WALKING BY FAITH TOGETHER | The Catholic Exponent
MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown
Have you ever found yourself asking the question: “Where is God?” Perhaps as you watched some of the horrific accounts coming from Ukraine regarding the tragic and unjust loss of life and the senseless destruction, you wondered: “Where is God?”
Closer to home, perhaps you have experienced the dividedness of our country pitting not just political parties against one another but also people and families, and you asked: “Where is God?” Or perhaps you witnessed bad things happening to good people causing you to question: “Where is God?” I suppose at one time or another we all ask this question amid the messiness of life.
When I was a little boy, I vividly remember asking my mom this question. Every Sunday we would worship together at Holy Mass. We always sat in the front pew. It was like we had box seats or like my parents knew someone. As we sat there in that first pew I would every Sunday ask my mom: “Where is God?” I knew we were in God’s house, but I had a hard time seeing God in that space.
As often as I would ask that question, my mom’s response was always the same. Mom would simply point to the sanctuary as if to say that God is in that sacred space. Obviously, it was one of those things that I came to embrace with the eyes of faith. Mom had no words in her response. It was simply a matter of pointing in the direction and inviting me into that realm.
Later in life as a seminarian studying theology, most especially the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, I came to learn that God is present in the priest, the Word, the Eucharistic species of bread and wine, and the assembly. Thus, if I were to ask mom that question today, she would have to point in various directions even outside the sanctuary.
One of the greatest things I get to do as bishop is travel throughout the diocese and visit our parishes to pray with our people. Every parish is unique with its own story, characters, and style. And yet, every parish is an integral part of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown. In all of our diversity, we aspire to be one.
This past Sunday I traveled to Canton, Stark County, to celebrate Holy Mass at Christ the Servant Parish and Saint Michael the Archangel Parish. It was my fourth trip to this southern part of the diocese in six days. The first Mass was a regular Sunday Mass to celebrate the life and ministry of Msgr. Lew Gaetano who will be retiring July 1. The second Mass, which took place in the afternoon, was a Mass of Confirmation in which 78 young people were confirmed marking the largest class for me as bishop.
In both instances, I can testify that Christ was present in the assembly. The faithful were fully engaged in the celebration through their responses and singing. It was evident that I was in the presence of the Body of Christ. In a certain sense, it was as if my dear mom, God rest her soul, was pointing out that God was present in the assembly. Two days earlier, May 20, marked the 21st anniversary of her death.
When you attend Holy Mass, do you ever find yourself asking “Where is God?” If so, I encourage you to behold the priest, the Word, and the Eucharistic species of bread and wine. But I also encourage you to look around at those near you. God is present in them, for they are his handiwork. If you struggle to see that presence, then go out into the deep and sit in a different pew. While we are creatures of habit, sometimes it is good to mix things up so that we see things more clearly. It is like taking a different route to work. The change brings a freshness and a new vision.
“Where is God?” On that same Sunday before celebrating Holy Mass at Christ the Servant Parish, Msgr. Gaetano proudly gave me a tour of his school. In one of the corridors, Monsignor pointed out to me a mirror. Evidently, when a student is in trouble, Monsignor sends them to this corridor to look into the mirror and invites them to consider what they see. Beside the mirror, is a plaque which reads: “You are a child of God. You are the beloved of God.”
That simple little exercise of looking into the mirror challenges one to see God in themselves. Even with our warts and foibles, every single one of us reflects the light of God. Do you see God in that person in the mirror?
During my recent retreat I found myself praying with Mark 1:11. “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.” What was said by God to Jesus at His baptism is said to us. We get into trouble when we forget who and whose we are – so says Jesuit Father Christopher Collins in his book, “Habits of Freedom: 5 Ignatian Tools for Clearing Your Mind and Resting Daily in the Lord.” In this book, which I was blessed to read during my recent retreat, Father Collins states that much of the Bible is about the “struggle of God’s people to remember who they truly are and the problems that ensue when they continue to forget.”
I think the key for all of us is to keep asking the question, “Where is God?” It is important for us to recognize that God is present not just in the priest, the Word, and the Holy Sacrament, but God is also present in others and even in the person we see in the mirror.
At every Mass the priest or deacon says these words at the altar as a drop of water is poured into the chalice filled with wine : “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Through our reverence and reception of the Holy Eucharist may we embody Christ and be His presence in the world. May that same Eucharist open our eyes to see Christ in others especially those whom we least expect.
Wouldn’t it be amazing, if someone were to respond to that primordial question, “Where is God?” by pointing to one of us?