As Catholics with our belief in what has come to be called the “real presence” of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine, we can sometimes be thought to believe that Christ is more present in our chapels and churches (where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved), and thus not present, or “less” present in places outside these sacred precincts. This spatial understanding of Christ (and thus God’s) presence is understandable given the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. Throughout Lent we have listened to the great story of the Exodus with God leading his people in the very localized confines of the column of cloud (by day) and column of fire, at night. So too, God is described as descending on Mount Sinai in the form of a cloud.
This image of a God confined and limited to a specific place or space, seems to be supported by our gospel and the angel’s proclamation to the women: You are seeking Jesus the Crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee—there you will see him. However, the angel’s message appears inaccurate since Jesus meets them on the way back to the disciples—and thus he is still very much in Jerusalem, rather than Galilee. Given this apparent sense of the Resurrected Christ being in one place and not another, what of our seemingly contradictory belief that God is everywhere and, indeed, sustains all reality in being by his omnipresence?
Well, part of our problem with reconciling these seemingly contradictory notions (omnipresence and localization) is that as human beings we are made up of two seeming contraries—body and soul. And except for the very spiritually advanced, we tend to relate to God predominantly via the inevitable limitations of our physicality and on information gathered via our five senses. And thus in his loving condescension, God relates to us—at least initially—via these physically-imposed limitations to knowing and loving him. In our Catholic tradition this is reflected in the sacramental life of the church whereby we encounter and connect with the divine through physical things like water, oil, light, bread and wine.
However, as Saint Paul noted, even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, we know him so no longer. In other words, as we mature spiritually, these physical aspects, having successfully mediated that deeper encounter with the great mystery of our God, are transcended and our spirits encounter God in the apparent darkness and obscurity of contemplation. And it is in this authentic contemplation that we experience, personally and intimately, that God is all-in-all, and that there is no place where God is more present or less present.
Therefore, despite the Angel’s message, let us guard against seeking God (or Christ) in some place, and realize that our God is the One in whom we live, move, and have our being, and that, as Saint Paul assured us, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Everywhere thus becomes a potential locus for encountering the Christ whose saving death, resurrection, and ascension brings him closer to us than we are to ourselves. All of this until that moment when the veil of this temporal life is finally lifted and we pass through into that glorious beholding of God, face to face, and dwell eternally in the very loving heart of God.