A Hidden God

by St. John Paul II, pope

This homily, given in the city of Montreal, Quebec, during the pope’s visit to Canada in 1984, could have been given in any modern secular city in a formerly Catholic country or region.

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For the place on which you stand is holy ground (Ex 3:5).

These words were spoken to Moses from the burning bush. . . . Moses covered his face, afraid to look at the fire where the living God was revealing himself.

Dear brothers and sisters, what of your meeting with the living God?

Sometimes today’s world seems to conceal him, seems to make you forget him. This apparent spiritual desert stands in sharp contrast with a period, not far removed in time, when the presence of God was highly visible here in social life and in the existence of many and varied religious institutions.

And [now] you hear repeated around you: Where is your God? (Ps 42:4).

For the human heart, however, there is no way to become accustomed to the absence of God. Like Moses’ compatriots, it suffers when removed from his presence. But he is never far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).

He is mysteriously present, like the fire that cannot be grasped, like the gentle breeze that cannot be seen (cf. 1Kgs 19:12-13). He beckons to us. He calls us by name to charge us with a mission.

To replace God is an impossible task. Nothing can fill the emptiness of his absence: neither abundant material wealth—which does not satisfy the heart—nor the exclusive search for success or power for their own sake—nor even technology which makes it possible to change the world but brings no real answer to the mystery of our destiny.

All this may prove to be attractive for a time, but it leaves an aftertaste of illusion and a void in the heart.

It is at this point that we may see appearing, by a kind of reversal, hunger for things spiritual, attraction for the absolute, thirst for the living God (Ps 42:3).

Paradoxically, the time of “the absence of God” may become the time of the rediscovery of God, as in the approach to Mount Horeb.

Yes, God continues to beckon to us, through our own personal history and that of the world we live in, as he called Moses through the sufferings of his people.

Is there any one of us who, at one time or another, has not known experiences of light and peace! “God has entered my life!”

This might be a sudden experience or the result of a slow maturing process.

His mysterious presence can be felt on occasions of all kinds: the wondrous birth of a child, the beginning of authentic love, the death of a loved one, a confrontation with failure or with the mystery of evil, compassion felt for the sufferings of others, the grace of having escaped an accident or of recovering from a sickness, the creation of a work of art, the silent contemplation of nature, the meeting with a person in whom God dwells, participation in a praying community.

All these are sparks which light up the road to God, events which open the door to him. But revelation itself comes from God, from the heart of the burning bush.

It is his Word, read and meditated upon in prayer; it is the sacred history of the People of God, which make it possible for us to decipher these signs, to recognize the name and the face of the living God, to discover that he transcends all experience and all creatures.

As one of your Canadian poets has said, our God is “like the deepest spring of the deepest waters” (Anne Hébert, Présence, 1944).