Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
In another Catholic forum, a person lamented that they do not “feel” God's presence, even though they know God is, and nowhere more intimately so than in the Eucharist. His grief at not being able to "feel" God's presence, I believe to be quite real. The gift of darkness, of offering yourself to God absent the feelings, is a great gift — a hard, severe one to be sure, but a gift none the less.
Since the goal of evangelization is to introduce people to Jesus, to the Who, from which all our faith stems, what are we to make of feelings, of people sensing God's presence, since we also know that feelings change, fade, and can be an easy substitute for devotion grounded in faith? Lest anyone think I’m over-intellectualizing the problem, I know of more than a few adults who left the Catholic faith because (in their words), they did not feel anything. They left seeking to feel something, and because they thought the something they lacked, was the presence of Jesus.
I know that Jesus laments that so many come seeking signs, as proof. Unless this generation “sees signs and wonders, you will never believe.” It’s true. We want reassurance, on an almost constant basis, of God’s love for us, and most of us, want that reassurance in the form of answered prayers. Jesus tells us to ask, but He also wants us to ask out of love, rather than as proof of His love. So going back to the need to “feel something” either at the Mass or before the Blessed Sacrament, how do we know God’s love when we don’t have the big feelings? The same way we know the love of a spouse when they’re at work, when it’s been decades of time spent like water, and the fuzziness of young love is long past, when the people we love, want to spend time with us whether we serve them or not, whether we have something other than time to offer or not. Love is revealed by sacrifice, and by presence, by time and thought given, and God is always revealing this, if we take the opportunity to look.
Just as surely as we feel struck when we recognize someone we love in a crowd, someone we did not expect to see, so also, if we allow ourselves awe of the Lord, we will feel struck by the deep
knowledge that God picked us out, and is gazing at us now, wanting us to know that He loves us even in the midst of all the chaos of our lives. We may not get the big miracles like the big-name saints, but all the daily miracles remain, and individualized gifts in abundance as well, if we’re looking, not for proof that God is, but for evidence of God’s love. God knows our hearts well enough to remain veiled, as the Eucharist, as an infant, in the distressing disguise of the poor. God knows how to speak to us, through beauty, through friends, through the sacraments and through scripture. However, nowhere in that list did we find, God speaks to us through feelings.
If we look at Scripture, even when God speaks directly, as to Moses, as to Abraham, as to Noah, these people in the Old Testament respond with thoughtful rational questions, even as they feel the awe of knowing, they’re engaged in a dialogue with the Almighty. Mary asks rational questions of the Archangel Gabriel when she receives the invitation to participate in God’s plan. These people still felt shock, awe, puzzlement and worry, but they also used their minds to form hard questions of God, to get answers and to know more deeply. So when you find yourself not feeling emotions at the Mass, don’t be afraid to ask God hard questions, but allow yourself the luxury of God’s answer.