Trust in God's Wise Plan of Salvation
During his general audience with 12,000 people in St. Peter's Square on May 5, Pope John Paul II continued his teaching on the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours with a meditation on the hymn to Christ in St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians. The Holy Father pointed out that many scholars believe the canticle is actually an ancient hymn of the Churches in Asia Minor that St. Paul included in his letter.
The canticle offers a vision of the history of the world with Christ at its center as Lord of the universe. “This hymn paints a wonderful fresco of the universe and of history, inviting us to trust,” the Pope noted. “We are not some useless speck of dust lost in space and time without meaning; we are part of a wise plan that flows from the Father's love.”
Through Jesus, God's beloved Son, in whom everything in heaven and earth is created, all people are drawn into God's transcendent plan for mankind, John Paul explained. “He is also the Lord of salvation history,” the Holy Father said, “which is manifested in the Church and is fulfilled by ‘the blood of his cross,’ a source of peace and harmony for the entire human project.” Christ, he said, directs us to the fullness of life to which the Father, in his love, calls us.
The Pope ended his reflections with a quote from St. John Chrysostom, who reminds us that we most experience God's providence and gratuitous love for us in the Church and who encourages us to respond with joy to the intimate communion we are privileged to share.
We have heard the marvelous Christological hymn from the Letter to the Colossians. Evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours includes it in every one of its four weekly cycles and offers it to the faithful as a canticle, possibly the form in which it was originally conceived. In fact, many scholars maintain this hymn might be quoting a song from churches in Asia Minor that Paul included in his letter to the Christian community in Colossae, which was then a large and flourishing city.
However, the apostle was never in this town, which was located in Phrygia, a region of present-day Turkey. The local Church had been established by one of his disciples, Epaphras, who was a native of that land. He is mentioned at the end of the letter, along with the Evangelist Luke, “the beloved physician” as St. Paul calls him (see Colossians 4:14), and another figure, Mark, “the cousin of Barnabas” (see Colossians 4:10), possibly the same Mark who was the companion of Barnabas and Paul (see Acts 12:25 and 13:5, 13) and later became an Evangelist.
Lord of the Universe
Since we will have an opportunity to return to this canticle on other occasions in the future, we will limit ourselves for the time being to offering an overview of it and quoting a spiritual commentary, which was composed by St. John Chrysostom (fourth century A.D.), a famous Father of the Church, a renowned speaker and the bishop of Constantinople. The majestic figure of Christ, the Lord of the universe, emerges in this hymn. Like the divine, creative Wisdom that is exalted in the Old Testament (see, for example, Proverbs 8:22-31), “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”; furthermore, “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16-17).
Thus a transcendent plan is unfolding in the universe, which God carries out through the work of his Son. This is also proclaimed in the prologue of the Gospel of John, when John states that “all things came to be through [the Word], and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3). Matter — with its energy — and life and light also bear the mark of the Word of God, “his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). The revelation found in the New Testament casts new light on the words of the Old Testament sage who declared, “For from the greatness and beauty of created things, their original author, by analogy, is seen” (Wisdom 13:5).
Lord of History
This canticle from the Letter to the Colossians presents another one of Christ's roles: He is also the Lord of salvation history, which is manifested in the Church (see Colossians 1:18) and is fulfilled by “the blood of his cross” (verse 20), a source of peace and harmony for the entire human project.
So, it is not only the world outside of us that is marked by Christ's powerful presence but also the human creature's most specifically human reality: the unfolding history of our lives. Our history is not left to the mercy of blind and irrational forces; in the midst of sin and evil, Christ's work sustains and guides it to fullness. This is how, through the cross of Christ, all of reality is “reconciled” with the Father (see verse 20).
In this way, this hymn paints a wonderful fresco of the universe and of history, inviting us to trust. We are not some useless speck of dust lost in space and time without meaning; we are part of a wise plan that flows from the Father's love.
Trust in God
As we mentioned earlier, we now listen to some words from St. John Chrysostom so he can be the one to leave the crowning touch on this meditation. He reflects at length on this canticle in his Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians. At the beginning, he emphasizes the gratuitous nature of this gift from God, “who has made us fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light” (verse 12). “Why does he call it ‘inheritance’?” St. John Chrysostom wonders, and he answers: “To show that no one can obtain the Kingdom by his own works. Here, as in most instances, ‘inheritance’ [or ‘lot’] also means ‘good fortune.’ Nobody shows behavior that deserves the Kingdom; everything is a gift from the Lord. This is why he says: ‘When you have done all you have been commanded, say: “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do”’” (PG 62,312).
This benevolent and powerful graciousness re-emerges later on, when we read that all things were created through Christ (see Colossians 1:16). “The subsistence of all things depends on him,” the bishop explains. “Not only did he bring them out of nothing into being, but he is the one who still sustains them, so that if they were severed from his providence, they would perish and dissolve … They depend on him. In fact, merely turning toward him is enough to sustain and strengthen them” (PG 62, 319).
An even greater sign of this gratuitous love is all that Christ is doing for the Church, of which he is the head. In this regard (see verse 18), St. John Chrysostom explains, “After speaking of Christ's dignity, the apostle also speaks of his love for man: ‘He is the head of his body, the Church,’ out of a wish to show his intimate communion with us. Thus, he who is above all and superior to all united himself to those who are below” (PG 62, 320).
- May 16-22, 2004