"He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross (through him), whether those on earth or those in heaven.
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Your first lesson is below. Please bookmark this web page for future reference.
"Seeking Union with God"
Personal Spiritual Formation Program
Our Ultimate Purpose and Happiness
The goal of this program is to help us attain our ultimate purpose and happiness, which is nothing less than a deep, ongoing, personal, love relationship with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (and secondarily to develop a right relationship with other people). This program will cover basic to more advanced elements of Catholic spirituality from the teachings of the Bible, the Church and the Saints.
This first lesson is to help ensure that we have some foundational elements of Christianity and the spiritual life strongly in place. In this lesson, we will take time to reflect on some attributes of God, whose goodness and greatness we can only begin to fathom while here on earth. Plus we'll examine why we would want to pursue a deeper relationship with God with the purpose of making a firm commitment to follow Gods ways.
Let's begin with a prayer for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
||Prayer: "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of thy love. Send forth thy Spirit and they shall be recreated and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit hast taught the hearts of the faithful, grant us the help of the same Holy Spirit to be always truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation, through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Taken from the Carmelite Tertiary Prayers for OCDS members
"Rise up, O Men of God!
Have done with lesser things,
give heart and soul and mind and strength
to serve the King of kings."
Text by William Merrill, 1911. From "Rise Up, O Men of God",
Hymn #176 in "Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours"
To begin, let's take time to reflect on how to obtain our ultimate purpose and happiness.
Whether we realize it or not during our sometimes hectic lives, we were created for a special purpose. Each of us has something unique to accomplish in this life. But all of us have something in common that we were created for which is a loving relationship with God which begins here and continues after our death.
No matter what our own unique talents, interests, job, family or friends, the highest purpose, happiness and meaning of our life possible, comes from our relationship with God. The things of this earth and our earthly lives are passing by day by day and will eventually end. But God and our relationship with Him, while beginning in this life, continues forever. Since God is the greatest good that exists, our relationship with Him is also the greatest good we can possibly have. Without this relationship firmly in place, nothing else really matters in the long run, so what we do regarding this relationship is of utmost importance for us.
So what is our ultimate purpose?
The old Baltimore Catechism #1 asked the question, "Why did God make you?" The answer is, "God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next." This sums up, in one short sentence, the reason for our existence and our ultimate purpose and meaning of our lives. To love God we must first know Him... and that is part of what we will be doing in this lesson, taking time to get to know God better.
In the first couple of lessons, we will also take time to examine what place God currently has in our lives with the goal to examine what place God could and should have, and to commit or recommit ourselves to putting God in the proper place.
So let's start now by taking time to ponder what we are ultimately created for and how to reach our ultimate happiness now and forever.
God is our Ultimate Good
Let's take a closer look at what we can know about God to help us realize that our ultimate happiness is nothing less than God Himself. The purpose of this lesson is to help us to come to realize this to such an extent that we will decide, if we haven't already, to make God truly number one (#1) in our lives. Putting God first is the requirement (in fact, it is God's first commandment) in order to have all the good things God wishes us to have, the chief among those being God Himself and everlasting life with Him now and forever.
Most of us have many things to do and distractions in life, but let's set all those things aside for a moment and recollect ourselves from all our other concerns. Let's take some time to really think about and ponder these ultimate questions of life starting with this thought from the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena:
Man is placed above all creatures, and not beneath them, and he cannot be satisfied or content except in something greater than himself. Greater than himself there is nothing but Myself, the Eternal God. Therefore I alone can satisfy him... St. Catherine of Siena
To me the above quote is so awesome and revealing of our situation. In other words, what we are seeking and what we are made for, whether we fully realize it or not, is God. The above quote points out what is also stated in the Bible, that we were created by God and for God.
One way to look at it is that God has created us with a space inside just for Him, like a hole inside of us, that only He can fill. Whether we like it or not, we will never be satisfied with anything less than God to fill the "God-void" inside. We can try to fill the place in us that God created for Himself (and most of us have tried) with a spouse, money, career, excitement or even sinful things... And those might distract us for a while but ultimately, even though some of these are legitimate parts of life in their proper place, they cannot take God's place.
Also all these things change and won't always be with us. For us to have the peace, joy and satisfaction in the lives God created us for, we need nothing less than God Himself to be our #1 love and focus.
So let's take a look at just what that means and how we can go about that. Perhaps God is already in our lives to a greater or lesser degree. We may believe God exists and pray to Him sometimes (especially when things aren't going well, which is maybe why they aren't going well). We may go to church on Sundays and try to live a good life. Or perhaps we have been mostly focusing on other things and haven't given much thought to God. Or perhaps we have gotten off track and now is a time to get back on track.
What does God (who knows everything) tell us about how to achieve our ultimate purpose, happiness and eternal life? As our Creator, He has a lot to say and has told us through his dealings with humans throughout history, through his prophets in the Old Testament and through his son, Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Bible (Scripture) and through the truths handed down from the Apostles (Sacred Tradition).
