The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, was poured out upon all creation by Jesus in the act of his death, the supreme act of supreme love. In chapter 8 of his Letter to the Romans, we have been considering in recent weeks how St. Paul explains that the Spirit is at work in the whole of material creation but especially in the body and soul of the human being.
In fact, as we saw two weeks ago, the Spirit’s work in the world and in the universe is tied in with his work in us, in our moral and spiritual health. The Spirit is not sent to work in the world in and through us so as just to give him something to do. The Spirit’s work has an aim, a destiny.
The destiny of creation depends on the destiny of humanity, just as the beauty of a garden depends on the work and skill of the gardener. Because of Christ, the new man, that destiny will definitely now be glorious. If we want to share in it, then we must both want and work for it. If we do, the Spirit will join himself to our freedom and bring us to glory. If we don’t, then glory cannot be ours.
On this last Sunday in July, the further excerpt we hear from the Letter to the Romans tells us more fully what the destiny of humanity, and therefore of creation, is.
We heard two weeks ago that creation awaits with eager expectation and groaning to share in the revelation of the glorious freedom of the children of God. That describes one level of the aim of the Spirit’s work. But in our reading this week, St. Paul goes further: God’s purpose is to share nothing less than his own divine glory with those who have responded to his love. While he does not say outright that creation will share in that glory too, the thrust of everything he has been saying points to that.
As if to make us appreciate just how wonderful God’s purpose is, St. Paul tells us that its origins reach back into eternity. He spells that out in greater detail in one of his other letters when he says that “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” and that “all things exist in him and are held together in him” and, finally, that Christ would “reconcile all things on heaven and on earth, making peace by the blood of his Cross.”
It is beyond obvious to state that things and people have gone awry in the history of the earth and of humanity. Sin and calamity still seek to undermine God’s plan of reconciliation of all things in Christ. But they will not succeed. As we hear in today’s reading, “we know that by turning everything to their good, God cooperates with all those who love him, with all those he has called according to his purpose.” In other words, the plan of God will not be thwarted by anything. In all circumstances, in all eventualities, the Spirit of God works to bring good out of evil for those who suffer evil because they are good. It is through those who do good (that is, who love God) that the Spirit also brings good out of evil for creation itself. Nothing that can happen or has happened is beyond God’s power to secure our lasting good. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
St. Paul calls those who love Christ as “the ones the Father chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers.” Our glory consists in being conformed to Jesus, to take on his mind, his heart, his manner of living and acting. People don’t like to conform today, and that can be a good thing if what you are expected to conform to is bad. But none of us can have an eternal plan for ourselves, of our own making. We were not created in our own image and likeness but in God’s. We did not invent ourselves. God did. We come from God and bear his hallmark in our whole being.
When it comes to perfecting who we are, then, it is ludicrous to think that we can do that by ourselves or according to some plan we or other people dream up. Our very individuality finds its fullest expression exclusively in our being conformed to Jesus. Each of us is a reflection of him, so how rich must he be! Being conformed to Christ does not lose us our personal identity but gains it for us. We lose it rather when we try to go it alone or submit ourselves to some human being or ideology.
While God the Father knew and loved each of us from all eternity and chose us to become conformed to his Son, he has never forced anyone to accept that. Why anyone would want to reject it takes us into the dark mystery of iniquity, but God is the first to respect our freedom if we choose to resist Jesus unto the bitter end.
If, on the other hand, we respond to the Father’s call to embrace the Lord Jesus, to seek him out, to love him and to let the Spirit conform us to him, then we will be justified. To be justified means to have the cleansing power of Christ’s death wipe away our sins, not only in baptism, but also after baptism, through the other sacraments, through prayer, penance and a life of virtue. Whilst baptism and confirmation do impress upon our spirits the basic form of Christ, it is the daily slog of obedience to Christ that will refine and bring into relief more clearly in us the features of the Son of God.
When that process is complete, be it this side of death or the other, the time will come for our glorification or final union with God, face to face: first in our spirits and then also in our bodies, when we will be raised up on the Last Day.
It will be on that day, too, that the effect of our justification and glorification upon the created world will also be fully revealed. St. Peter and St. John speak of a new heavens and a new earth, but the newness in question doesn’t necessarily imply the destruction of the earth and universe as we know it. Rather, it will undergo a transformation or even transfiguration in a way that is proper to it, just as our bodies will themselves also be transfigured. Creation will share in God’s glory through us, in freedom from decay, in the glorious liberty of the children of God.
When this happens, then God’s plan for creation and for humanity will come to its fulfilment. We will see on that day how all things exist in Christ and for him, we will contemplate his glory as the only Son of the Father. We will not need sun or moon or lamp, because the Lamb himself will shine on us. In the new Jerusalem, in the new heavens and new earth, we will live with God and with all who have loved him for ever and ever.
How can such sublime truth, so sublime a destiny, not inspire us to stretch every sinew and direct every desire and thought to live on this earth with our hearts firmly set on heaven? How can it not make us look at our world, our neighbour and ourselves with new eyes, new purpose, new love, new commitment? And even in the midst of our groanings and sufferings, how can it not inspire us to live even these in the power of the Spirit of Christ crucified?
When we are tempted to dumb things down, dumb ourselves down, dumb down our potential for holiness and virtue, or dumb down our neighbour, our human condition, our world or our destiny, let chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans lift up our sights once more to the dignity of our created world and condition. Let it remind us that we and our world are part of an eternal plan of glory whose price was not our sweat and tears, but the precious blood of the crucified Son of God. Through him we have received the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of eternal life. Because of Him, our certain hope will become final and definitive reality.