The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 59, No 5, Sept-Oct 2006

Theology for the Laity


By Father Reginald Martin, O.P.


       Belief in Jesus as Godís Son is central to our faith as Christians. Scripture proclaims this truth, the apostles preach it, and the Fathers of the Church rejoice to ponder and expound its meaning for us.

       Not all the early writers accepted the truth that we embrace, namely, that Jesus is Godís Son, that He is Godís only Son, and that He is eternally a Person of the Blessed Trinity. Twenty-first Century Christians may find this hard to accept, but the nature of Christ was the subject of fierce debate during the first four centuries of our Churchís history.


       Controversy is never pleasant, but an argument can be a source of clarification. As a result of the early debates over the nature of Christ, the Church proclaims that Christ is Godís Son from all eternity, distinct from the Father, but sharing His divine nature. Moreover, Christ is the Word of God.

       This last concept may be difficult to grasp, because it employs technical theological language unfamiliar to us. To help us understand it, St. Thomas Aquinas asks us to look at ourselves. In his famous Lenten homily on the Creed, St. Thomas says, "...nothing is so like God as the human soul." This is an invitation to look within and, in the process, to learn something about God. When we look at ourselves, and consider the way in which we think and learn, we discover that


       What this means is that when we think of something we are, in a sense, the creator of what we are thinking of. The Churchís earliest writers called the resulting thought a "word," because we express our thoughts in words. Our senses enable us to understand the things we see about us in the world; the power of speech allows us to bring out what is within us, and to use the power of speech to order the elements of Godís creation. The Book of Genesis tells us that we are made in Godís image, and one of the ways in which we manifest our likeness to God is our ability to use words to get things done.


       To call the thought of our soul a "word" gives this word a technical, theological meaning. We will say more about this, but for the present, let us reflect that because we are fragile, limited creatures (and because a word reflects the nature of the person who thinks it) our words are subject to the same death and decay that await each one of us. Godís Word, on the other hand, is (like God) eternal, and eternally a part of Him.

       Thus far we have spoken only of "words" in the abstract. However, words (and here we must remember we are speaking of a "word" in the limited, theological sense of an idea) have a practical aspect. They are the form or pattern for the things we make, or the things we do. Whether we are baking a pie, sending a rocket into outer space, or visiting a sick friend, we shape our creation (or our acts) according to a "word" or concept created in our mind.


       Now, let us apply this idea to God. In the creed, we say that "all things were made" through Godís Word - who, our faith tells us, is Godís Son, Jesus Christ. This means that Jesus is the eternal blueprint for everything that exists. This may be an overwhelming thought for us to consider, but it ought to remind us that the infinite variety of forms we see around us illustrates Godís infinite creativity and imagination. Jesus, who is always a part of Godís life, gives life to everything we see around us, for He is the pattern of everything we see.

       In the famous Lenten sermon that we are considering, St. Thomas preached, "...the Son of God is nothing else but this Word of God, not like the word that is uttered externally [i.e., human words]... but as the word conceived inwardly. Therefore this same Word of God is of one nature with God and equal to God." This means that Jesus tells us everything we need to know about God, and everything we need to know about His relation to the Father.


       To understand this more fully, let us look again at ourselves. If we consider our families, we see evidence of our parents and grandparents in ourselves and the family members around us. These traces of others in our lives are a concrete expression of their thoughts and ideas. Therefore, we are the "words" our ancestors have spoken, for better or worse. Now, consider God and His creation, which is the concrete expression of Godís thoughts and ideas. We see Godís words wherever we look, for everything in our universe is the work of God, who creates through His Son.

       Each atom of creation bears a likeness to the God who created it, and because God is always loving, merciful, wise, and just, all His "words" and works are similarly good. The resemblance between God and His creation is an invitation to listen to Godís word and to believe what He tells us. Moreover, we should think about Godís words and reflect on them. Obviously, the more clearly we see God in our lives, the greater we benefit from His presence.


