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Ave Maria!

Fourth Sunday of Advent - 18 December AD 2011

The Image of God in Man

Ordinary of the Mass in Latin and English
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dominica Quarta Adventus

“The crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain;  And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”[1]

    Most of us are used to dating things rather precisely.  If we write a letter it has a date at the top.  Just about everybody has a birth certificate (except maybe Obama).  There are records and certificates for our Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations, Ordinations, and Marriages—and when we die that fact will also be recorded.  If we create a file on our computer, it is automatically date and time stamped.

    The ancient world, in which Our Lord lived, had no such precise record keeping.  Events were generally recorded relative to some widely known event—for example, “fifty years after the Flood” or “the year after the Earthquake.”  Or they might be recorded as occurring during the reign of some particular ruler.  The early Christian writer Origen of Alexandria reminds us that the Old Testament prophecies addressed to the Jewish people were generally dated with the names of the king then ruling in Judah or Israel, depending upon whether they were addressed to the people of the southern Kingdom or the northern kingdom.  The fact that today’s Gospel is dated with the name of the Roman Emperor, and the High Priests, and those who governed the various Jewish kingdoms, indicates that the Gospel is addressed to all of God’s people, both gentile and Jew.

    Pope Saint Leo the Great, wrote that the coming birth of our Savior, and the beginning of His public life narrated in today’s Gospel were intended to restore the Image of God in his fallen human creatures.[2]  Like God, the soul is capable of knowledge and will.  In the state of original justice man was capable of knowing and loving God and everything that is good.  Original sin clouded man’s knowledge and will, so to speak, mutilating the image of God in man.  Fallen man fails to know God and the good, and even when he knows what is good, his will is not always strong enough reliably to draw him to the good and away from the bad.  Sometimes his will draws him to the evil misuse of something that is good.

    Pope Leo goes on to say of God that

by loving us He restores us to His own image: and that He may find in us the likeness of His own Goodness, He gives to us that whereby we also may do that which He worketh in us; lighting the lanterns of our minds, and kindling in us the fire of His own love, so that we may not alone love Him, but whatsoever He loveth.[3]

    In His mercy God so loved us that He took human form and became one of us.  As Saint John says:

    We know that the Son of God is come: and he hath given us understanding that we may know the true God, and may be in his true Son. This is the true God and life eternal. [and] Let us therefore love God, because God has first loved us.[4]

    The birth and public life of Jesus Christ restore the Image of God in us by giving us knowledge of the true God, by giving us the sinless examples of Jesus and Mary who spent every moment of their lives in conformity with God’s will, and by introducing us to the sacramental life by which we are delivered from original sin, and our wills strengthened by God’s grace.

    Yet, even with this restored Image, there is the danger of falling again, either because we allow ourselves to become too attached to the things of the world, or because we fail to love those others whom God loves.  Saint John continues:

    If any man say, “I love God,” and hates his brother; he is a liar. For he that loves not his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he sees not?[5]

    Pope Leo tells us that our love for our brothers must extend even to those whom we hold to be our enemies.  Saint Matthew quotes our Lord in this: “Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.”[6]  The only enemy that is beyond our love is that same enemy who is incapable of being converted by our prayers, the Devil himself.  With God’s grace every other enemy is capable of becoming our brother or sister in Christ.

    It is important to note that God does not force us to do His will.  God does not micro-manage.  Men and women are endowed with free will, and we get to shape our own lives as best we can, subject to the physical limitations of living in the world, and subject to the free willed actions of others.  Free will is necessary if we are to love God and the people in our lives.  We cannot love if we act under compulsion.  Life tends to work out best if we make choices in conformity with God's will, but He does not force us to do so.  But remember that no group of people can live with each other if they habitually violate God’s will: beating, and cheating, and stealing, and lying to one another.  The Commandments help us to know God’s will, and we can think of them as “the manufacturer’s instructions to His creations.”

    We are approaching the end of the Advent season.  Soon we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and shortly thereafter the liturgical year will focus on His public life.  Try to keep in mind Pope Leo’s advice that the love of God has restored His divine Image in ourselves.  He has restored our ability to know clearly, and to will correctly.  It is up to us to use those precious gifts in order to “know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world, in order to be happy with Him in the next.”

“The crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain;  And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”


[2]   Pope Saint Leo I, sermon 12 on the fast of the tenth month and on offerings.

[3]   In M.F. Toal, Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. I, p. 79

[4]   1 John v: 20; iv:19;

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