The Journey

FATHER ANTONINUS WALL, O.P.

The most common symbol of the dynamic of Christian salvation is that of a "journey".

Preface

This book is in the mainstream of Catholic tradition. Its Scriptural basis reflects insights into the Gospel of Jesus rather than the elusive, subjectivised Historical Jesus. Its theology comes primarily from Thomas Aquinas.

My intent is to offer a clear insight into the meaning of human existence in the context of its loving source and goal. My desire is to illuminate the dynamics of human development in the movement to union with God, Who is the Alpha and Omega of existence.

I have tried to avoid elements of the mystery of this journey which would distract from the essentials involved. Nevertheless, I recognize that the outline given may awaken questions it does not resolve. It is more desirable, however, for persons to have such unresolved questions than to be unaware of the significance of their human existence. Questions stir the mind to life, and this is part of what the journey to God is about.

In my efforts to illuminate the stages of the soul's journey to God, I am particularly appreciative of the assistance of Catherine and Dominic Colvert. Both have provided perceptive insights and the impetus to develop the book. I am also grateful for the critical contributions of many others, particularly Basil Cole, Brendon Colvert, Leo Daly, Brian Mullady, Fabian Parmesano, and Philip Valera. The good in the book is due as much to their efforts as to mine. I find it easy to accept responsibility for the defects. After all, it is a short book about a long journey.

A. Wall
Oakland, CA
November 1998


Editor's Note:

This book is based on a series of talks exploring the meaning of life. Only when our existence is meaningful and purposeful are we moved to vital activity. Therefore, a goal of the book is to provide affective knowledge. Affective knowledge moves us to action as distinct from speculation, which merely adds to our understanding.

Affectiveness, however, has different wellsprings. The approach taken here is that truth is based on the twin pillars of faith and reason. When Jesus upbraided the Apostles "Oh ye of little faith," he was not encouraging blind action. He was telling them to have courage and to take the steps their experience of him dictated. Inevitably it has been necessary to make changes to the flow of language when putting the spoken word into written form. Mindful, however, of the power of the preacher, we have striven to provide an unaffected rendering of the spoken word. Footnotes have been added for those who may want to explore topics further.


Forward

Every journey is a process made up of various parts. The journeyman's advancement along the way is determined by the milestones whereby he is able to measure his progress. Father Wall shows us that this pattern applies to the spiritual life as well.

Before anyone undertakes a journey he must prepare for it. To set out on our journey to God, the only true goal of our life, we must first look into ourselves and reflect on the truth that He penetrates every nook and cranny of our being. Unfortunately, this truth eludes us in the helter-skelter of our daily lives. God is always present to us, but we are not present to Him. To make ourselves present to Him requires a spiritual journey, a journey of awakening, a journey of love to Love.

Our journey to God, as Father Wall teaches us in this remarkably inspiring book, is lifelong. It is determined by three milestones, which Father Wall calls the three stages of awakening: the mirror of nature, the mirror of Christ without, and the mirror of Christ within. The first of these milestone awakenings is a reflection on the glory of nature around us, which is itself but a reflection of God's all- pervasive beauty. This reflection helps to turn us away from our self-centeredness and represents a definite but still inadequate progress.

The second milestone, the mirror of Christ without, gives us the Lord in all the beauty of His personality as our companion on the way, thus awakening a more concentrated love. But we have not yet arrived, as we can still fall by the wayside.

The third milestone, the mirror of Christ within, finally achieves our infusion into Christ, so that, in the words of St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me." To encourage us on this journey, Father Wall appeals to a wonderful example of a successful journeyman – the very human Apostle Peter.

Father Wall is well able to guide us along this journey. As a Dominican steeped in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, a veteran teacher of spirituality, an itinerant preacher and counselor of souls, he is well qualified to describe this journey of the soul. He is able to present the most profound truths of faith and of human psychology in a clear, easily understood, and delightful way. His final chapters are a description of the bliss that awaits the journeyman when he finally reaches his goal. The description, as Father Wall points out, must fall infinitely short of reality since "no eye has seen nor ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him."

San Francisco, November 1998
Father Gerald A. Buckley, O.P.



