Christ Has Reconciled Us to the Father
During his general audience with 16,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on Oct. 13, Pope John Paul II invited the faithful to join him in contemplating the “magnificent icon of Christ” found at the beginning of St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. The passage is one of the canticles that Catholics pray every week during the Church's evening prayer, and the Holy Father's teaching was yet another in his long series of teachings on the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours.
The Pope described the canticle, which is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise to the Father for the blessings bestowed on us through his beloved Son, as a wonderful expression of the Church's faith and spirituality in apostolic times. “The fact that we have been chosen to be ‘holy and without blemish’ shines forth above all,” the Holy Father noted. “Nevertheless, the Father has an even greater goal in mind for us,” he added. “Through Christ, he predestines us to receive the gift of the dignity of being his sons and daughters.”
Through the mystery of the cross, John Paul explained, we have been given the wisdom to understand God's eternal plan to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ. “In this way, the Father brings about a radical transformation in us,” he noted. “We are creatures who have been transfigured. Our sin has been wiped away, and we fully know the Lord. Since knowledge is an expression of love in biblical language, this knowledge plunges us more deeply into the ‘mystery’ of God's will.”
The Holy Father pointed out that the glorified Lord appears not only as the head of the mystical body, which is the Church, but also as the source and center of a world that has been reconciled and renewed.
We will now examine the solemn hymn of blessing at the beginning of the Letter to the Ephesians, a work of great theological and spiritual depth that is a wonderful expression of the Church's faith and perhaps even of its liturgy during apostolic times.
The hymn is repeated four times, once during each of the weeks in which the Liturgy of Hours’ evening prayer is divided, so that the faithful might contemplate and appreciate this magnificent icon of Christ, who is at the heart of our spirituality and our worship as Christians and who is also the source of unity and meaning for the universe and for all of man's ongoing history. This blessing rises up from mankind to the Father, who is in the heavens (see verse 3), and is inspired by the saving work of the Son.
God's Eternal Plan
It begins with God's eternal plan, which Christ is called to fulfill. Within this plan, the fact that we have been chosen to be “holy and without blemish” shines forth above all, not so much on the level of ritual—as the use of these adjectives in the Old Testament in relationship to sacrificial worship might seem to suggest—but rather “in love” (see verse 4). It is, therefore, a question of holiness and of moral, existential and inner purity.
Nevertheless, the Father has an even greater goal in mind for us. Through Christ, he predestines us to receive the gift of the dignity of being his sons and daughters, by becoming his children in the Son and brothers and sisters of Jesus (see Romans 8:15, 23; Romans 9:4; and Galatians 4:5). This gift of grace is poured out through his “beloved” Son, the only begotten par excellence (see verses 5-6).
A Radical Transformation
In this way, the Father brings about a radical transformation in us: complete deliverance from evil, the “redemption by the blood” of Christ and “the forgiveness of transgressions in accord with the riches of his grace” (see verse 7). Christ's sacrifice on the cross, a supreme act of love and solidarity, pours out upon us a superabundant wave of light and of “wisdom and insight” (see verse 8). We are creatures who have been transfigured. Our sin has been wiped away, and we fully know the Lord. Since knowledge is an expression of love in biblical language, this knowledge plunges us more deeply into the “mystery” of God's will (see verse 9).
This “mystery,” or, in other words, this transcendent and perfect plan, contains a wonderful plan for salvation: “to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth” (verse 10). The Greek text suggests that Christ became the kefalaion or the cornerstone, the central axis toward which all that has been created converges and acquires its meaning. This same Greek work reminds us of another word that is so deeply cherished in the Letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians: kefale, meaning “head,” which indicates the role that Christ fulfills in the body of the Church.
Our perspective is now wider and more cosmic and even includes the ecclesial dimension that is more specific to Christ's work. He has reconciled all things to himself, “making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven” (Colossians 1:20).
A Prayer of Thanksgiving
Let us conclude our reflection with a prayer of praise and gratitude for the redemption that Christ has brought about within us. Let us do so using the words of a text that has been preserved in an ancient papyrus from the fourth century:
“We call upon you, Lord God. You know all things and nothing escapes you, teacher of truth. You have created the universe and watch over all beings. You guide those who were in the darkness and shadow of death on the path of truth. You desire to save all men and reveal the truth to them. Together we offer you praise and hymns of thanksgiving.”
The prayer continues with the following words: “You have redeemed us through the precious and immaculate blood of your only Son from all corruption and slavery. You have freed us from the devil and have granted us glory and freedom. We were dead and you gave us new birth of body and soul in the Spirit. We were stained by sin, but you made us clean. We pray, therefore, Father of mercy and God of all consolation, to strengthen us in our vocation, in our worship and in our faithfulness.”
The prayer concludes with the following appeal: “Strengthen us, kind Lord, with your strength. Illumine our souls with your consolation … Grant us to see, seek and contemplate the things of heaven and not those of earth. Thus, with the strength of your grace, glory will be rendered to the omnipotent and most holy power that is worthy of all praise, in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, with the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen” (A. Hamman, Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani, Milan, 1955, pp. 92-94).
- October 24-30, 2004