Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


His Word Achieves His Purpose in Everyman

Just as from the heavens
The rain and snow come down
And do not return there
til they have watered the earth
making it fertile and fruitful….

So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
My word shall not return to me void
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10–11

The word that goes forth from God into the world is His dabar in Hebrew, the Logos of John 1:1–14 through whom all things were made, the light that lighteneth every man coming into the world.  The Word, because it is the expressed purpose of the Father is indefectible. The divine will it expresses has as its purpose not only the sustaining of creation, but the achieving of the divine purpose for mankind, which was and is to bring the rational creatures He made in the beginning, now fallen, into His presence so that they may share in the eternal symphony of praise and thanksgiving,, of ever more prefect knowledge of Him, for which knowledge they were intended, and that not a disembodied spirit but resurrected to the life of Glory in the Son. 

          The means through which God achieves this purpose are His providence and His predestining love.   Saint Thomas says: “Predestination necessarily presupposes election and election presupposes love.”    In Athens the elect or chosen representatives were called into the governing assembly, which in the Christian transposition means being called by God’s love into His presence,.  The word Church is the Germanic rendering of elect or chosen, cognate with Kirche, which in southern languages is the Spanish iglesia and French église. 

          Saint Thomas continues: 

The reason for this is that predestination, as was stated above, is part of providence. Now providence, as also prudence, is the plan existing in the intellect directing something toward an end.   But nothing is directed toward an end unless the will for that end already exists. Whence predestination to eternal salvation logically presupposes that God wills their salvation and to this belongs both election and love.   His will, by which in loving He wishes good to someone, is the cause of that good possessed by some in preference to others (Summa Theologica, Question 23, Article 4).

This is the thirteenth century reading of Saint Paul:  “For to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as according to His purpose, are called to be saints. And whom He foreknew He also predestined to be made conformable to the image of His Son. . . . “(Romans 8:28–29).

There will always be attempts to explain why God would prefer some to others, allowing some to fall into sin and because of their sin to be lost eternally.  The perfect answer lies beyond human ken.   But this be remembered, that after our rejection of God in favor of the serpent’s knowledge in the garden, the human race was banished from God’s presence and condemned to death, every son of Adam and daughter of Eve.  So the best question will not be, “Why did God not save all mankind?” but, “Why He did not summarily end the great experiment of calling His creatures to Himself through their own proper freedom, knowing that the presupposition of love poses also the possibility of rebellion?”  In Isaiah cited above:  His word achieves His purpose, and His purpose was the salvation of some.   Achieving that purpose takes place amidst the catastrophic consequences of the fall, which while it did not stamp out reason sowed disorder spiritual and natural.    The fall gave Satan a certain presence in creation, an infestation of demonic spirits ever available to tempt men to destruction.   Modern theologians have tended to view with reserve the thesis of Saint Anselm that by sinning we became Satan’s servants, indeed his possession, the thought being that Satan cannot possess in justice.  But the Anselmian insight, whatever its dogmatic value, is rooted in experience and seconded by Scripture:  “The whole world exists in evil,” says John the Evangelist. 

 Transferring a single soul from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13), given the possibility made present by the death and resurrection of the Son of God, then involves God’s grace and mercy, offering life to  one having freedom to refuse it in a context in which the ground is possessed by the Adversary.  Satan has weapons and governs conditions appropriate to his false dominion which Our Lord catalogues in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 13:  the blindness of sin which causes mankind to see and hear but not to understand (19), the hardened path of conventional skepticism, the inability to persist (20–21), the terrain made rocky and difficult by the cares of life, the threat of persecution, concern for the world and its wealth (22–23).   Although the good creation always lies beneath it, this is the terrain called “the world” over which Satan presides.  It is as it were the natural habitat of the sinner, whether negligent or enlisted in the Adversary’s cause. 

           There will be no one in the place of reprobation who has not ignored the testimony of nature to God’s power and divinity as attested by nature (Romans 1:20-22) as well as the testimony of his own conscience (Romans 2:14–15), who has not preferred his way to God’s way, and who has not refused repentance when offered it.  Few, perhaps none, will be surprised, because they have willed it.   They have fallen into sin and God’s predestining love did not prevent then, could not stop them because they heard but did not understand, would not persist, would not believe but would choose to love money and the world more than God.   Predestination does not do away with the liberty of choice, and predestination is in that way, from the human point of view, by the will of God who wills not to take away freedom, contingent.

This does not solve the question as to why some accept grace but others do not, because the mystery of the relation between grace and freedom is in human terms insoluble.   The most humbling fact of the Catholic faith is the truth that God’s call is gratuitous.  He does not owe His fallen creatures anything but the reward of rebellion promised in Genesis (2:17).    But His word does not return empty and those He calls are the fruit of His indefectible promise.  Whatever his dealings with men they are just.      

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