       Additionally, prayer and meditation are ways by which we refine Godís image in our life and actions. We are created in His image. If we look like God, we ought to act like Him, and one of the ways we do this is by showing others the same generosity God has shown us. Our theology teaches us that gifts are never given just to enrich the one who receives them; they are a gift for the entire Church, and we have no right to hoard Godís gifts. God realizes how good He is, and He wants us to enjoy life with Him to the fullest possible extent. This is the reason He created the universe: to give us a share in Himself during our life on earth, and to prepare us for eternal life with Him in heaven. God commands us to use the gifts of His creation wisely, so that we will not obscure His image in the things He has created.


       One way we show our generosity is by sharing Godís word with one another. When we think of this activity we may think first of the liturgical preaching that is entrusted to priests and deacons. But to confine preaching solely to a pulpit, or during the Mass, is to define the act of preaching too narrowly. St. Paul urged each of us to embrace a preaching vocation when he wrote "Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth, but that which is good for edification" (Eph. 4:29). And, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another" (Col. 3:16).


       Parents preach when they teach their children to follow the commandments of God and the Church. The rest of us participate in this vocation when we advise, counsel or guide those who are seeking the paths that lead to Godís kingdom. "Preach the word... reprove, entreat, rebuke, in all patience and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). St. Paul wrote these words to his disciple Timothy, but they are a command to each of us, here and now.


       Finally, we must consider our personal response to Godís word. St. James urges us to "be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving [ourselves]" (Jas. 1:22). Shakespeareís Ophelia echoes this warning when she cautions her brother about the dangers of hypocrisy, "Do not, as some ungracious pastors do, show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, whiles... himself the primrose path of dalliance treads...." We accomplish very little if we do not allow our actions to be formed, and informed, by Godís word. The largest room in the world is the room for improvement; if we hope to lead others by our words, we must first demonstrate that we have allowed ourselves to be led by Godís word.


       Our response to Godís word is five-fold. We must hear the word, we must embrace it in faith, we must reflect upon it, we must proclaim it, and we must put it into practice in our lives. We can find no better model for our response to Godís word than the Blessed Virgin. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her, Mary listened attentively to the Good news he brought. But her attentiveness was no mere passive acceptance of his message. She asked the very reasonable question, "how can this be, since I have no husband?" (Lk. 1:34)

       Godís word is frequently puzzling, and we commit no sin if we ask "how?" and "why?" We only go awry, a contemporary missionary preacher tells us, when we say, "Thy will be done," but mean, "Thy will be changed." Godís answer to our questions may be unclear - and sometimes the answer to our prayers is "no" - but Faith allows us, as it did Mary, to assent to Godsí word without knowing everything that may be required of us. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord," Mary says. "Let it be done to me according to thy word" (Lk. 1:38).


       When Mary conceived Godís Son, she bore the Word for nine months in her womb, nourishing Him and giving Him flesh, blood, and human features. God challenges us to do the same. Not bearing the Christ Child physically, as Mary did, but allowing Godís word to grow spiritually in our hearts, to take on flesh and blood in our actions that show how we have allowed the Word to transform us.

       Throughout the nine months of her pregnancy Maryís awareness of her unique role in our salvation must have grown clearer, and with it grew an urgency to preach the Good News of what God had done for her. Maryís Magnifact is the first Christian sermon; it expresses all the wonder and joy we ought to feel at being signs of Godís saving plan for His people. Maryís sermon was preached to a congregation of one, but her words have inspired Godís people for two thousand years, reminding us that great ideas may have very humble beginnings.


       Mary is our model in all things, not least in putting Godís word into practice. By nourishing Godís Son and watching over His childhood, Mary teaches us that the Christ each of us bears in our hearts must be guarded, protected, and tended with love. The gospel tells us that, thanks to the ministrations of His mother and St. Joseph, Jesus "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Lk. 2:52). Once we reach a certain age we may be able to survive by ourselves, but common sense tells us we cannot thrive on our own; if Christ is to grow in our day, we must nurture Him in one another, and - like Mary - preach His Good News with our lives.

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