Bottom line: God chooses and predestines us. He does not take away our freedom and responsibility, but can even use our mistakes and sins to bring about his purpose.
Last week we concluded the homilies on St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. Today we begin a series of 7 homilies on the letter to the Ephesians. Both communities Paul knows well - yet the letters differ greatly. To the Corinthians Paul pours out his soul. He shares his intense suffering - for example, that God sent him a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat him so he doesn't get puffed up. As we begin Ephesians it seems Paul moves from the personal to the cosmic. He speaks today about God's purpose before the universe began - to bring everything together in Christ.
Paul says God chooses and destines us according to that purpose. Sometimes it surprises people to hear that Catholics believe in predestination. But we do. Everything that happens pertains to God's eternal plan. "He chose us in Christ before the world began," says Paul, "In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus."
Now, we need to understand that predestination somehow includes human freedom. We cannot blame God for our sins - the long history of human cruelty and betrayal belongs to us. Predestination means that God takes into account even our sins in order to achieve his eternal purpose.
President Abraham Lincoln made a powerful statement about God's purpose, his judgments. After four years of civil war, people were asking: If God is so wise, so benevolent, how could he allow this to happen? When war's end seemed near, Lincoln spoke these words: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away." Then he adds, "Yet if God wills that it continues... until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'".
I remember listening to a man whose relatives died in the Holocaust. The interviewer asked how he could avoid bitterness. He drew a deep breath and replied softly, "as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'".
Now, I admit it's easier to imagine we are part of a random, meaningless universe. And certainly more comfortable to think there is no right or wrong, no true or false, no good or evil - and therefore, no judgment. While that view seems attractive, those who hold it are quite ready to judge. Think about how much of our ordinary conversations involve criticizing, blaming and judging others! As Christians we should avoid judging because we know we will be judged by the same measure we judge others. On the final day we will stand before God and we will realize "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether".
We see it in today's Gospel as Jesus sends out disciples with authority over unclean spirits. Evil doesn't have the last word. St. Paul tells us that in spite of the tragedies of life, we have hope because of Christ. We are part of the plan God mapped out from the beginning.
This understanding brings peace. Last year my friend Fr. Jim Lee was diagnosed with ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease. Fr. Jim had a habit of responding "I am blessed," when people ask, "how are you?" Telling his parishioners about the diagnosis, he spoke about living one day at time, his desire to continue serving and to die surrounded by parishioners, Fr. Jim concluded, "I am blessed."
You and I can have peace, even gratitude, when we recognize that although our lives seem chaotic, what appears random really is part of bigger plan. The parts fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Scientist tells us that in order to make life possible certain variables had to be set in the first micro second of time. I'll leave that discussion to physicists. From the Bible we know that God is equally present to each moment of time. God sees the end of the world in the same glance he sees the beginning as well as this present moment. Living in an eternal now, God can take into account our prayers - including the ones we offer during this Mass.
God chooses and predestines us. He does not take away our freedom and responsibility, but can even use our mistakes and sins to bring about his purpose. We'll see more as we continue with Paul's brilliant letter to the Ephesians. This is only the first of seven selections. Today let's take home this, "He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus." Amen.
*For unbelievers to judge is incoherent, yet they do it. For us it's scary when we remember Jesus words: For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Mt 7:2
From Archives (15th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Summer - Kings and Prophets*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru