Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost AD 2005
“Creation groans and travails ... we groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption as sons of God, and the redemption of our body in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    Every Sunday morning, right around sunrise, the Church, in Her Divine Office, recites a canticle from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Daniel, known as the “Canticle of the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace.”[2]  It is set in Babylon (modern day Iraq) where the Jews had been taken in captivity, almost six hundred years before Christ.  Specifically, it is about three young men who refused to adore a golden idol which the Babylonian king had erected, and who where thrown into a burning furnace, but were miraculously preserved from the flames through the power of God.  The canticle is a hymn of thanksgiving for their deliverance from the fiery death intended for them by the king’s men.  It starts out by blessing God, “the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all ... bless His holy and glorious name ... blessed is He in the temple of His glory ... on the throne of His kingdom.”  At the canticle’s end, the three young men call on “the sons of men ... the nation of Israel ... the priests of the Lord ... the servants of the Lord ... the spirits and souls of the just ... the holy and humble of heart ... to bless the Lord: to praise and exalt him above all for ever.”

    But what is significant about the canticle for our purposes today is the middle portion, in which the three young men call on all of the creatures of nature:  “The angels ... the waters above the heavens ... the sun and the moon and the stars of heaven ... every shower and dew ... fire and heat ... frost and cold ... ice and snow ... night and day ... light and darkness ... lightnings and clouds, to bless the Lord: to praise and exalt him above all for ever.”

    They call upon “all the things that spring up in the earth ... fountains ... seas and rivers ... whales and water creatures ... all the fowls of the air ... all the beasts wild and tame, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.”

    Saint Paul may be slightly less poetic in today’s epistle, but he is saying something very similar.  It is necessary for mankind to see itself in relationship with all of the other creatures of God’s creation—not in opposition to them.  He is suggesting that all of creation was somehow damaged by the fall of Adam and Eve, and that creation groans as it awaits redemption and deliverance into the glory it will share with the sons of God.[3]

    That idea may come as a surprise to us.  We are used to the concept that we learned from the Book of Genesis, that mankind has dominion over nature.[4]  And, in fact, we are used to the idea that our dominion over nature is often quite slippery or tenuous—for sometimes the forces of nature are quite powerful and we have all to do to survive them.  But, as Paul points out, everything in nature has been damaged by original sin—the things of nature that God brought into total harmony in the Garden of Paradise, now act as independent, uncontrolled, and sometimes destructive forces.  Men and women who would have otherwise enjoyed freedom from toil, travail, and corruption, must now earn their bread through the sweat of their brow, and bring their children into the world in sorrow.[5]

    Is there a remedy for this damage?  Paul seems to be talking about a remedy which will come at the end of the world, at the time of the general resurrection of the bodies of mankind.  Quite possibly, this is the same thing referred to by Saint John in the Apocalypse:  “I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone: and the sea is now no more. The first heaven and the first earth was gone, being changed, not as to their substance, but in their qualities.”  And God said, “Behold, I make all things new.”[6]

    That, of course, is fine.  But for most of us, the end of the world and the resurrection of the body are (hopefully) remote concepts.  There is reasonable likelihood that the sun will rise tomorrow, and we will once again open our eyes, and we will once again have to cope with the world left to us by Adam and Eve.  Is there some more near-term solution to the problem of living in a sometimes hostile world?

    The Gospel hints at such a solution—at least in passing.[7]  Jesus borrowed the boat of Simon-Peter, to use for a while as a speaking platform.  When He finished He returned the favor by working a miracle over the forces of nature that had been so obstinate all night through.  Saint John records a similar miracle after the resurrection, when the Apostles toiled all night catching nothing, but pulled in one hundred fifty three fish at the command of our Lord.[8]  (Coincidentally, or not, one hundred fifty three is the number of “Hail Marys” in a complete Rosary.)

    It is tempting to think that if we lived like the Apostles, our Lord would also control the forces of nature on our behalf.  But, of course, it does not take too much reflection to recognize that the Apostles still had to contend with the forces of nature as well as the forces of mankind.  Saint Paul, for example was shipwrecked three times, and was often exposed to the perils of the wilderness and the sea.[9]  All of the Apostles, except Saint John, died as martyrs—all lived lives of extreme difficulty.

    Certainly, though, life will be considerably less difficult than it might otherwise be for those who live a life of keeping the Commandments and doing God’s will.  Many of the sufferings about which modern people complain are due to self inflicted excesses.  There are very few in our society who wouldn’t benefit materially from a more spiritual approach to life:  a little less night-life, a little less noise and entertainment, a little less eating and drinking, and a little less of all those other things that we know to complicate our lives and diminish our health.  Think of what life would be like if everyone kept the Commandments!  Even with a few hurricanes a year, think of what we could do if we had no need of the Army except to maintain the coastal bridges, and no police force except to direct traffic outside of churches on Sunday.

    Some of these things can be done because we, ourselves, have control over them—some because God will, indeed, answer the prayers of those faithful to Him, at least when their will is in conformity with His will—some, of course, are mere wishful thinking and will never come to pass.  We are the children of Adam and Eve, so we must expect to have to put up with the difficulties of life which go along with a disordered creation.  But we are also children of God, and we can say with Saint Paul that “the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.”  Perhaps, while “creation groans and travails,” we must wait for “adoption as sons of God, and the redemption of the body in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  But we have the promise of God Himself of a “new heaven and a new earth,” and “Behold” He will “make all things new.”


[1]   Epistle:  Romans viii: 18-23.

[2]   Daniel iii: 52-57 at Lauds II;  57-88 & 56 at Lauds I.

[3]   Epistle:  Romans viii: 18-23.

[4]   Genesis i: 26-28.

[5]   Ibid. iii: 16-19.

[6]   Apocalypse xxi: 1, 5.

[7]   Gospel:  Luke v: 1-11,

[8]   John xxi: 3-11.

[9]   Cf. 2 Corinthians xi: 25-26.


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