What does Jesus say about the place God should have in our life?
And Jesus answered him: The first commandment of all is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is one God. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:29-31
Jesus told us in the above Bible passage that the main thing that is required, the greatest commandment, is to love God with our whole heart, whole soul and whole mind and whole strength. In other words, we are to put God in the number one spot in our lives... to make God the Lord of our lives. We will examine this idea more in depth as this is of utmost importance.
Lets consider HOW to get our priorities, minds and hearts in the right place. Some of us have come to the realization of the importance of our relationship with God and how short this life is compared to our true destiny after this life, which lasts forever. Many might not have given much thought to God, and some even wonder if God really exists. Some of us if we believe God exists, might not realize that He wants to have a continual active relationship with us right here and now, not just later after we die, but each and every day, and not just for an hour on Sundays.
"The soul truly in love with God looks only for the honor and glory of God in everything. It looks only at pleasing and serving the Lord."
St. Teresa of Avila
Our goal in the spiritual life is to be truly in love with God, as Jesus taught and as St. Teresa mentioned above. Why? Because seeking anything less than God as our number one priority will not fulfill us, at least not for long, as God is the greatest treasure we could possibly have.
God, the creator and designer of everything including us, knows how everything works in order to bring us happiness as He made things that way.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." Matt 6:19-21
God loves us and wants us to love Him in return. God has loved us from the moment He thought of us and created us in our mothers womb. As a good Father, He desires more than anything that we love Him in return and He wants to be with us. These things are not just automatically given to us, as God does not force Himself on us. He made an offer and promises to us, and it is up to us to either choose what He offers or not.
If you really stop to think about it, who or what could be better than God, since God is perfect? He wants us to walk through life united to Him and the way He designed things. His ways are for the betterment of all and bring harmony in mind, body and heart.
God loves us more than anyone else or more than we even love ourselves. God desires that we have this union with Him in love. Gods love is the reason for our creation, the lessons in the Bible and for Jesus Christ coming to earth. It is also the reason for the Church Christ founded
. love and unity with God, and secondarily love of others.
If we can begin to realize how great and truly wonderful God is and how deserving of our love, we would desire union with God above all things for many reasons, but the simplest reason is that even though we often dont perceive it, God is the greatest good and therefore the greatest gift we can possess.
While God gives us so many things including our very life, there is nothing greater that God can give us than Himself. He offers us no less than an eternal loving relationship with Himself but He doesn't force Himself upon us. We need to open our hearts to God to accept God and his gifts. He knocks on the door of our heart, but He doesn't force his way in.
"God takes what we give Him; but He doesn't give Himself completely until we give ourselves completely." St. Teresa of Avila, "The Way of Perfection", Chapter 28
Stop for a moment and reflect as to why this is true. Can there be anyone more beautiful, intelligent, powerful or good than God who is the creator of all good things? Look at the beauty of the earth and think of how beautiful and intelligent the creator of all things must be.
Think of the best and most beautiful person you know and how much greater the creator of this person must be. Think of the thing you like most in life, how wonderful it is to you and how much more wonderful the creator of this must be.
God made the things of this Earth for us to see beyond them to their maker and to realize how wonderful the maker is who made them for us. Like a loving parent, God gives us so many things, including life itself, because He loves us and desires us to love Him in return.
We tend as humans at times to lower our focus and sights on the immediate and what is right in front of us, something that is part of creation rather than the Creator. The things of this life are always changing and coming and going in our lives, but God is eternal and is always there. He wants to be, not just our God up in the sky somewhere, but very close, our best friend and is our true parent.
Also, when it is realized that God has the solutions to all our problems, why wouldnt we want to always look first to Him and include Him in everything? If we think something that God doesn't like such as sin will make us happy for long, we are sadly mistaken. His word in the Bible tells us that we do not need to worry about what we are going to eat, drink, or wear or, for that matter, about anything whatsoever. We do not need to overly focus with worry on how we are going to make a living, who is going to love us, how we are going to stay healthy or anything else.
When we put God first in our lives and follow all He says to do, we not only get the highest good which is God Himself, but everything else is taken care of as well, according to God's will and plan for us.
Therefore dont be anxious, saying, What will we eat?, What will we drink? or, With what will we be clothed? For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first Gods Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33
Since God is so infinitely above us, we cannot really comprehend all about God. But we can know some things about Him through natural reason and also because God has revealed them in the Bible and through Jesus Christ. Now let's take a moment to think about some of Gods attributes.
The Bible says that God IS love.
He who doesnt love doesnt know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:8
When we stop to think about it, we probably realize that the best and most wonderful times of our lives are had in loving relationships with the greatest sense of well-being coming from true love, knowing we are cared about. We all long for love; our hearts are made that way. Yet no person can really love us the way that God already does love us even while we are sinners and imperfect. Yes, God loves us right now as we are right now. We can appreciate human love and God made that also, but people are not perfect like God is. Their love, while a blessing, cannot ultimately satisfy the need we have for perfect love. God's love is perfect and He infuses into our hearts when we open ourselves to Him.
