Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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For His Glory

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.

Ephesians 1:11-12

 

There is an idea, a very old idea, that Aristotle named final causality.  It existed before Aristotle gave it a name, and it is different from efficient causality.  That the car starts when you turn the key in the ignition switch illustrates efficient causality; that you turn the switch so that the car will start so that you can go to your office is final causality of a not very important kind; final causality being that for the sake of which an action is undertaken.  And our lives are like that.  We do countless small and expedient things on behalf of larger purposes, and in the end the answer to what is my life for is its final causality.

          Unhappily, post modernity runs shy of final causality, or at the least engages it with confusion.  In my favorite movie, Isabel Colgate’s The Shooting Party, the master of the house proposes that we are here to leave the world a better place than we found it.  The most sympathetic character, a servant wounded in the shoot as he dies, half-shouts the faith of many nineteenth-century Britons: “God save the British Empire!”  These, variously vague and trivial as they may be, exude nobility in comparison with what an alien observer might deduce from the common culture of twentieth century America, where reigns the philosophy of Epicurus, the first to say that the purpose of life was to enjoy as much pleasure as might reasonably be possible and to avoid pain, inventing therewith, in the sixth century before Christ, the culture of pleasure and comfort.  Epicurus’ idea of the purpose of life was denounced by Aristotelians, Platonists, Academics, and Stoics, but Epicurus had discovered a truth that will endure while time lasts:  Pleasure is a good of a kind, and when nothing lifts the eye of the soul above the world of the immediate, pleasure will be the default position of mankind.  His principle was that men should seek pleasure reasonably.  As it worked out, in the contest between reason and pleasure, it was all too often pleasure six, reason zero. 

          And for this there is a reason.   We are by nature not made for ourselves but for others.  Pleasure, even when achieved in company, is a self-referential experience, so that it forever turns back upon itself in a solipsistic spiral.  Pleasure in itself, for its own sake, whether in comfortable satiety or careless carnality, is the default position of a decaying soul and collectively of a decaying civilization. As a final and consummate cause, it is a principal campaigning strategy of the Devil, for it is immediate and in whatever form we find it, subtle or blatant, both blinding and distracting.  His work is greatly encouraged by the suppression in the field of imagination of any other objects of greater worth positioned so as to claim attention.  If public instruction is freed of any value, any historical insight other than equality and technical competency, the seeking soul will more easily turn to degrading purposes, for who has ever told him that slavery to pleasure is a degrading slavery, that discipline is freedom, and restraint the soul’s salvation. And more importantly, who has told the children of post modernity that there is a world of thought and images and ideals, cut to the shape of the soul, that can ennoble life by providing it with clues to a moral adventure that points toward a cause that is as fulfilling as it is final, in Saint Paul’s words, “that we may exist to praise His glory,”  that we may see our very existence as a testimony to His glory.  Perhaps the subjects of today’s tawdry accounts of moral emptiness offer only indirect testimony to the glory of the human estate; our intuition of the glory lies hidden in our disappointment and obscured by our cynicism,      

          The word glory is  an attempt to describe the transcendent reality that belongs to God, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Self-Founding, Trinitarian Love in Himself, ever begetting the Son, ever breathing forth the Holy Spirit, every indefeasibly redemptive, ever merciful, ever causing creation to exist; who in philosophic terms is the ground of every goodness, every beauty, and every truth, who is not part of His creation but whose power lives in whatever is and whose image shines forth in everything human. 

To praise His glory even as we image it forth in our lives is the final cause of creation, achieved when in the sacred liturgy we say:  Therefore with angels and archangels, and with the whole company of heaven, we evermore praise your glory, saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.  Heaven and earth are full of your glory,” thus fulfilling our final cause.   But be it remembered that the holy Council of Trent says that there are not one but two: of this justification, of this being re-made right, “the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting.”  For the glory of God is by His gracious will invested in the ultimate good of man, that we might know Him forever and live eternally, in the body He glorified, within the conversation He intended before we chose the way of the serpent.   

We cannot do much for this pleasure-riven world directly, but the one thing we can do is to stand apart from it enough for that world to see  that there is another, different,  way, a way born of a changed heart that does not leave the world unchanged, that honors the forms God has put in nature, that nourishes the bonds of parents to children and children to parents,  that honors the Lord’s day, and dresses with modesty and dignity, that knows, in the words of the great pagan Plato, that we are born for other men, words which Jesus elevated to supernatural stature in the Great Commandments.  And in the midst of it all there is the necessity that we never say that which is evil is good.  To live to God’s glory means loving what He loves and hating what He hates.   For God does hate sin as much as He loves us sinners.   He hates sentimentality as much as He loves self-denial, and the greatest glory is given Him when we stand fast in the rightness He has commanded.    Tolerating the intolerable will do absolutely nothing for the praise of the glory of God or the good of mankind.            

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