In the readings from Romans 8 that were read on the three previous Sundays, St. Paul has been speaking primarily of the suffering, the transitory nature, and the infirmities of human existence, including Christian existence. He compared this to the labor pains that afflict a woman before she has given birth and has reassured us that, like the joy of a woman who has become a mother, the hope of ultimate transformation and vindication will break through.
This Sunday the lectionary presents us with three more verses from this important Christian document, three verses that speak of the fact that as God created, God also initiated a plan to insure that God’s purpose in creation would eventually come to pass. God’s purpose from the very beginning was to create a people who would conform to the image of God’s Son, Jesus. God's redemptive action on behalf of the believer has been in process before the beginning of the world. Those whom God chooses are those God foreknew or elected. Those who are called are predestined or predetermined. These expressions are difficult for us to understand, but they do not mean that God is arbitrary. Rather, Paul uses them to emphasize the thought and care that God has taken for the Christian's salvation.
Our faith teaches us that God is omniscient, that God knows everything. This single attribute is often the source of misunderstanding about God. If God knows everything, why doesn’t God make sure that evil doesn’t happen? Why not use the power of God to overcome sin before it had the opportunity to wreak havoc on God’s creation? The answer to those questions lies in the fact that it is the redemptive action of God which reveals God’s overwhelming love for us. The plan was put in place before God’s creative work because it was always possible that human beings would not choose to conform to the image of God’s Son. Building free will and choice into God’s creation of the human race opened the possibility of sin, so God also had to plan for that possibility.
St. Paul spells out the plan clearly. Those who respond to God’s call must progressively conform themselves to Jesus by a gradually increasing participation in his risen life. What stands out is that St. Paul understands that God’s plan is God’s initiative: in everything God works for good with those who love God. God is the one who calls, justifies, and glorifies. These are beyond human merit or effort, though human beings have a choice in accepting or rejecting the call.
That divine call is a common theme in the Scriptures. The pressing question here is twofold? Who is called, and to what are they called? Paul is very clear about the answer to the second question. We are called to conformity to the image of God’s Son. The entire Christian tradition provides the answer to the first question. All are called. It is precisely at this step in the divine plan or purpose that most misunderstanding occurs. However, nowhere does St. Paul suggest that some are predestined to salvation and others to perdition. Rather, he argues that all are called to conform their lives to Christ, who is the firstborn Son of God. If believers conform themselves to the image of their elder brother, they will themselves become children of God. It is this conformity that will result in their being justified, and their justification will be the source of their glorification.
In typical Pauline fashion this theological statement seems to go around in a circle. That is true because for St. Paul, the creative act of God that set the whole thing in motion is the beginning of God’s love for us and the redemptive act of God pulls us back to that first expression of love. God is the one who initiated this purpose, this plan, this process. Our role is the response necessary to make God’s plan work for the good of us all. As we sit here this morning, we get to see ourselves as people who are God’s success story, a phrase that I like to use from time to time. We realize that everything in our lives is not perfect. We are frail human beings. However, we are loved. Because of our personal response to that love, we are God’s chosen people, God’s royal people, a people set apart for God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator