If you are a long-time fan of Colbert, you may remember Father James Martin SJ. He was Colbert’s chaplain on his former late-nite show. Today Father Martin is editor at large of America, the national Jesuit review of faith and culture which recently won the 2018 Catholic Press Association Magazine of the Year award. Before joining the America staff, Father Martin was also chaplain to actors and actresses on Broadway and the author of 15 books, including “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” “A Jesuit Off-Broadway,” and “My Life with the Saints.” His first book was one he didn’t write, but edited: “How Can I Find God?” I just finished reading this book, which contains the answers to this question about finding God that Father Martin proposed to 68 of the “famous and not so famous” in 1997. They included people you may have heard of like Sister Helen Prejean CSJ, Corinne C. “Lindy” Boggs, Elie Wiesel, Mary Higgins Clark, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh CSC and people you never heard of like Anthony Scola, a volunteer teacher in Hindman, Kentucky; Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini, an Episcopal priest in Stonington, Maine; and Ron, a prison inmate in Boston.

What their answers had in common was that they found God in the experiences of their lives. Some, like Boggs who had always been Catholic, had grown up in a strong Catholic culture, taught by nuns, filled with the memory of “my husband … and of many parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, all swirled together in the communion of saints.” After serving in Congress for many years where she replaced her husband Hale, who was presumably killed in 1972 in a plane crash in Alaska, Lindy served as American Ambassador to the Vatican, then retired to her home in New Orleans. There she found God “in the old St. Louis Cathedral, my New Orleans parish church, an oasis of peace and tranquility in the noisy, sometimes raucous, neighborhood. I find God through the example of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who opens my mind and soul to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Most especially, I find God in the holy Eucharist, the ultimate act of unselfish love by his divine son.”

Others had very different experiences, but came to partially the same conclusion. Wiesel, the famous survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, who devoted his life to keeping the memory of that tragic event alive in our post World War II world and won the Nobel Prize in 1986, gave a two sentence answer. His culture had been destroyed, but not his faith. “How do I find God?” you ask. I do not know how, but I do know where in my fellow man.”

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Socorro Duran, a Mexican immigrant to the U. S., wrote: “In my youth I was not very involved with the church because at that time the Masses were still in Latin, and they bored me … The only memory I had was of priests who preached that everything was a sin … I got involved with Catholic Marriage Encounter and the Cursillo movement, that is, regular meetings of committed Catholics who wish to renew their faith. God, little by little, began to work in me. I began to work with Latinos with AIDS, among whom were many homosexuals. One day a young man asked if I could show him the God of love … His own experience had been one of rejection by the church for his being gay … At that moment I didn’t know what to say or how to respond to him. So I asked God for his help and he enlightened me. I said to the man, “For me, you are God, who suffers with AIDS. God is calling me to help you with love and tenderness. And you can see in me the God who loves you … This was the first really strong experience of God in my life.”

Jane Redmont became a Catholic as a student at Harvard Divinity School in the 1970s. Her experience of finding God is summed up in a book she wrote on prayer entitled “When in Doubt, Sing.” She worked as a campus minister and answered, “I once preached a homily about how one finds hope by committing acts of hope. It may be the same with faith. Start doing it. Any part of it. Prayer, care of the poor, actions on behalf of justice, deep wrestling with and reading of good theological texts, singing Gospel hymns or the Faure’ Requiem, whatever is congenial to you and your life at present. And do it on two levels. Of course, find what speaks to your deepest heart. Go to that intimate place where you are infinitely sad or ecstatic, or creative or talented, or bereft or deeply engaged, and there you will find God. The second level may be more important. Go find yourself a ‘we.’ A community, any community. A Christian community, if the path into which you are drawn or were born is Christian … it may be a parish or a Bible study group, liturgical gathering, or a team that cares and prays for people with AIDS, or an adult education class with some soul and some teeth … God without the ‘we’ experience is not the God of whom the Jewish and Christian Scriptures speak. I pray that you will meet companions along the way. In their friendship, you will find God, and God will find you.”

My favorite answer to “How can I find God” came from a nun-writer who is quite popular still today, Sister Joan Chittister OSB. She began with a story that showed that God is always in our lives, and the spiritual task is simply to recognize that. We must want God more than anything else. But she warns that “God is not in the whirlwind, not in blustering and show” as Scripture teaches us. “God is in the breeze, in the very atmosphere around us, in the little things that shape our lives. God is in the contradictions that assail us, in the circumstances that challenge us, in the attitudes that impel us, in the motives that drive us, in the life goals that demonstrate our real aspirations, in the burdens that wear us down, in the actions that give witness to the values in our hearts. God is where we are, including in the very weaknesses that vie for our souls.”

Finding God, she says, depends on four things: “A conscious awareness of the presence of God, the sacralization of life, an attunement to the Holy Spirit, and a sense of place in the universe.” We have to remember that “the purpose of prayer is not to make God conscious of us; it is to make us conscious of God.” We have to take time daily to reflect on God’s presence. Next, as St. Benedict taught, we must “treat all things as vessels of the altar.” She means that everything is a spark of the divine God who created it. We must treat everything with the respect and tenderness it deserves. “We are part of a holy universe, not its creators and not its rulers.” That’s God’s role. Attunement to the Holy Spirit means realizing that everything that happens to us or around us is a call “to accept what we should not change or to change what we should not accept in order to make the presence of God flourish where we are.” A sense of our place in the universe means to be humble, “to tread lightly through the universe and to deal tenderly with both ourselves and others.”

If we cannot find God in our lives, it may be that we are imitating mayhem in the TV ads, rather than Jesus in the Gospels.

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic Commentator. He can be reached at johnnycarville@gmail.com.