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Imlay City, Michigan  Tel: (810) 724-1135

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Homily
Fr. Paul Ward

Sun. July 27, 2014
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Masses 8am and 12 noon

Sacred Heart Catholic Church
 

A Catholic Understanding of Predestination

   The readings today are very suggestive. I thought I would provide an explanation of what St. Paul means by “predestination.” As I had mentioned in the previous week that I would continue to explore St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Five Ways” with you, these being the proofs for the existence of God, I will postpone that one week. I wish to catch up those of the 10am Mass who missed the explanation of the first way, based on motion, before moving on; for Fr. Matt had that Mass last week and preached on a topic of his own choice.

   Just a couple reminders about parish life. First, please feel encouraged to enroll your kids in the upcoming Catholic Catechism Camp, approaching in August. Also, a reminder that this Tuesday, at 2:30pm, we hope to meet here at the Church for our annual altar boy appreciation event. On Sunday, September 15, we’ll have our second annual parish picnic, an opportunity for us to grow as individuals and families in friendship and charity in the context of some healthy recreation. And finally, keep your eye on the bulletin to know the dates, making sure your children arrive for the first day of Catechism.

   St. Paul says today, in the magnificent chapter 8 to the Romans, “And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.” That word “predestined” can jostle the Catholic mind. After all, there was a founder of a Protestant church, John Calvin, who gave a spin to that word which was not at all Catholic. Some quotes from his chapter on predestination from his rebellious work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, expose with his own words his perverse understanding of predestination. He writes, “Of the common mass of mankind, some [are] predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction.” Again, it is “the result of the Divine will, that salvation is freely offered to some, and others are prevented from attaining it.” More pithily, he writes that God “gives to some what He refuses to others.” Towards the end, he reaffirms, “God seals His elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of His name and the sanctification of His Spirit.” This is the concept of predestination for which the Calvinists, or Presbyterians as we call them here in America, are mostly known to the non-Calvinist world. Nothing could be more repulsive to God and man than a Holy Trinity that makes rational creatures determined to destruction, prevented and refused salvation; making some men, that is to say, in a hopelessly reprobate state inescapably determined to exclusion and hell-fire.

   But many Catholics, as other forms of Protestants, fall into the opposite extreme; that all men are in such a way predestined to heaven that no one need worry about going to hell, because no one, they think, really goes there. Such Christians, on both extremes, fail to reckon with the moral freedom, and the consequences of its exercise, with which this very same God made man, and how often in the Scriptures, Old Testament, Gospels and writings of the Apostles, relate man’s free actions to the outcome of their eternal state.

   The answer is simple: God predestines those who are baptized unto eternal life; and he predestines no one to hell. Now, some do die in unrepentant mortal sin, and it has been revealed to us that there are human souls in hell, and some may say, “Then God does not predestine the baptized. For if he did predestine them to heaven, and they end up in hell, then God is not omnipotent.” The error here is understanding what this predestination is, and who it is that is predestined. To understand this better, imagine a pitcher in a baseball game. He wishes to throw a ball, have it move in a certain way, and arrive at a certain point. He predestined the baseball. He has established a finality for it. Now, if God is the pitcher, there can be no imperfection in the throw. Yet we are that baseball. And we are a baseball who is, unlike a real baseball, free. So if the ball doesn’t do exactly all that which it was predestined to do, and it flew badly or landed poorly, that is not because of God’s almighty pitching. It is because the ball, in flight, decided to go to the left or right, up or down, or just stop, or curve some other way. God, the almighty pitcher, may even know, before he throws the ball, that the ball will be very disobedient. Just because he knows the ball will be disobedient, does not mean that he has caused the disobedience. He has caused perfection; the ball rejected that, for God made it free, and chose sin.

   So it is that God recreates a soul in baptism, and that is the pitch. A baptized soul is predestined to land perfectly and well. But it chooses sin. Now, the father can cure that, when the soul repents, and bring it to the end for which God created it in nature and recreated it in grace. But the soul that does not repent lands very badly, which takes nothing away from the predestination, the intentionality, with which God sent that soul forth into existence.

   The Catholic Church speaks of predestination in paragraph 600 of the CCC. We read, “To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of ‘predestination,’ he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace.” Yes, the CCC says “each person,” even those not yet baptized. Human freedom is never negated, and plays a decisive, determining role as regards a soul’s eternal reward or condemnation.

   St. Augustine wrote an entire book, while he was bishop of Hippo, very close to the end of his life, called A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints. He wrote it to two men in Europe, Prosper and Hilary (not the saintly Bishop of Poitiers) around 428 or 429. Something like Calvinism had already broken out – for there is nothing new under the sun – called Pelagianism. Pelagius attributed divine gifts to man’s own effort, and Augustine argued that, no, gifts come from God. Stressing this point, Calvin quotes Augustine often out of context to make it sound like Augustine believed in the Calvinist version of predestination – where freedom means nothing. Augustine asserts that salvation and damnation are only given to those who are worthy of it (ch. 17), and that if man was not really free, he should never be condemned, for “there would be no just cause for finding fault with God.” So, yes, Augustine asserts faults and merits, and sees predestination as a “preparation for grace, while grace is the donation itself” (ch. 19). Predestination is a preparation, not a conclusion.

   The Calvinist theology has filled the world with suspicions about God, that he’s out to get us, that there are some among us he does not love. I attribute the contemporary phenomenon of Satan worship to this Calvinist version of predestination, which is neither what St. Paul nor the Catholic Church have ever taught.

   God has purposes of love for you in his mind. Trust him: “Jesus, I trust in you!” There is nothing evil, dark, unjust or wicked in the Holy Trinity, for God is love, and he sent his eternal Son into the world to die for sins and reconcile all to himself. May Mary obtain for us all the grace of final perseverance in God’s friendship. Amen.

 

Sat. & Sun., July 19 & 20, 2014
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Imlay City

 

The Five Ways: First Way, Motion

 

   Today I shall prove to you that God exists. But before I do so, let me briefly mention some aspects of parish life.

   First, a reminder that our Catholic Catechism Camp is starting up in August. I warmly encourage parents to enroll their children. Next, I have mentioned before that in the fall we shall start a new, excellent series about the Bible. In it, Jeff Cavins, a superb teacher, goes through the Bible following an historical outline, to which he attaches all the books of the bible, and provides much material from the catechism and about the spiritual life. It is simply excellent. I will need a few volunteers to help with this enterprise, and you do not need to be a scripture scholar in order to volunteer. If you wish to participate, please contact the office, and we shall meet and plan as a small group long before the parish at large is offered this excellent course.

   Let us now focus on today’s topic. As during these Sundays the Church offers us several of the parables of Matthew’s Gospel, and I expounded on some of these at great depth during our Latin mini-retreats, I thought it would be a great opportunity to present the “five ways” of St. Thomas Aquinas. In his masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae (or Theologica), he offers five irrefutable proofs that show that God exists, and demonstrate some truths about him. Since there are rational proofs for the existence of the one God, it can truthfully be said that atheism is an irrational position. I hope to present these five ways to you in such a way that you can remember them, so that, in speaking with neighbors, colleagues, coworkers, classmates, or whomever else, you can provide these proofs. This will help them see how eminently human, truthful and reasonable Catholicism is, and maybe help them rediscover their faith.

   The first proof is basically this: if anything is in movement, there must be a God. How does this proof work?

   The first step is to make an observation in nature which is obvious to everyone and cannot be denied. In this instance, that observation is simply this: things move. Indeed, everything is moved by something. That is, all that is moved is moved by something else.

   If an arrow flies, an archer had to first pull it on a bowstring. If a ball is projected, a soccer player must have kicked it. If winds blow, it is because there are temperatures and the water and the moon and so forth that all interact to produce what we call climate. If plants and animals grow (here I am looking at “growth” as a sort of movement, for all change is movement), it is because of things such as moisture, temperature, nutrition, sun, and so forth. Even our appetites within us. I would never have an appetite for ice cream, for example, if I lived twenty centuries before Christ, where such things did not exist. But when ice cream becomes the object of my perception, it moves my appetite to desire it, and maybe my will as well. Everything is moved in one way or another by something else; this is an observation in nature which is obvious and cannot be denied.

   The next step in our proof is to go down the chain of things moving other things. That is to say, if the arrow is flying, it is because the bowstring pushed it. The bowstring was a “cause” to the flight of the arrow. And the archer was the “cause” of the pulling of the string. And the war of the king was the “cause” for the archer. And so on. So you see, we are speaking about “causes” [the efficient cause]. A cause is that which gives being or movement to something else. One or many causes can intervene to produce something. But each of these causes existed and moved, and so there must be a cause to those things. And these other things also had causes, which had their causes, which had their causes, and so on. Where did it all start? Here’s the point: the chain of causes had to have a beginning, and cannot be infinite. Because if you have an infinite number of causes in motion, it still begs the question: what set all those infinite number of causes in motion in the first place? We call this the problem of “infinite regression.” You can’t have an infinite chain of causes: because you still have the question, “what set that infinite chain of causes in motion?” The cycle of causes must be finite, and not infinite.

   The next step is to realize this: that now that we have come to the conclusion that something must have started all things in motion, but this thing itself cannot be in motion itself. For if the First Thing were in motion, it would not be outside of that chain of causes, but still inside of it, and the First Thing would have to be something else. We can call this first thing an unmoved mover. And this, in fact, is God.

   No one moves God, he is almighty. He is the source of all things that move and change, but he himself is not a “thing,” mixed in with the rest of the universe, that moves and changes. And if this God, the Unmoved Mover, did not exist, nothing would be moving, for nothing would have started the chain of causes which eventually led to the arrow flying or the soccer ball going into the net. Therefore, if anything moves, there is a God.

   Next week we shall see another proof that God exists, and it is almost identical to today’s proof. While today’s proof focused on motion, next weeks’ shall focus on cause. I have used the word “cause” today, but next week we’ll go back to that word and see how cause and effect work in other ways besides motion. And even in this other arena, that of cause and effect, an observable reality in the natural world, we shall find another irrefutable proof for the existence of God.

May our meditation on the Five Ways, by Mary’s intercession, help us use our minds more effectively to build up, defend and extend our holy faith. Amen.

 


Nuptial Mass, Saturday, June 19, 2014
Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Imlay City, MI

 

Readings for today’s Mass:

1.      First Reading: Song of Songs 2:8-10,14,16a;8:6-7a (#7 in lectionary)

2.      Psalm: 128:1-2,3,4-5 (#5 in lectionary)

3.      Gospel: John 2:1-11 (# 7 in lectionary)

 

The Sign of Marriage

   We have assembled in this sacred place to witness and celebrate the marriage of John Walsh and Alaina Pardon. This is the sacred hour, when they will exchange vows before God to one another, and give themselves up for one another, in imitation of Christ, who gave himself up for his Church, and of the Church who is impeccably faithful to her Lord. Today it weighs upon us to reflect once again upon the spiritual reality of marriage, the invisible reality unseen by human eyes. And this we shall do by meditating on the scriptures.

   I shall begin with the last first, that is, the wedding of Cana; and after this meditation, more briefly, consider our first reading from the Song of Songs.

   Today’s Gospel reading was about the wedding at Cana of Galilee.[1] I hope no one skipped over the first words, “On the third day” (2:1). For watch what marvelous things happen in these first verses of the Gospel of St. John. The expression “third day” recalls to us the day of creation when the sun was made; and is not the wife like the sun in her home, as we have said? It also recalls the newness of life given us by the resurrection “on the third day.” Yet there is more to be found here, for it was not really the third day, it was the sixth.

   In chapter one of the Gospel of John, the first day was when the Jewish priests and Levites questioned John the Baptist in the desert, asking, “Who are you?”

   Then, in verse 29, we find the expression, “the next day.” The second day is, therefore, when John sees Jesus and exclaims for the first time, “Behold the lamb of God.”

   Verse 35 repeats, “the next day,” making it “day number three,” and this day is when the first apostles become acquainted with Jesus.

   Then verse 43 states, “the next day.” So now we’re on the fourth day, when Philip and Nathaniel meet the Lord. I must skip over all the symbolism of these days to get to the day on which the wedding at Cana fell.

   For St. John no longer says, “the next day,” but rather, we stumble into verse 1 of chapter two and find the expression, “On the third day.” How are we to calculate this? Should we add these three days to the fourth day we considered in verse 43? Perhaps, and this would give us this striking result, that the wedding of Cana would fall on the Sabbath of the Lord.

   Another possible way to calculate this, however, is to look at the “third day” in the same sense used when referred to Christ’s resurrection “on the third day.” That third day was not three days added to Good Friday; for then the resurrection would have happened on Monday. The “third day” referred to in the resurrection accounts includes Good Friday, Friday being one, Saturday being two, Easter Sunday being three or the third day. So if we were on “day four,” when Philip and Nathaniel meet the Lord (v. 43), then that is the first of these “three days” of which St. John speaks when he says “on the third day.” This would place the wedding of Cana on day six.

   Now, at this point, you’re probably wondering, why is Fr. Ward doing all of these mathematical calculations at a wedding Mass? The reason is this. That the wedding of Cana was on the sixth day.[2] And St. John at this point stops counting the days.

   There was another book in the bible that counted six days, and on the sixth day there was a wedding. This book is the book of Genesis. The wedding of which I speak was the union of Adam and Eve, joined by God in the temporal Paradise of Eden. St. John is saying that when Jesus Christ came into the world, the whole universe was, in a sense, re-created in Jesus Christ, and this happened by his Incarnation in the virginal womb of Mary. The six days that brought forth nature are redeemed by the six days that brought forth grace. The crown of all of natural creation was the creation of man, male and female, two in one flesh, in the image and likeness of God; God, who, after he created all things, and looked upon them, and called them “good,” looked upon these spiritual creatures who had bodies, our first parents, and saw that it was “very good.” Similarly, the crown of grace is the union of Christ with his Church, which every marriage incarnates and manifests; and when the Lord looks down upon you two, seeing you enter worthily into the sacrament of marriage, he sees that it is very good.

   Now you see that there is a parallel between the creation story and the story of the wedding at Cana, and I encourage you to go back frequently, throughout the years, to obtain more and more fruit from this parallel. Let us now consider another parallel, which is more easily drawn once we see that marriage is this mysterious participation in the mystery of Christ’s love for his Church. This one is drawn from the Song of Songs, and it uses the mystery of love between man and woman to teach us something about the interior life.

   We hear (ch. 2) the groom woo the heart of his bride, expressing the complacency he feels in her beauty, focusing on her several features individually and isolated from the rest: her face is lovely, her voice is sweet, and so forth. Elsewhere, e.g. in Ch. 5(:10 ff.), we hear the bride do the same, for the bride praises his skin, and head, and hair, and eyes, and cheeks, and hands, and legs; but then finishes her praises saying, “He is all lovely: such is my beloved, and this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.” Now, each of these members of the body have spiritual meaning; for Jesus is the groom, the Church is the bride, and we are members of his mystical body. But a further point for consideration today is this, that in these verses, the Lord teaches us to pray. For sometimes we pray considering God’s loveable and beautiful aspects one by one, and this is called meditation; and other times, we are overwhelmed by God and all his aspects considered together in a simple apprehension, and our hearts surge with love and praise for him, and this is called contemplation. See how, from the very obvious and immediate things of marriage the soul can raise itself up to the greatest, highest and deepest mysteries of the spiritual life. Compared to God, every created thing is small, and marriage is too; but for you, it can be like a keyhole, by which you can peer beyond this world into the supernatural world where God lives with the angels. Will your marriage be this keyhole, by which you become mystics and saints? It’s up to you, for it has that potential, but you must make some effort to capitalize on that potential.

   For marriage should make you holy. Marriage is the covenant, wherein the couples say, this is my body, given up, yes, given up for you, albeit only analogously to the self-gift of Christ in the Eucharist. St. Augustine says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” [3] Marriage, understand, is a means to this end, and it ends in this life, but should lead the spouses and their children to eternal life. God was the one who created marriage, and the loving union of man and woman, blessing marriage with the qualities of indissolubility, unity and openness to fertility.[4] Do you remember when he did this? He did it on the sixth day.[5] The scriptures point out three aspects of the union of man and woman in the beginning, and they are fruitfulness, dominion and blessing.

   Let me summarize, then, today’s homily in this way. God created covenant marriage on the sixth day in Genesis; he redeemed it on the sixth day of the Gospel of St. John; he consummated it by his death and resurrection, by which the Lord himself entered into the covenant with the Church. So every marriage, sharing in these mysteries of Christ, should help make spouses holy by joyfully living out their marriage according to God’s beautiful will.

   John and Alaina, let your marriage covenant be frequently nourished by the covenant of the Eucharist. Do not live as those of the world, who have no hope, and who strive to satisfy their hearts with passing goods. If you love each other, stand now before the altar of God, and promise to give yourselves away, as Christ did; promise to one another to strive after sainthood; promise to defend one another from the wiles of the evil one; and promise to give aid to the whole Catholic community and the whole world, so that more and more souls, through your example and word, may find their eternal salvation. Amen.

 

[1] Jn 2:1 ff.

[2] I have proposed in similar homilies that it may be the seventh, making the day coincide with the Sabbath. I think both are possible interpretations and are rich in spiritual symbolism.

[3] St. Augustine, Confessions, Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5.

[4] cf. CCC 1664.

[5] Gen 1:26-31.g

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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