Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Let's engage a little creative editing this evening, “God so loves the world that he gives his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Did you catch the changes? Loved becomes loves and gave becomes gives. God loves the world, so He gives us His only Son. Granted, it's a subtle change but one that make a big difference in how we understand exactly what it is that God did for us, is doing for us, and will do for us in Christ. Using the past tense of love and give might tempt us into believing that Christ's sacrifice for us on the Cross is a done deal. That happened 2,000 years ago. It's like the barbarians sacking Rome or WWI or the War of Northern Aggression. And in one sense we can say that Christ's death has happened, did happen long, long ago. But in another sense it is wrong to think of his death and resurrection as simply an historical event, a one time deal that we memorialize but never witness. Would we say, “God loved the world back then, so He gave those people back then His only Son?” No. What about the world in the last 2,000 years? God loves the world; therefore, He gives us His only Son so that we can have eternal life.
One of the beauties of the Catholic faith is the honor we give to God's creation. As a product of His goodness and wisdom, the world and its creatures share intimately in the divine goodness and wisdom that created us all. The Catechism teaches us that “. . .God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final purpose” (no. 301). So, God makes us, sustains us, enables us to act, and brings us to our final goal: the Beatific Vision. When John writes that “God so loved the world,” he doesn't simply mean that God created the world and then loved it. He means that because God is Love, the world was created; and because God is Love, the world is sustained; and because God is Love, we are able to act; and because God is Love, we are brought to our perfection as creatures intimately loved. The embodiment, the flesh and bone body of God's love is the divine person of Jesus Christ—the one He gave to us, gives to us, and will keep on giving to us for our perfection.
If everything I've just said is true, then why did we need, why do we need the Cross at all? Why isn't God's creating and sustaining love enough to bring us to the Beatific Vision? The easy answer is: the Fall. With the Fall, humanity stepped away from God's creating and sustaining love; in a misguided exercise of freedom, humanity walked away and set itself against God's love, and ultimately, against its own final purpose. Violating the Law and ignoring the Prophets, we came to believe that obedience to the Word and the natural law enslaved us to a foreign power, an alien will. And so, for the love He had and has and will always have for us, God gave the Word flesh and bone and sent him among us to live and die as one of us so that we might return to Love and live perfectly as partakers in the divine nature. John writes, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” When we believe in His Word and do His will, we are transformed into flesh and bone tabernacles, mobile temples of His presence in the world. And it is our duty—as carriers of the Body and Blood—to see to it that God's love for His world is given a human face, a human voice. God gives us His Son so that we too might become His sons and daughters, His divine Word given human flesh.___________________
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