being with people… no need to tidy up. Jesus shows us the face of a God who spent much of his time, not with the clean, shiny ones people who thought that they might earn God’s love by obeying all the rules and looking good, but with those considered to be life’s messy people. And Jesus spent much of his time in the messy places of life.

Ask the same question of Jesus today… where do you live? You get the response: I live with you. Know that it means that he is present and at ease in every aspect of your life, in the tidy rooms and also in the rooms with the dirty dishes, the unsorted socks, the problems and people you might prefer to be without. Jesus is at home in all of it… he is there because he wants to be with you. He is there because he likes being with you… with dirty dishes… in a messy life.

Thérèse knew this God, too. Not one room in Thérèse’s life, in her heart or mind was closed to God. During this novena, open yourself to Thérèse’s God, who likes being with you, who is comfortable in the mess you think you are. Where do you live? God answers: I live in you.

A final slide
A final slide . . just in case more proof is needed that God is within. The Spirit has scattered clues in our lives, indications of the presence and action of the God of love. One way of spotting them is to consider the Spirit, the Living Water shared with us in our baptism and to think of how we use our own living water in acts of service and love. Design your own slide here: how do you use water in your home in caring for others?

What would your slide have on it? An iron; the cup of tea made in times of trouble, when a bit of listening or comfort was needed; the water used to wash a sick relative; the water to make the dinner, clean the car or feed the livestock.

The water we use in our daily life – your own slide; acts of love so small and mundane that we take them for granted. But these little acts are the kind at the very heart of Thérèse’s little way of love. And we must remember the love she shared – the love we, too, share with others – comes from the source of all love: the God who lives in love, in each one of us. God is within you. Come and see it in your own small way of love.

A baby who shows us the passionate longing and undying commitment of a God who would do anything for you. A sink of dirty dishes and a reminder of the God who is near to you in all area of your life simply because he wants to be wherever you are, because he likes being with you. Thérèse’s Abba “daddy” God with whom she could be herself, be bold, trust in God’s delight in her. And the Living water in your own life… the small way of love… a sign of God living in love in you.




Ask Thérèse for help to believe it.

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