Ordinary of the Mass
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During this pre-lenten season of Septuagesima the Church has her priests
and religious read the book of Genesis in the Divine Office. You are reading it
too, if you follow the reading outline in the Parish Bulletin. You read
about creation in general and the creation of Adam and Eve in specific. You
will recall that God created them with special gifts which, even though they
were bodily creatures, preserved them from the physical problems which plague
all material beings. In the state of their original innocence they were united
with God in grace, given a keen and rapid intellect, and preserved from sickness
and suffering and death.
All of creation—angels, men, and
everything else—was created by God to reflect His glory. “God made us to show
forth His glory in this world, and to be happy with Him in the next,” as the
But nothing in creation is necessary for God—He didn't have to make any of it—He
wasn't lacking anything before He created it. We might think of God as a king,
and think of creation as His crown. The crown adds nothing to His kingship; He
would be king if He had never made the crown; He would continue to be king if He
decides to stop wearing the crown.
But there is an important implication
here for God's rational creatures—that is for His creatures who are think and to
act upon their thinking—which, as far as we know means just angels and men. The
implication is that if we thinking creatures are to act for God's glory we must
have free will. That is to say that our greatest glorification of God comes
from the fact that we are free to make choices as to how we will act; and then,
given that freedom, we act as we know God wants us to act. There wouldn't be
much glory given to God if our behavior was like that of a machine or even a
robot that had been programmed to act according to a predetermined set of
instructions. When you turn on the washing machine, you may be grateful that it
cleans your clothes, but you don't really think of it as “giving glory” to you
as its owner, or even to the Maytag corporation that created it! On the other
hand, if you have a child with a free will, who could disobey you, but freely
chooses to do the things that please you, you have good reason to feel honored.
All of creation stands in the same
relationship to God. He is glorified by all of the angels and men who freely
choose to do the things that please Him. But, given that angels and men have
free will, not all of us choose to serve God. Instead, some of us say, “I will
And, of course, in thus rejecting God, we also reject the happiness that He has
to offer us in heaven.
Some of the angels took this course—Their false pride led
them to believe that they were equal to God—they refused to serve God, and were
cast into hell. They still retained their angelic nature, but this radical
disobedience and their hatred and jealousy of all who remain in God's graces
causes us to refer to them as “devils.”
Likewise, Adam and Eve, refused to serve God. They were
led by one of these jealous fallen angels to believe that they themselves would
become gods if they disobeyed God.
There is one very important similarity
between the fall of angels and of men. That is that they both fell because of
pride. The phrase in Jeremias, actually directed at the rebellious people of
Judea is often attributed to the devil: “I will not serve.”
I will follow my own will instead of God's will. And Adam and Eve did
precisely the same thing; they followed their own wills, thinking that doing so
would make them gods. I say that this is a very important similarity because,
if we examine the sins that we ourselves commit, we will see that all of them,
in some way, also spring from pride. I steal because I feel I have a greater
right to my neighbor’s property than he does, I commit adultery because I have a
greater right to his wife, I may even take his life because my concerns are more
important than his. I ignore the rights of God because of a similar false sense
of importance: no need for an important person like me to have to worship God,
or to worry about how I use His name, or what I do on His day. It is hard to
think of a sin that is not rooted, somehow, in false pride.
There is also an important difference
between the sin of angels and of men. We both have free will, but when the
angel makes his decision, his will remains fixed for all eternity—so to speak,
he cannot change his mind. The angel who rejects God and says “I will not
serve” rejects Him forever. But man, on the other hand, can change his mind.
If we make the mistake of rejecting God—if we fall from grace through sin—we are
able to repent. We are able to change our mind and ask for God's forgiveness.
Just how that forgiveness will be arranged is a topic for another time, but for
the moment let’s just recognize that it is possible. And lets recognize also
that our free will makes it possible to go along in God's graces for many years
only to change our mind and reject Him in later years. Perhaps this isn't so
likely since good habits are hard to break, but I mention it to remind you that
vigilance is always necessary.
Now, sometimes people complain that they
have been treated unfairly. They feel that God should not have taken away all
those special gifts from them just because of someone else's sin. Why should
they lose that keen and rapid intellect, and why should they have sickness and
suffering and death just because Adam sinned? They fail to see that those gifts
were precisely that: gifts; they were not owed by God to anyone. And they fail
to see, above all, that we are really no different from Adam or Eve, for we have
also sinned, and in that sense we have ratified the sin of Adam for ourselves.
And that might serve as our point of
meditation for the coming week: To recognize that our end in life is to glorify
God. To recognize the possibility of repenting the mistakes we have made. And
to examine our consciences; to take stock each evening of the ways in which we
have joined with Adam in disrupting the beauty of God's creation through sin.
And, hopefully, such meditation will move us to sorrow for our sins, and even to
a positive love for God and all of His willingness to redeem and forgive us.