God has willed the universe into existence as a free and magnanimous gift. Humankind, as a part of that universe, is completely contingent on Him and His love. God created us with a specific end as part of His providence. His goal for us is to have eternal friendship with Him and the only appropriate response to His love is to return that love. Christians, and all people, return His love by loving what He loves.
Our primary purpose is to love God. Augustine tells us that “he loves God who does only what God seems to love” (The Christian Life ch 9). What does God love? God is one essence in three Divine persons. God’s love is perfectly expressed by each person of the Trinity loving the others infinitely and eternally. God, who wished to share His glory, created the universe to communicate that love. He created us especially in His own image so that we might know and respond to His love. Thus, God loves both Himself and us.
We are called to imitate the love God shares with Himself. We are created for worship that must be directed only toward Him. Unfortunately, many human beings do not worship God or give Him primacy in their lives. We have an innate desire to worship God and when we do not recognize that innate desire, we find other things to worship instead of God. This disordered worship always leads ultimately to despair and sadness instead of happiness and fulfillment.
In the past, we have gone astray by making idols and offering sacrifices to them. In more modern, secular times we still have idols. Our idols tend to be parts of our material lives. Some of us direct our worship toward mankind or ourselves. We serve power or money or entertainment. We serve our own pleasure. Alternatively, some of us worship nature. We take animals or the planet itself to be an end to itself. Ultimately, none of these will satisfy us because our longing cannot be fulfilled by such finite things.
God created us with that longing so that we would seek the greatest good instead of focusing on lesser goods. However, since our passions were damaged in the fall, we often choose lesser goods to our own detriment. God gave us the moral law to try to put us back on the right track, but even when we know the right and good thing to do, we often fail to do it. God saw our deficiency and sent Christ so His grace could work in us. By such grace we are able to overcome our shortcomings and adore God properly.
Adoration of God is right and just. We seek communion with God and rightly unite ourselves to Christ. The Word of God was incarnated to set us back on the path toward Him. In the course of His saving mission, Jesus also taught us to seek God as our Father.
It is as a Father that Jesus tells us to address God in prayer. He is a personal and loving God who cares for us and not merely an abstract first principle. In baptism we are changed by divine adoption into God’s children and our prayer should reflect that reality. He demonstrated the form of praying and instructed us what to pray to Our Father for (The Lord’s Prayer, chap 2).
He subtly tells us how prayer should change us. We make three petitions: that His name be hallowed, that His kingdom come, and His will be done. His will is done and His kingdom is coming whether we choose it or not. His name is necessarily hallowed. What are we to make of this? St. Cyprian tells us “We seek... God’s kingdom be manifested to us, just as we ask that His name be sanctified in us” (The Lord’s Prayer chap 13). It is not a change in God that we seek, but a change in ourselves. Our will must be conformed to His.
Jesus then tells us to ask for what we need. We are often confused and do not really know what we want or we want the wrong things. When we ask for our daily bread, we seek both for our physical and spiritual needs. God knows what we need, but we ask Him so that we may also realize what we need, most especially Christ in the Eucharist! We need Him even if we do not realize it.
Next, He tells us to pray for forgiveness. We plead with the Lord of Life to show mercy to us, but He does not allow us to forget that we must also show mercy to those around us. Jesus reminds us “that what we seek for our sins cannot be obtained, unless we ourselves shall have acted likewise toward those sinning against us” (The Lord’s Prayer chap 23). He implores us to pray such so that we might remember our duty to our brother and in turn be forgiven by Our Father.
Finally, we ask to not be lead into temptation and delivered from evil. We are reminded that the world has many goods that can steal our attention. We are easily distracted from focusing on God. There are fallen angels who suggest to us that we follow them into rebellion. We plead that Our Lord gives us the grace to resist such temptations.
He also showed us how not to pray. We are not to justify ourselves as if it were in our own power to be Holy. We should imitate the tax collector who “confessed his sins and prayed humbly” (The Lord’s Prayer chap 6). We should approach prayer in humility and conform our spirit to the Father who loves us so we might know that every good comes from Him.
