By Cardinal Justin Rigali
As the Easter celebration coincides with the season of Spring, we are reminded to see in all Creation the work of a loving Creator and a saving Redeemer. This will be the subject of our reflection this week.
The wonder of Creation
In the eighth Psalm, we read these words in praise of Creation: “O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth! You have set your majesty above the heavens! When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place. O Lord, our Lord how awesome is your name through all the earth” (Psalm 8, vv. 2 and 10). It is interesting to note that David, the human author of the Psalms, writes: “O Lord, our Lord.” At first we may see very little distinction between the phrases but there is actually a very important one. In saying, “O Lord,” David is referring to the true God who can be known by all, through the work of Creation, which David is extolling. In saying “our Lord,” as the King of Israel, David is making his expression more intimate and referring to the true God, who revealed Himself more intimately to His Chosen People.
The Dogmatic Constitution on spanine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council recalls the definition of the First Vatican Council, which stated that “God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world” (Dei Filius, Vatican Council I, chap. 2). The Church reminds us that any person, looking at the beauty and order of the world surrounding us, can conclude that there is a Being greater than himself, just by using the power of reason that the Creator has placed within us. We may say that this is the “O Lord” part of David’s exclamation. It is the acknowledgment of a God who can by known by all through the light of reason.
Natural and supernatural revelation
As we begin to admire the special beauties of Spring, with the flowers and trees coming into bloom and the warmth of the sun refreshing us, we cannot let our admiration of the beauty of nature stop there. It is not an end it itself. We must use our power of reason to go further and look to the all-powerful and loving Being who created all this and keeps it in existence. To look at all this and conclude that it is some remarkable accident would be foolish indeed! All these realities make up what we call natural revelation. This is God revealing Himself to us through the world around us.
In our human experiences, we may find a helpful example. In merely looking at another person, who is a stranger to us, we can know something about this person. Their appearance allows us to draw certain basic conclusions. A person who is vision-impaired can also come to some conclusions by the heightened sense of hearing or touch that he or she may make use of. However, these avenues of knowledge only go so far. It is only in speaking with the other person, or observing that person more closely, that we come to a greater knowledge. If we wind up having a friendship or a relationship of love with another, it is necessary that there be yet a greater revelation on the part of that person, which can tell us more intimate details that could not be known by mere observation.
Natural revelation is certainly a wonderful beginning in our relationship with the Creator. However, God has gone further than that. This is the “our Lord” part of David’s exclamation and it is what we call supernatural revelation, meaning that which goes beyond what can merely be known through external realities. God revealed to our ancestors in the faith, the Jewish people, who He really is. This was summed up in the revelation of His name to them. “A name expresses a person’s essence and identity and the meaning of this person’s life. God has a name; he is not an anonymous force. To disclose one’s name is to make oneself known to others; in a way it is to hand onself over by becoming accessible, capable of being known more intimately and addressed personally” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 203). Just as the beauty of creation is not the result of an anonymous force, so in God’s name we see a reality with a true identity.
Finally, God speaks to us through His Son
The great culmination of God’s desire for an intimate friendship with us and in His revealing Himself in a way that goes far beyond nature, is found in the Word made Flesh-the Eternal Son of the Father becoming Man for our salvation. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews describes this event in this way: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The author speaks
of “these last days” because he is referring to the end and completion of God’s Revelation to us. We know that God’s Revelation was completed with the death of the last apostle and the Church founded by Jesus is entrusted with the care and purity of that faith. Because no new Revelation is necessary, these are called the “last days.” We reference once again the Dogmatic Constitution on spanine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council: “For he sent his Son, the eternal Word who enlightens all people, to dwell among us and to tell us about the inner life of God. He did this by the total fact of his presence and self-manifestation, by words and works, signs and miracles, but above all by his death and glorious resurrection from the dead, and finally by sending the Sprit of truth. He revealed that God was with us, to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death and to raise us up to eternal life” (Dei Verbum, 4).
Coming together of all creation in Christ
In the great Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet, we sing: “Rejoice all creation around God’s throne. Jesus Christ our King is risen, sound the trumpet of salvation.” The Death and Resurrection of Jesus has affected all of creation. Jesus, the Son who is one with the Father in the work of creation, is also the Word made Flesh who saves and restores all of that same creation. In the Letter to the Colossians, Saint Paul gives us a beautiful hymn praising the dignity of Jesus as both God and Man (Colossians 1:15-20). It is thought that this was a liturgical hymn, already in use in the early Church, and transcribed here by Paul as a summary of the role of Jesus in both creation and Redemption.
The entire theme of this hymn is Christ’s sway over all of creation. We read “in him were created all things” because Christ is their source, center and model. Christ is also the Creator because of His oneness with the Father. He is likewise the last end and purpose of all things and so we can say that all things were created “for him.” Saint John Chrysostom (347-407) writes in his Homily on this passage: “The Son of God has not only created everything: he conserves everything in being; thus, if his sovereign will were to cease to operate for even an instant, everything would return into the nothingness from which he drew everything that exists.”
All created things continue in existence because they share in Christ’s infinite fullness. Certainly, inanimate things and the lesser orders of creation do not share in this fullness in the same manner in which the human person, redeemed by Jesus for the purpose of attaining everlasting life, shares in it. However, the dominion of Jesus won by His victory over sin and death in a mysterious way affects the entire universe. This is why we say that all of creation sings out in glory at the Resurrection of Jesus.
I trust that this Easter Season, occurring at a particularly beautiful time of the year, when all is once again in bloom and filled with growth, may be a reflection of our joy in the Resurrection of Jesus and of our firm desire to grow in our love of Him through the grace which makes His life within us ever new.
9 April 2009