The Bible compares our relationship with God as one of a husband and wife in marriage and uses this as a symbol of the union we are called to have with God in a spiritual way. The Song of Songs is a book of the Bible, which while describing what sounds like human spousal love, is also a symbol of the loving relationship God desires to have with us in a spiritual way.
The Saints, as our example, loved God so much that we can say they had fallen in love with God with their hearts and desired nothing more than to please God above all things. When we fall in love with someone we tend to think about them all the time, we focus on them. This is what is possible also in the spiritual life. We can, through God's grace, love Him more and more until He is the first love of our lives. This is His desire because He loves us infinitely more than any person could. Also God is deserving of all our love just because of who He is in Himself, but also for all that He has done for us.
"God would never want to do anything less than give if He could find receivers." St. Teresa of Avila, from "Sermon in a Sentence", A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life, Volume 4, St. Teresa of Avila, Selected and Arranged by John B. McClernon, Ignatius Press, 2005
God does not force himself on us. He leaves us free. We have a choice and it is the biggest choice we will ever make as it impacts not just this life but our eternity. Our choice is to accept God or not as our Lord. We must decide whether to accept Him and what he offers us, or to reject him.
God desires the best for us. He desires that we become holy as He is holy. All God allows to happen to us, both good and bad, in this life can be used to help to sanctify us or make us holier and closer to Him, even in our sufferings. In fact our sufferings are often what bring us to God, as often when things are going well we can tend to forget about God and thereby miss out on our greatest good.
When we love and pray to God for the desires of our heart, like a good Father, God might not give us all we think we want. But He always gives us what is best for us and for our development in holiness, not only for this life but also in preparation for being with Him in his home in Heaven after this life. He can bring good out of evil and suffering, even out of the poor decisions and evil that we have done, when we put it all in his hands and turn our lives over to Him.
And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints. Romans 8:28
When God is #1 we have a certain kind of peace in our soul that the world can't touch. And even if things are tough, beneath the upper waters, which might be turbulent and challenging, there is a peace deep down inside like the calm under the sea. When God is NOT #1, we are tossed about on the waves of life and lose our peace.
"Oh, best beloved daughter, how glorious is that soul who has indeed been able to pass from the stormy ocean to Me, the Sea Pacific [Pacific means Peaceful], and in that Sea, which is Myself, the Supreme and Eternal Deity, to fill the pitcher of her heart." From the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena about last stage of the spiritual life, which includes union with God (the goal of the spiritual life).
This quote from St. Catherine reminds me of some descriptions of "transforming union" (which is the highest stage of spiritual development we can reach in this life) by Fr. Thomas Dubay in his book, Fire Within. His description of this wonderful state includes seeing "wonderful new things" somewhat like those in heaven who "will forever be receiving new surprises and marveling the more" about God's glory. It is also described as a "loving union", "remarkable delight", "cessation of imperfections and inner perfections", "heroic virtue", "innocence of evil", "peace and refreshment.. the peace the Lord wished...the refreshment that He promised we would find". He also says, "In place of the aching feeling of emptiness characteristic of the two nights, there is now an abiding and peaceful exchange of love with the indwelling Father, Son and Spirit." Future lessons will go into this more. Fire Within is a highly recommended book.
|John Chapter 1:
"1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be
4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 A man named John was sent from God.
7 He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
8 He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.
11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,
13 who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
15 John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'"
16 From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace,
17 because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him."
Summary: God is the all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, King of the Universe who is all-good and the source of all good things. He is our good Father, as Jesus taught us to call Him. "God is love" and what He most desires is love... to give His love to us and receive our love in return. He also desires that we become holy. He doesn't force us to love Him or follow his ways, but has given us free will to decide what we want to choose. The Bible symbolizes God's relationship with us as a marriage with Jesus being the bridegroom and the bride being his Church. The Bible also symbolizes this relationship as a body, with Christ as the head and we as the members. If we have this loving relationship with God as #1 in our life, we have everything we truly need and He will provide for everything we really need. But if we do not have God as our #1 love and the Lord of our Life, anything we do have will not be enough or sufficient in the long run. We will end up being unhappy or dissatisfied in whatever we put above God in our lives.
Please note: In general for this course, whenever I put a link to another website I am referring you only to a specific article at that specific link (and not necessarily to other information at the linked website because I haven't reviewed all the material at the other website in order to make a recommendation).
Next week's lesson will follow what we have gone over in this lesson and concerns making the ultimate decision we all have to make in this life.
Optional Assignment: Read Pope Benedict's first encyclical letter at the Vatican website, "Deus Caritas Est "(God is Love) to help realize even more of God's great love for us. Click here
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