CHAPTER ONE
The Journey

  • The journey to God, a Christian concept
  • It is not a spatial journey
  • Catholic Faith says God is omnipresent
  • God's presence sustains us in existence


All true Christians believe that salvation comes through Jesus Christ. They agree with the good news on bumper stickers everywhere that "Jesus Saves". All hold that Jesus Christ came into this world to bring us to a loving union with God whom we will see face to face.

The most common symbol of the dynamic of Christian salvation is that of a "journey". The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "God freely willed to create a world 'in a state of journeying.'"[1] Christ comes to guide us as pilgrims on this journey. The journey will end with the loving, face to face, encounter with our heavenly Father.

Christians often understand the journey in spatial terms. It is conceived of as traveling from some place where God is not to another place where indeed he is present. It entails, in a word, a movement from here in space where God is not present, to there in space where he is.

Many fundamentalist Christians tend to think of the journey of salvation in these spatial terms. They tell us that this world is a sinful world where God is not present. According to this understanding Jesus comes into this sinful, Godless world to free us from this place where God is not present to lead us into that other world, heaven, where God dwells.

Catholics also fall into this spatial understanding of the journey to God. Such a spatial understanding explains the fascination of many Catholics with going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Lourdes, Fatima, and other sacred places.

Behind their fascination is a spatial thinking that locates God more in those places than in home, city, or country. If only I could leave this worldly place, they think, where God shows little or no sign of his presence, and get to this or that holy place, then I would find myself in the presence of God and I would have advanced significantly on my journey of salvation.

Catholics fall into this way of thinking within the very confines of the parish. How many Catholics understand their parish church to be the place in which God truly dwells and where alone he can be found? So they leave their homes – the profane kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and basement where God is not present – and head for the parish church where he abides and where they enter into his presence. Again the thinking is about a journey in space from where God is not to another place where God is.

What does Catholic faith teach about this way of thinking? Catholic faith teaches that God is fully present everywhere. It teaches that God on his part is as fully present on earth as he is in heaven. It affirms that God is as fully present in our country, our city, and our home as he is in the Holy Land, Lourdes, Fatima, or any other holy place. This faith holds that God is as fully present in our kitchen, basement, living room, bedroom, and garden as he is in our parish church. For that matter he is as fully present in our home as he is present in the basilica of Saint Peter's in Rome. The term for this understanding of the mystery of God is that he is omnipresent. [2]

To say that God on his part is fully present to all creatures is to speak of the objective presence of God to all beings. God's objective presence produces diverse effects in different persons. Therefore, the subjective experience of God's presence produces differing relations to him. Later we will deal with the subjective changes that progressively awaken persons to the objective presence of God in their lives.

According to Catholic faith, we must affirm that God on his part is as fully present to you and me as he is to the greatest saints. Even more, we must hold that God is as fully present to us at this very moment as he is present to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The teaching of Catholic faith about the omnipresence of God may indeed sound strange. It implies that God is as fully present to each of us as he is present to the human nature of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word made flesh.

The omnipresence of God in no way conflicts with our consciousness in faith that God is radically "other" than ourselves. He infinitely transcends our human actuality and all created reality. These two aspects of the mystery of the Godhead daily challenge our understanding of him, and qualify our relations with him.

Saint Thomas Aquinas [3] teaches that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. At the same time he is radically "other" than us and transcends the entire order of created being. The technical terms for these two aspects of the Godhead are immanence and transcendence. Belief in the omnipresence of God reflects the Divine immanence. It should not conflict with our belief in his divine transcendence.

Saint Paul expresses the mystery of divine immanence when he teaches that, "In him we live and move and have our being."[4] In his view we are like fish swimming in an ocean of divine love. God's love is all around us and within us.

Saint Thomas points out that, were God's love not immediately present to us, we would not exist. He uses Saint Augustine's simple, beautiful example to illustrate our relation to the creative activity of God's love. He teaches that we are like beams of light coming from the illuminating activity of the sun. [5]

The Journey to God
by Father Antoninus Wall, O.P.

Just as these beams of light need the activity of the sun to initiate their existence, so also they depend upon the continuing activity of the sun to sustain their existence. Remove the sun and the beams of light would instantly cease to exist.

We might substitute a modem flashlight in the place of the sun called upon by Saint Augustine. If you were to go into a dark room and turn on the flashlight, immediately a bright beam would come into existence. That beam would depend upon the activity of the flashlight not only for its initiation, but for its continued existence. You could not turn off the flashlight and withdraw from the room, only to return five minutes later and find the beam still shining brightly. When the flashlight's illuminating activity ceases, the beam of light likewise ends instantly. We are like beams of light emanating from the creative activity of divine love.