Now we turn to God’s other love, His creation. The whole of creation is good, but it is not all equal. Creations that are rational beings, having both intellect and will, are to be treated with innate dignity and value. We are called to will our neighbor’s good for their own sake.
Jesus tells us that we should will the same goods for our neighbor that we would will for ourselves. That will should not merely restrain us from treating each other poorly, but we must actively do good to those around us. He provides concrete examples of the kinds of actions that demonstrate our love: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned (RSV Matthew 35:31-46). We are to see to each other's physical needs and treat each other with mercy and justice. However, we often fail in this duty.
We live in a world that is full of injustice. We are unjust toward each other when we gossip or detract. We defraud each other and try to get what’s mine. Due to the fall we no longer possess integrity and are often unjust for our own ends. We do not know or love each other the way that we should. Tertullian asks, “what is more unjust than that men should hate what they do not know” (Apology 1.4)? He rightly wanted to stop the injustice against Christians in his own day.
We are quite sensitive to injustice against ourselves. However, frequently we lack the introspection to see our own lack of justice and ultimately our lack of charity. We cry out when powers or neighbors deny us our rights, but we are quick to ignore the plight of those around us. For while it is gravely wrong for the Romans to “treat us so differently from those who are on a par with us” (Apology 2.1), it is much better for us to suffer injustice than to be unjust (Plato 54; 469c). When we are treated unjustly, we suffer in the flesh for a time but our soul is without blemish. When we act unjustly, we destroy the charity in our heart and scandalize those around us as well as harming those we are acting upon.
How should we react in the face of injustice? We should set a good example to those who persecute and those who see us being persecuted by improving the quality of our moral life. St. Augustine instructs us that it is “fitting for the worshippers and servants of God to be gentle, dignified, prudent, devout, irreproachable, undefiled, and spotless” so that others may be led back to true worship of God (The Christian Life chap 9). We must strive to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (RSV Matthew 5:48). If left on our own it would not be possible. But through God’s grace working in us, we are sanctified. Our sanctification is not a one-time event, but a process of transformation. We must accept God’s grace in our soul and are slowly changed so we can persevere in the face of injustice. One way we exercise the prophetic office bestowed on us by Christ is by being charitable when we are falsely condemned. Our lives can point others toward the God who strengthens us (RSV Phil 4:13).
This is not to say that we should be idle when injustices occur. We should rectify injustice when it is in our power to do so. Alas, we do not always have the means at our disposal to stop injustice. When we cannot prevent it, we should resist in whatever ways are available to us so we may stand as a witness against it. All of the martyrs from the beginning to today stand as witnesses against injustice. They did not accept their persecution, but they suffered patiently for the truth. Oh, what a witness! Like St. Paul it is in their weakness that they are strong (RSV 2 Cor 12:10).
It is easy to say “suffer well”, but quite difficult in practice so we must rely on grace to strengthen us. It isn’t always easy to see that suffering has value. We need grace both to resist evil and to endure suffering. The evil of those around us does not justify our own misdeeds, rather it magnifies just how much we rely on God's grace to transform us.
We are meant to know, love, and serve The Lord. We worship Him through the sacrifice of the Mass. Our will is molded toward God’s will by prayer and especially the words Jesus taught us. Our works of charity and our suffering direct our love outward instead of inward. Gradually our worship, our prayers, and our charity infuse our character. God constantly beckons us to love Him and He makes good use of our love to direct others toward Him. As the Psalm says “Depart from evil, and do good; so shall you abide for ever. For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints” (RSV, Psalm 37:27-28).
Apology is taken from:
Tertullian, et al. Apologetical Works; Octavius. Catholic University of America Press, 2008
The Christian Life is taken from:
Augustine, et al. Treatises on Various Subjects. Vol. 1st pbk. reprint, Catholic University of America Press, 2002. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=498865&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 18 December 2019.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
The Holy Bible. Rev. Standard Version, Meridian, 1962.
The Lord’s Prayer is taken from:
Cyprian, et al. Treatises. Catholic University of America Press, 1958. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=498876&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 18 December 2019.
Plato, and James H. Nichols. “Gorgias” and ’Phaedrus’ : Rhetoric, Philosophy, and Politics. Cornell University Press, 1998. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=843728&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 17 December 2019.