The 15the Sunday of ordinary Time
– the praise of God’s Glory.
What is the special grace involved in being a Christian? It is an important question to ask ourselves frequently, especially in a world where religious indifference reigns and the essential equality of all religions is simply assumed by most people.
Paul answers our question in today’s second reading. His whole focus here is on God and specifically on God’s plan for mankind in Jesus Christ. The starting point and the ending point of his teaching is Jesus Christ, God’s answer to man’s deepest and most important question – why do I exist, what is the meaning and purpose of my existence?
The fundamental teaching of Paul regarding the purpose of our existences is found in just a few words, repeated twice but with a slight variation: first, “for the praise of the glory of his grace” and then again at the very end of the passage, “to the praise of his glory.” God has made man for the praise of the glory of His Grace. Now the grace Paul speaks about here is specified precisely as the grace of Jesus Christ, in whom God predestined us from all eternity to receive “every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” God predestined us to give Him glory, in other words, by our receiving and living in the grace of His Son, living lives “holy and without blemish before him.” And this all is made by possible by our being “sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance, toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.
In Paul’s words we learn that the “praise of the Glory of God” begins and ends in Christ, and we have been made to share in that glory by His grace, by the reception of His Spirit, and only thereby can we give eternal praise to the Father. To be a Christian is to live this great mystery already in this world, to give praise to God’s grace and His glory that we hope to share in the world to come. That is a very special privilege indeed, and the greatest grace possible to man.
What is man? This is surely the critical question for each person’s life and for human society as well. How can I ever come to know my own worth, know my special dignity in this world if I do not understand what I am, and why I exist? Moreover, how will society ever fully respect the dignity of each person if that society really does not understand the truth about man’s being, about his origin in God and his destiny in God? Ignorance of these fundamental truths about man among the masses of humanity is the source of the crisis in the world today. Few people still, and literally no societies, truly know or even seem to want to know the full truth about man, and thus true human dignity is being lost to our consciousness, and consequently is less and less displayed in our laws and institutions.
It is not enough to protect and promote man’s true dignity that there are declarations in constitutions and international documents that state that there are human rights and values that have to be respected. If men no longer understand the truths that ground those declarations of human rights and dignity, then men will suffer the consequences. In the end, their lives and dignity will in practice be held of little worth, no matter what these great documents may declare to the contrary.
As Christians, we should know who we are and why we exist, and we should know these truths not simply from an examination of man by reason, trying to locate our place in the universe of being. That may be starting point for establishing human dignity, but we can never discover the full truth about the human person simply by examining this world and trying to find man’s place in the hierarchy of beings present here. Why not? Because man was not made exclusively or primarily or finally for this world. Man, says Paul, was made by God, for the praise of His glory, in this world, and the sharing of that same glory in the next world, the world of heaven, which will contain but also transcend the whole of this creation. Man is not just another part of this world. Even before he encounters his true destiny, in Christ, he is above this world because as the Creator’s image he represents its creator within His creation.
Faith teaches us already in the Old Testament that man is the very image of God in His creation. Reason discovers that man is this image first of all by his God-given intelligence and freedom which enable him to take dominion over the creation and direct it to its God-given purpose which is to manifest, each being in its own way, the glory of its creator. But only man can reflect in his very being the intelligence and love which are the origin of all creation. That is what makes man, every human being, different, above and over all other creatures, and this truth is what grounds declarations of human rights. And if this truth is lost, those declarations are just so much verbiage and will serve no purpose.
However, St. Paul is very insistent that the perfection of this divine image in man takes place only “in Christ.” For, “In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory. In Christ, we have been adopted by God as his true sons and daughters in Christ, that is, by our being elevated to divine Sonship in Christ who is the true and eternal Son of God. “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ,” says Paul. Man is made to be divinized, to be elevated far above this world in order to share God’s very existence, which is His glory. And all this begins here and now “in Christ.”
Moreover Paul says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” In Christ, we have been liberated – again for the praise of His glory – by being delivered from our sins, sins which derailed us from our destiny in God in the first place. In one act, in Christ, God liberates us from the sin that separated us from Him, and then raises us up to divine Sonship by the adoption of His grace. And Paul insists that it is in this work of redemption, even more than in the work of creation that the glory of God is most praised, as God overcomes man’s self-inflicted curse of death and raises all of creation, in man, to share in the heavenly blessings.
We Christians have been privileged to be the first to hope in Christ. And God, says St. Paul, “has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will,” not only so that we might achieve our own destiny, which we must learn about from God, but also so we might be privileged to proclaim, communicate, this good news to the world in which we live so that all men and women can come to know the full truth about themselves and share the same glory in Christ that we do.
That is exactly what the Apostles were sent to do in today’s Gospel, and what the Church is sent to do down through the ages, to carry this good news to all mankind, the full truth about their dignity and destiny and the purpose of their life in this world and in the next. The apostles are sent out to teach, and they are sent out to heal men from their sins, and to anoint men with Christ so that in Christ they may share in the glory of God. Because our divine adoption begins in this world, the praise of God’s glory is made ever greater in new Christians, for they now share in the fullness of the image and the likeness of God by sharing his very life. Not only does man reflect the glory of God through his intellect and free will, but not through his divine status, as adopted child of God in the midst of God’s creation.
This great revealed truth grounds man’s true dignity and worth, and it is the ground of his rights and duties in this world as God’s ambassador to creation. We exist to the praise of God’s glory, and our life has to be such that we do so, and that is why Paul sums it all up in one magnificent sentence where he says this :
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In the end, it is our personal and corporate holiness that is the ultimate praise of God’s glory, not our intelligence or worldly accomplishments. Because God is holy, we praise Him above all by our holiness of life. That is our ultimate praise of his glory, and by it alone will we convert the world.