God Is Love and We Are His Children
During his July 6 general audience with 15,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI offered his comments on a canticle from Ephesians 1:2-14. The canticle is recited each week during the Liturgy of the Hours’ evening prayer.
“This hymn is a prayer of blessing to God the Father,” the Holy Father noted. “As it unfolds, it describes the various stages in the plan of salvation that has been accomplished through Christ's work.”
Pope Benedict went on to elaborate that the Father chose us to be his children, redeemed us and forgave our sins, revealed the mystery of salvation in Christ to us and gave us an eternal inheritance, even offering us a first installment in the gift of the Holy Spirit until the final resurrection.
Pope Benedict XVI then highlighted the first two stages of salvation — the call to holiness and the fact that we are God's adopted children. “In the beginning, God's grace was ready to enter into action,” the Holy Father pointed out. Departing from his prepared text, the Holy Father admitted that he still feels strong emotion whenever he meditates on this particular truth.
“From eternity we were before God's eyes and he decided to save us. At the heart of this call is our ‘holiness,’ a very important word. Holiness is participation in the transcendent purity of the Divine Being. Yet we know that God is love. Therefore, to participate in divine purity means to participate in God's ‘love’ by conforming ourselves to God, who is ‘love.’”
Pope Benedict XVI then focused on the fact that we are now God's adopted children.
“Paul exalts this sublime condition of being God's children, which implies and is derived from brotherhood with Christ, the Son par excellence, 'the firstborn among many brothers,’ and from intimacy with the heavenly Father, who can now be called Abba, whom we can call our ‘beloved Father,’ with a real sense of familiarity with God, in a spontaneous and loving relationship,” he noted.
The Holy Father concluded by referring to St. Ambrose, who wrote that God is rich in mercy because in Christ he has redeemed and transformed us so that we might be children of peace and love.
As is the norm, the audience began with a rendition of the canticle in song.
Today, instead of a psalm, we have heard a hymn from the Letter to the Ephesians (see Ephesians 1:3-14) that is repeated during each of the four weeks of the Liturgy of the Hours’ evening prayer. This hymn is a prayer of blessing to God the Father. As it unfolds, it describes the various stages in the plan of salvation that has been accomplished through Christ's work.
The Greek word mysterion, an expression that is usually associated with verbs of revelation (to reveal, to know, to manifest), resounds at the heart of this blessing. This is the great yet secret plan that the Father had kept in his heart from eternity (see verse 9) and that he decided to act on and reveal “in the fullness of time” (see verse 10) in Jesus Christ, his Son.
God's Plan of Salvation
The stages of this plan are outlined in the hymn by God's saving work through Christ in the Spirit. First, the Father chooses us from all eternity so that we might walk holy and without blemish in love (see verse 4). This was his first act. Then he predestines us to be his children (see verses 5 and 6). Moreover, he redeems us and forgives us our sins (see verses 7-8) and fully reveals to us the mystery of salvation in Christ (see verses 9-10). Finally, he gives us our eternal inheritance (see verses 11-12) and immediately offers us its first installment through the gift of the Holy Spirit until the final resurrection (see verses 13-14).
Thus, there are many saving events that follow one another as this hymn unfolds. They involve the three persons of the most holy Trinity, beginning with the Father, who initiates this plan of salvation and is its supreme Author, then focusing on the Son, who fulfills this plan within the confines of history, and ending with the Holy Spirit, who puts his “seal” on this entire work of salvation.
Let us now reflect briefly on the two first stages — holiness and our relationship to God as his children (see verses 4-6).
Called to Holiness
God's first act, which he revealed and carried out through Christ, was to choose those who are believers — the fruit of God's free and gratuitous initiative. Therefore, in the beginning, “before the foundation of the world” (verse 4), in God's eternity, God's grace was ready to enter into action.
I am deeply moved when I meditate on this truth. From eternity, we were before God's eyes and he decided to save us. At the heart of this call is our “holiness,” a very important word. Holiness is participation in the transcendent purity of the Divine Being. Yet we know that God is love. Therefore, to participate in divine purity means to participate in God's “love” by conforming ourselves to God, who is “love.”
“God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). This truth is a source of consolation which also helps us understand that “holiness” is not some distant reality far removed from our lives. Instead, we will enter into the mystery of “holiness” according to the measure to which we are able to become people who love God. In this way, agape becomes a daily reality for us. Therefore, we enter into God's very own sacred and life-giving perspective.
Children of God
Following the course we have set, we move on to the next stage, which was also envisioned in God's plan from eternity: our ‘predestination” as children of God — not merely as human creatures, but truly belonging to God as his children.
Elsewhere in his writings (see Galatians 4:5; Romans 8:15, 23), Paul exalts this sublime condition of being God's children, which implies and is derived from brotherhood with Christ, the Son par excellence, “the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29), and from intimacy with the heavenly Father, who can now be called Abba, whom we can call our “beloved Father,” with a real sense of familiarity with God, in a spontaneous and loving relationship. We find ourselves, therefore, in the presence of an immense gift, made possible by “the favor of God's will” and by his “grace,” a luminous expression of a love that saves.
In concluding, let us commend ourselves to the words of that great bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, who, in one of his letters, comments on the words of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, reflecting precisely on the rich content of this Christ-centered hymn.
Above all, he emphasizes the superabundant grace with which God has made us his adopted children in Christ Jesus.
“There is no need to doubt, therefore, that the members are united to their head, especially because we have been predestined from the beginning to be adopted children of God through Jesus Christ” (Lettera XVI ad Ireneo 4: SAEMO, XIX, Milan-Rome, 1988, p. 161).
This holy bishop of Milan continues his reflection with the following observation: “Who is rich, if not God alone, the creator of all things?” He concludes with these words: “But he is much more rich in mercy, because as author of life he has redeemed and transformed us, who, according to the nature of flesh, were children of wrath and subject to punishment, so that we might be children of peace and love” (No. 7: Ibid., p. 163).
- July 17-23, 2005