The Heart of the Gospel: The 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

One of the first days on the job during a summer in college spent doing landscaping, I was asked to remove some grass from a lawn to begin a garden.  My foreman pointed to a small machine that I had loaded onto the truck that morning. As I pulled the sodcutter off the truck, I looked it over slowly and repeatedly after assuring my foreman that I “knew what I was doing”. After he explained how the machine worked, I was able to use it more effectively.

Sometimes, our Faith, like that sodcutter, can seem like something complex and powerful, but hard to figure out.  We may know lists like the 7 Sacraments, the 10 Commandments, the 8 Beatitudes, the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc., but do we know how it all fits into our daily lives or do we realize how important, central, and fundamental the Faith is to our lives?  Listen to what Bl. Paul VI said in his document on evangelization:

…the presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people’s salvation. It is the beauty of the Revelation that it represents. It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world. It is able to stir up by itself faith – faith that rests on the power of God.[11] It is truth. It merits having the apostle consecrate to it all his time and all his energies, and to sacrifice for it, if necessary, his own life. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 5.3)

Seeing that it’s so necessary, it’s always good to review the basics, x20080925_VisionStPaul.jpg,qitok=aPGyfNad.pagespeed.ic.lDCMOrN0rNlest we forget. St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14) does just that for us: give us the basics of the Gospel message. Before such a reflection, it’s good to make two points:

  1. St. Paul begins every letter by giving a summary of all he wishes to discuss.  For that reason, it’s very dense and needs to be unpacked.
  2. St. Paul’s writing style is difficult to follow, like a stream of consciousness.  In fact, St. Peter even had trouble understanding St. Paul at times: There are some things in them (St. Paul’s writings) hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction (2Pet3:16).

So here it is: the core of the Gospel: St. Paul starts: Blessed be the God and trinity_fullFather of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens… (Eph1:3). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2628) teaches us: Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil. Our most fundamental relation to God as Creator is praise, adoration, blessing; that’s where St. Paul starts: with praise to our Father in heaven. He was, however, only learning from the men of old; there is the continual refrain in many of the Psalms: Bless the Lord, my soul. Also, the words of the holy man, Job, upon losing his children, his livestock, and much of his wealth: The Lord gives & the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Lastly, there’s the three young men in the furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, praise & exalt Him above all forever.

And what does St. Paul want to praise the Father for? [God the Father]chose us in [Christ], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved. (Eph1:4-6).  Again, St. Paul starts with the fundamental relation of man to God is creature to Creator; the Church teaches that God created: directly, freely, from nothing, and what He created is good.  St. Paul, in addition, states that God created with a view to our salvation in Christ, not because He had to, felt guilty, or was forced, but because He wanted it. He loved us…even before we were created! What I find remarkable is that He knew the consequences of creation, that we’d sin, and yet He created us nonetheless because He could look forward to our salvation.

St. Paul continues: In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.  In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. (Eph1:7-10). By stating that Christ has obtained the “forgiveness of transgressions”, St. Paul is assuming a few things:

  1. There is a law which God our Father has – in love – laid down for us to follow.
  2. We have the capacity to freely follow or not follow that law.
  3. We have abused our freedom by refusing to follow that law, that is, we have sinned.

St. Paul has no problem admitting our epic failure in sinning against the God Who created us in love; he unhesitatingly admits we’ve fallen short of God’s wonderful plan for us. This, however, should not leave us in despair because: We have redemption by [Christ’s] blood. For in the fullness of times, Christ came to sum up all things in heaven and on earth. When sin disrupted the original unity between God and us, within and among ourselves. Christ came to heal that unity because our Father Who loves us in spite of our sins, sent His Son to save us.  This is the mystery of His will: that He lavished upon usthe riches of His grace. By the shedding of Christ’s blood we’re saved from the foolishness of our sins. He did not do so on a whim or contrary to the plan, but in all wisdom and insight. St. Paul doesn’t see the redemption of man by Christ as the back-up plan; God foresaw it and willed it in accord with the favor of His will. THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS…which we sometimes forget is both new and good!

He doesn’t stop there, however; 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, we who first hoped in Christ. (Eph1:11-12) In His love, the Father lavished every spiritual blessing upon us and redeemed us by the blood of His Son. St. John of the Cross teaches us: love is repaid by love alone. St. Paul is calling us to respond in love, to exist for the praise of his glory. In 2Cor5:15, St. Paul says it this way: He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. St. Paul sees that our whole lives – every thought, word, & deed – should serve to praise the Father’s glory because we should exist for the praise of His glory. In the words of our Lord: your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (Mt5:16). We do this by following God’s commandments (especially the two-fold command of charity to God and neighbor) and the teachings of His Church. It’s good to reflect upon our lives from time to time, to see how we’re doing; do we live in a way that would praise God, honor Him, make Him say: well done, good and faithful servant? This is why the Church recommends a regular, even daily, examination of conscience; we’ll never get better if we don’t see how we’re doing from time to time.

St. Paul reminds us of this, not because he wants to control our lives, but because… In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were 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. (Eph1:13-14). ghent altarpieceOur Lord has promised us eternal glory, written us into His will, as it were, and given a “first installment of our inheritance”. We exist not just for the praise of His glory, but to witness and take part in that glory. This is why our lives should be different: we’ve already got one foot in Heaven! Our hearts should already be there because our Father Who loves us is there, waiting for us. He’s been waiting since before the foundation of the world, to have us with Him, to experience the unquenchable love He wishes to lavish on us forever.

Let us praise our Father for the beauty of His creation; let us praise Him even more for His beautiful plan of salvation. May we live in such a way in this world so as to exist for His praise now and for all eternity!

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