by Father Michael Panicali
St. Paul in the second reading today from Romans 8 uses some very tricky, thought-provoking language:
“For those God foreknew, He also predestined … and those He predestined He also called; and those He called He also justified; and those He justified He also glorified.” (v. 29-30)
I can become a bit uncomfortable when I hear, or am asked about this term, ‘predestined.’ Indeed, since the dawn of Christianity, the idea of ‘predestination’ has rendered many Christians confused and uncomfortable, while sparking much debate and division among the faithful. Many a dispute has been waged over the idea that God has already predetermined who will inherit eternal life, and who will not — and the fact that predestination is, possibly, articulated in Romans, could still be troubling for some.
Make no mistake about it — the Church in no uncertain terms teaches that God has already worked out who is going to be saved, and who will not be. Through the practice of the sacramental life, the Church teaches that all of us — not just some of us predetermined to — but all of us, can bring about his/her own salvation.
So what exactly is Paul talking about here? What has been predestined?
The human being, the highest and most exalted of God’s creatures, is its own agent in determining its salvation, making use of God’s gifts of free will, rationality, and the sanctifying grace that is actively bestowed upon it. This pathway to eternal life is made accessible through the Redemptive Sacrifice of the Cross, which makes it possible for every human being, past and present, to attain eternal life.
What has been predestined and predetermined is that eternal life would be offered to humanity. The human being was not created for destruction, or as playthings, or as God’s folly — but rather, so that it could participate in the love and goodness of God. This extends far beyond this world, and into the next — wherein the bonds of sin and death, and the restrictions of fleshy existence, are cast aside.
At the crux of Paul’s teaching is that Christ has won eternal life for us because this is what He desires for us. We worship a God that claims us as His own and desires to restore us to what sin has taken from us.
Paul says in Romans 8 that ‘we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies’ (v. 23). We most certainly groan for another form of existence. We groan for intimacy with God. This is the ‘pearl of great price’ our Gospel today beautifully speaks of. The intimacy with God that we can know by being Christian in this world, will give way to what will transcend any manner we can comprehend here. Those who attain salvation are promised to “behold the face of God, and live.” We know — not just hope for — but can be assured, that God has worked our salvation out for us, in the Death and Resurrection of His Son, for ‘all things work for good for those who love God’ (v. 28).
St. Paul, by no means, is speaking about individual believers; he is referring to the entire Christian community as being ‘conformed to the image of Jesus Christ … so that Christ might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters’ (v. 29). Paul is proclaiming Christianity as what had been predestined by Almighty God. Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the new creation, and we, His brothers and sisters, conformed in His image, bear His likeness in what we do. We take on the identity of Christ in the world. We are ‘called, according to His purpose’ (v. 28).
So then, the human being is integral to Christ’s purpose of redeeming and reclaiming the world. In a society which celebrates accomplishments in so many spheres, we need to ask ourselves: Could there be any higher calling in this world to simply just be Christian?
Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77,
Matthew 13:44-52 / 13:44-46
Father Panicali is the parochial vicar of St. Mark-St. Margaret Mary in Sheepshead Bay.