"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

The First, the Second and the Last Acts In God's Eternal Plan


This is a comic strip of Peanuts,
written and drawn by Charles Schulz (1950-2000).


From the start it has been God’s primary business to cooperate with us first. That was his first act which was to create a partner among all of His creation. When he created us human beings he did not only intend to create a partner for himself. God solemnly declared that he will be like us too a partner in everything. From the very beginning, God anticipated that we will need his constant cooperation and partnership. The greatest divine act is his forgiving act. God does this not only once but always. He did it first and he does it constantly according to his plan. St. Ambrose, once said in a sermon: “I thank the Lord our God who created such a marvelous work in which to find his rest. He created the heavens, and I do not read that he rested; he created the earth, and I do not read that he rested; he created the sun, the moon, the stars, and I do not read that even then he rested; but I read that he created man and that at this point he rested, having a being whose sins he could forgive” (Hexameron, IX 76). Having a being whose sins God could forgive, but most of all, a partner he could trust, finally, on the last day of creation, he rested.

Let us take the gospel scene of the healing of the leper. Jesus manifests a God who acts like any ordinary partner. Jesus respects the leper’s will and desire. The leper’s statement, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” We can infer that Jesus must have asked the man first what he wanted. The Lord did not presume he knew everything. Jesus' attitude towards a person bears the dignity of partnership—as someone whose desires and feelings are important to be heard. In Ignatian Spirituality we have what we call Ignatian colloquy—a heart to heart conversation with God who made himself a partner with whom we can express anything.

Second act in God's plan is the human act of cooperating with God too. Ever in Ignatian spirituality personalizing the grace which we beg from God matters to God. Our desires matter to God first. A follower of St. Ambrose was St. Augustine who said this: “God created us without us but he will not save us without us.” This constitutes the second act, i.e., human cooperation with God. Did we not just say that we are partners? The greatest gift of God in creating partners like us is our human freedom. How else could we define unconditional love than the love of a true partner—an allowing and freeing kind of love. This gift has no expiry date in the same way that our being partners has no end. It has been given to us for eternity and God foresaw its eternal consequences. What I like so much about Ignatian spirituality is the primacy of human freedom and St. Ignatius of Loyola's faith in every person's conscience and capacity to choose or to elect. In my experience of giving the Spiritual Exercises during retreats, I make it a point to facilitate the freedom of the retreatant because as I always say to them choosing is grace. Truly, this is what makes us "capax Dei"—capable of knowing God and of receiving the gift God makes of himself. As God's partners, we never lose such capacity to choose. But we need to act as loving partners in exercising our God-given capacity. Once Jesus asked a blind man, "What do you want me to do for you?" It matters what we say because the God who created us without us will not save us without us. The gospel account about the curing of a leper is all about humanity's partnership with God and vice versa. The leper cooperated through his own desire albeit a hesitant one. "Only if you will it, make me clean," he cries. I look at the hesitance as a kind of reverence to God. The person looked to God as a partner with full recognition of God's freedom. Jesus says, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

Third and last point. What is the final act in God's plan? Leprosy is a common understanding of one’s own sinfulness during Jesus’ time. He commands the leprosy as if it is a demon who must stay away from the man. There is another quote from St. Ambrose and I was once bothered by this: “Sin has its own valuable positive character in God’s plan.” That was when I was younger. Now that I am older and after I have done a number of sins and repented I begin to see more and more the truth behind the age-old saying. For example, the Church’s prayer “O Felix Culpa” (O Happy Fault) which is sung within the Exultet (otherwise called the Paschal Proclamation) during the Easter Vigil service. It is a prayer traceable to St. Ambrose. It says, “O Happy Fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer!” A line previous to that proclaims, “O truly necessary sin of Adam, which the death of Christ has blotted out!” O happy and necessary leprosy! You can rephrase that way and it fits. What then is the final act in God's over all plan? It is God's mercy. A partner's greatest and final act is always to show mercy to all those he beholds as his beloved partners. God was able to rest after he created us because he had full trust in humanity as a good partner. God anticipated Adam's fall because of his freedom and the partner's merciful act has always been there from the very beginning. The letter to the Hebrews is one proof of this act, an act that is not yet finished and it is ongoing. "Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (Hebrews 2: 16-18). Let us take the Prefaces of the Ambrosian liturgy: “You bent down over our wounds and healed us, giving us a medicine stronger than our afflictions, a mercy greater than our fault. In this way even sin, by virtue of your invincible love, served to elevate us to the divine life” (Sunday XVI per annum).

Everything fits in God’s enterprise where all is a partner. Even the reality of sin most especially, God has all figured it out. Which means God allowed and risked not fully knowing what we will choose next. But risks are worth taking in the path of love that God paved throughout eternity. Even at the point of hell, because we choose, He will be there waiting like the Prodigal Father for the return of his precious child. Lord God, thank you for saving us as your partners and please give us the grace and strength to cooperate with you. No matter how many times we choose the path of sin, may we long for your mercy wherever we choose to be. Amen. Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Comments

  1. This reminds of a daily uttered prayer of partnership... Take care of me, Lord, and I will take care of you...

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