Running Toward the Horizon

This week's reflection is written by
Mr. Joseph McDaniel, OSFS.

A recent addition to my daily routine has been a light evening jog through Washington DC’s Brookland neighborhood. With the oppressive humidity of summer finally past, my daily run has become a rather pleasant experience, being able to inhale the welcome crispness of the autumn air, hear the crackling of leaves underneath my shoes, and dart between the shadows cast by the brick buildings.

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Over the past week, my chosen turn-around point has been the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, located on the campus of Catholic University of America where I attend class. Channeling my inner Rocky, I’ll race up a tall flight of steps, enter through the side-doors of the transept, and then turn to walk down the nave to exit through the main doors of the church.

I feel a sense of timelessness as I advance down the long nave, with my eyes drawn upward by the faint glow of the evening sun, refracted into gentle hues by the rose window nestled behind the towering ranks of the basilica’s pipe organ. As I gaze into the vanishing point of the window, it feels like my vision is being drawn to gaze into eternity, into a mysterious beyond whose full reality is hidden from view but whose beauty gently reveals itself through different panes. The pews seem to pass by endlessly, row after row, and I feel like I’m walking ceaselessly towards an ever present but ever receding end.

Around halfway down the nave, while my pace remains the same, the passing of the pews seems to accelerate, and the rose window lifts my head higher and higher as the organ pipes begin to tower above me. Soon, the nave, the pews, and the window have all disappeared from view as I plunge through the doors of the church and into the raw sunlight, beholding not the beatific vision, but the intersection of 4th Street and Michigan Avenue, my vision drawn to the horizon not by an enrapturing circle of glass, but by a series of traffic lights that recedes into the distance.

While some spiritual traditions would say that the spiritual life is most like gazing longingly into the transcendent image of the rose window, Francis de Sales would likely say that it most resembles my stumble back into a view of the evening commute. While many of his contemporaries defined the apex of spiritual experience as the feeling of extraordinary consolation or witnessing of mystical visions, for Francis, a soul that is raised into true union with God will then plunge out of itself and share that love in the everyday circumstances of life.

We may be graced with moments where we feel enveloped by the felt presence of God, where we feel that we glimpse eternity right in front of us, and we should be grateful for the gift of these moments when they happen. But just as it was the same rays of sunlight that plainly glinted off the hoods of passing cars as those that dazzled through the rose window, it is the same God who is present in the routines of everyday life as in the heights of consolation.

We’re not meant to plant our feet solely in those spaces of spiritual comfort, keeping the presence of God to ourselves. Instead, we’re invited to keep placing one foot ahead of the other, taking God’s presence into the world.