Early versions of the new constitutions for the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites defined OCDS members in part as those who “”seek the face of God in prayer” in order to be of service the Church and the world. I love this imagery. Seeking the face of God is the most important aspect of Christian prayer. It separates prayer from eastern meditation techniques and self-seeking under the guise of holiness.
Pope Francis is fond of reminding us that the Christian life is an encounter with Christ. As important as morality is, it cannot take central place. Even such fundamentals as protecting human life and supporting traditional marriage cannot stand alone. Atheists can be pro-life. Muslims can support the traditional family. But only Christians truly encounter Christ.
Created, redeemed, and destined for love
The Apostle John summed up the Gospel in this manner: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The Gospel begins with God’s love for us. God’s love is at the center of the Christian life.
God created us out of the abundance of His love. When we sinned, He sent God the Son to redeem us. By believing in Jesus, we can come to share in God’s eternal love in Heaven. This is what Christianity is all about.
Notice how Christianity is distinguished from every other religion and philosophy in history. Many religions and creeds speak about the importance of living a moral life. Judaism teaches people to follow the commandments. Other religions might emphasize kindness to one’s neighbors. Only Christianity centers on God becoming man in order to redeem us.
Hide not Your face
One of my favorite passages of Scripture says:
O Lord, hear my voice when I call;
have mercy and answer.
Of You my heart has spoken: “Seek His face.”
It is Your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Your face.
This is Psalm 27:7-8, as quoted in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is the essence of prayer.
But why would God ever hide His face from us? Doesn’t He want us to find Him?
Yesterday, my older two boys and I were reading The Creed in Slow Motion by Msgr. Ronald Knox. We are studying the phrase from the Apostles Creed “His only Son.” Fr. Knox proposed an analogy for his audience of school girls that I think we can all learn from.
Hiding from God
Fr. Knox said that when Adam and Eve sinned, it was as though they were children playing hide-and-seek with God. They hid from God, and He, being the adult in the game, called out “Where are you?” Of course, God knew where they were. They were hiding, because of their sin. He found them and restored them to grace.
Then it was God’s turn to hide. Man had to seek Him. But like an adult still playing the game, God gave man clues to where He could be found. He kept saying throughout the Old Testament, “You’re getting warmer.”
God repeated this to the magi as they followed the star to Bethlehem. At last, they looked on the face of God, the face of the Child Jesus.
The Child Jesus. The Holy Face. Sort of reminds you of St. Therese, doesn’t it?
Why is God hiding?
God may hide His face from us for many reasons. The first reason is our sin. Actually, when we sin, we hide our faces from God. If we wish to see God face to face, we must abandon sin. The sooner we put aside even venial sin, the sooner God will admit us to His presence in Heaven.
So when we pray, “Hide not your face,” we pray that He will protect us from falling into sin.
God also hides His face from us so that we realize how much we need Him. Sometimes we experience darkness in prayer that makes us long for God’s presence. We learn that nothing can satisfy us but Him. Through prayer we can can be purged of our sins and attachments so that we can bypass Purgatory.
Sometimes God hides His face to teach us trust. He wants us to persevere, even when we fear no one hears our prayers. He wants to lead us through loneliness and hopelessness to perfect confidence in Him.
Jesus is the face of God. In prayer we seek to know Him and to love Him. The more pure our seeking, the more real our prayer. The more we focus on ourselves, the longer it takes to see His face.
Let us seek to encounter Christ today by setting aside time for prayer.