This love is not only necessary to initiate our existence. It is indispensable to our continued existence in this life and the next. At the instant in which God ceases to be more present to us than we are to ourselves, we would immediately cease to exist.

This radical dependence on the presence of God applies not only to ourselves but to the whole order of creation. That is why Catholics hold that God is as fully present on earth as he is in heaven.

We hold that God is as fully present in our country, our city, and our home as he is in the Holy Land, Lourdes, Fatima, and other sacred places. We affirm that he is as fully present on his part in our kitchen, bedroom, basement, living room, and garden as he is in our parish church. Therefore, we do not have to go anywhere to be in his presence.

If we were to decide to leave by plane on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, God would be fully present with us in the departure airport. He would be equally present to us as we watched the in-flight movies while soaring above the Atlantic Ocean.

As we arrived in the airport in the Holy Land, he would be as fully present to us at that moment as we would find him in Bethlehem, or in Nazareth, or along the Sea of Galilee, or on Mount Olivet. This is the Catholic belief in the omnipresence of God. You and I do not have to go any place to be in the fullness of his presence.

Imagine that you enter your children's bedrooms on a chilly, wintry Sunday morning to awaken and prepare them to go to Mass. In response to your call, they object to getting out of their warm beds. They protest that God is already fully present with them beneath their blankets. They claim he is as fully present to them in their warm beds as he is in their parish church. This is basic, sound Catholic teaching about the omnipresence of God, and Saint Thomas would beam at their healthy, theological insight.

If, then, God is already fully present to you and me, as fully present as ever he will be on his part, what do we mean by the "journey of salvation"? What need have we of Christ to bring us to a divine presence that already exists to us? These are the questions we must clarify.

Endnotes

[1]  CCC 310.

[2]  It is, of course, a mystery how God who is one can be everywhere. Yet within our own experience as human beings, who are as mere specks in the physical universe, our intellect exceeds all material things. The universe exists in us through knowledge. Saint Thomas Aquinas says (Summa Contra Gentiles Bk. 3a Chap. 68) "But God is indivisible as existing altogether outside the genus of continuous quantity ... He was from eternity before there was any place. Yet by the immensity of His power He reaches all things that are in place."

[3]  Thomas Aquinas lived in the 13th century. He entered the Dominican Order at age 22 in Naples, Italy. He died in 1274 and was canonized in 1323. His synthesis of faith and reason, the moral and political sciences, and Greek and Christian thought stands as a great achievement of Scholastic thought. We will refer to him as Saint Thomas in the remainder of this book.

[4]  Acts 17:28.

[5]  Cf Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae First Part Q 104.


The Journey to God

Chapter 1 - The Journey
Chapter 2 - The Presence
Chapter 3 - The Awakening
Chapter 4 - The Way of Love
Chapter 5 - The Three Stages of Awakening
Chapter 6 - The Mirror of Nature
Chapter 7 - The Mirror of Christ Outside
Chapter 8 - The Catholic Way
Chapter 9 - The Mirror of Christ Within
Chapter 10 - The Coming of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 11 - The Door
Chapter 12 - The End of the Journey
Chapter 13 - The Face to Face Encounter

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Antoninus Wall, O.P. "The Journey." Chapter 1 in The Journey to God (Antioch, CA: Solas Press, 1999): 3-8.

Reprinted by permission of Father Antoninus Wall and Solas Press.

THE AUTHOR

Father Antoninus Wall, O.P., a native of San Francisco, is the son of Irish-born parents, and the brother of the late Fr. Kevin Wall, O.P. Fr. Wall attended St. Ignatius prep in the Bay City and St. Mary's College of California. Entering the Dominican Order, he pursued his sacred studies at St. Albert's College in Oakland and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1950.

Fr. Wall has had a career rich in pastoral and academic experiences. He has served as associate pastor in Seattle and as Professor of Theology at Immaculate Heart and Dominican College. He negotiated the entry of the Dominicans into the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and served two terms there as President of the Dominican School. He currently resides at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, California. Father Wall is the author of The Journey to God. Father Wall may be reached by phone at 510-596-1800 or by email at antwall@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2010 Solas Press




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