In many of my pastoral experiences as a seminarian I have come across people who share a common feature, one that is often overlooked. This characteristic is what St. John of the Cross called a “habitual remembrance” of God. The idea is that at the height of holiness, believers have an intuitive sense of God’s presence that follows them throughout their day to day activities. This involves a deep relationship with our Lord in which one is constantly aware of God’s activity in creation. In response to this awareness, one learns to be completely receptive and open to the moment. This presence is ultimately beyond words, images, or concepts. Thus by its nature it is often only described by analogies and metaphors.
The interesting thing about this habitual remembrance is that the tradition does not describe is at something completely distant and fantastic. It does not necessarily involve visions of angels or saints. There are no dramatic bells or whistles. In fact, St. John of the Cross advised people to be wary of such fantastic phenomenon. What he and other saints have advised is that one must learn to turn to the Lord constantly with humility and simplicity.
What is fascinating is that these everyday saints often do not recognize their holiness. People tend to think of holiness in terms of the lofty and extreme. The truth is that often the most profound holiness is encountered in being receptive to God in the simple and ordinary. Such people have learned to experience God’s unconditional love in all circumstances and in all situations. Their lives have become so centered on our Lord that they turn to him in everything by a kind of instinct. This presence is in itself sweeter than everything that the world has to offer, and they have learned to drink deeply of God’s love.
But this is not something that humans do on their own. Habitual remembrance is not an act of the will, but rather is the gift of grace. Like any gift, we must learn to receive it with gratitude. Furthermore, this disposition is grounded in the eternal receptivity of Jesus Christ before the Father. To receive is the pattern of God himself.
We prepare for this gift by avoiding the near occasion of sin and by learning to be receptive to the Holy Spirit. We can help make ourselves available to God’s grace by regular confession and regular reception of Holy Communion. That is exactly what those souls whom I have encountered in parishes are about. They frequent the sacraments, they do good to their neighbors, and in a quiet way, they radiate the joy of Christ. Often the world dismisses such people, but they really are the salt of the earth.