Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Jean-Pierre de Caussade: Sacrament of the Present Moment
Actively working in and through our daily lives, God’s presence surrounds us—veiled in ordinary events, responsibilities and trials we face. Our greatest spiritual growth takes place as we embrace those challenges that present themselves moment-by-moment.
This is the simple, but powerful, message of Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a spiritual leader in eighteenth-century France. Listeners took notes on his conferences regarding the spiritual life; however, it was more than a century before these notes plus excerpts from his letters were compiled and published under the title, Abandonment to Divine Providence.
Various editions have been released over the past 150 years. Quotes in this article come from the beautiful translation by Kitty Muggeridge entitled The Sacrament of the Present Moment. Another readable modern translation is published as The Joy of Full Surrender. All of these, though, are simply different editions of the same book.
God’s Hidden Hand
God reveals himself each moment of the day. Yet he does so in hidden ways—often in the mundane events of life. Through difficulties and humble service to which he calls us, the Lord is at work in our lives. Often we do not recognize the hand of God, however, because it is cloaked in the ordinariness of everyday life.
Yet God’s hand is indeed working, shaping our character and making us more like Christ. De Caussade asserts, “The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love” (62).
How do we live out this faith and love? De Caussade tells us that we do so by embracing the responsibilities and challenges that come our way each moment throughout the day and by following the impulses and leadings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Obeying in the Moment
“The present moment is like an ambassador announcing the policy of God,” states de Caussade, and “the heart declares ‘Thy will be done’” (77). No matter our station in life, we all have responsibilities. Some of these are interesting to us. Others seem mundane and even pointless. Masked beneath all of them, however, are God’s presence and his purpose for us.
No matter what we may think of our obligations in life, spiritual growth consists of faithfulness to what God has placed before us. Obedience to the present moment is essential. “What he ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best and most divine for us. All we need to know is how to recognize his will in the present moment.” (42-43)
Such immediate obedience requires surrender. We must yield our wills to the Lord’s if we hope to obey in each situation that arises during the day. “God’s order and his divine will, humbly obeyed by the faithful,” affirms de Caussade, “accomplishes his divine purpose in them without their knowledge, in the same way as medicine obediently swallowed cures invalids who neither know nor care how.” (42)
Embracing Difficulties and Trials
God’s hand is also concealed in life’s trials. Some days we seem to experience one difficulty after another. Exhausted, we do not get a moment’s rest. Although we cannot see what God is building in our lives, he is indeed at work. De Caussade asserts: “He knows, too, that you don’t know what is good for you and makes it his business to provide it, little caring whether you like it or not. You are going East, he will turn you to the West. You are set fair on a course, he turns the rudder and steers you back into harbour.” (34)
We can all identify with times of weakness in bearing our cross or distaste for some of our duties. Yet de Caussade assures us that God is present in these moments. Moreover, Scripture commands us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
If we embrace these trials as from the Lord, they will transform us. God moves in unexpected but powerful ways through things that we do not necessarily enjoy. “To live by faith, then, is to live in joy, confidence, certainty and trust in all there is to do and suffer each moment as ordained by God. However mysterious it may seem, it is in order to awaken and maintain this living faith that God drags the soul through tumultuous floods of so much suffering, trouble, perplexity, weariness and ruin” (22).
The first time I read de Caussade I understood his message—at least intellectually. Over the past four years I’ve sought to live it out in my day-to-day existence, and I’ve found that, while this message is simple, it is not easy! Although I have begun to live in the light of God’s hidden presence more and more each day, I believe it will take a lifetime to fully realize this truth in my life!
*All quotes are from Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, trans. Kitty Muggeridge (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989).
© 2014 Glenn E. Myers