The MOST Theological Collection: Our Father's Plan: God's Arrangements and Our Response
"Chapter 25: End without End"
Our first parents, at the start of our race, wanted to be like gods, but in their folly threw away the participation in divinity they already had, thinking thereby they would get what they cast away. But our Father, who, as the old Portuguese proverb says, can write straight with crooked lines, at once set in motion His plans so that we might indeed finally become partly divine by sharing in His own nature, and have it more abundantly, for the redemption was to be greater than the fall (Rom 5:15-19) since He would send His Son so we might have life and have it more abundantly (Jn 10:10). He announced, mysteriously but truly,1 that He would "put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman." Her offspring would crush the head of the serpent and open up to our race a greater sharing in divinity through fullest participation in His covenant.
The Father, the One who is "best known by unknowing," who "should not even be called inexpressible, since when we say that word we say something" (cf. Introduction)-He, the incomprehensible, willed to be comprehended2 through His only Son, who would be "our peace" (Eph. 2:14). During the long ages of waiting until He should appear, people still were to become His members, members of His Church, by anticipation,3 by faith in Him who was to come. For faith is a total adherence of the person to God, in mind and will.4 Even though so many had never heard word of Him, yet it was His Spirit who "wrote the law on their hearts" (Rom 2:15; Jer 31:33) so that in accepting that word, they would be joined in will to the Divine Word-accepting His word written in their hearts, without clearly understanding that they were doing so.5
But at last came the fulness of time, planned for by the Father, who "in manifold and varied ways spoke of old to our fathers, in the last days spoke to us through His Son, whom He apppointed heir of all things" (Heb. 1:1). At last, when the Holy Virgin spoke her fiat to the Father's messenger, "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." Then "although He was in the form of God, He did not consider equality with God something to be clung to, but He emptied Himself, taking on the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and in appearance was found as a man" (Phil 2:6-8), so that He might even-a folly to the Greeks, a scandal to the Jews (1 Cor 1:22)-become "obedient even to death, death on the cross."
By this very birth He gave us the beginning of brotherhood with Him, for "to those who received Him, He gave power to become sons of God" (Jn 1:12)6 as His brothers, since we were to have one and the same Mother with Him. As Pius XII put it, it was necessarily true that "the Mother of the Head would be the Mother of the members,"7 of those who by participation in His covenant become His brothers, members of His body, which is the Church.
He told us, "I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6).
He is the way to the Father-for He also said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30), so that he who sees Him, sees the Father (Jn 14:9). We enter the way by becoming His members, whether fully and consciously, or by only "an unknowing will"8 by which those who follow the law written on hearts (Rom 2:15, cf. Jer 31:33) adhere to Him substantially, even if unknowingly. For it is only inasmuch as we are His members, and like Him-thus we could sum up the Christian regime as St. Paul presents it-that we are saved and made holy. Hence the true teaching: No salvation outside the Church,9 that is, without being at least in this basic way His members.
He is the Truth. In English we speak of things as being "true to form". In saying this we do not refer to speech that matches our minds-no, we mean that a thing matches the pattern to which it should conform. But He is the Truth, since He Himself is the pattern, the model to which every human being should conform, so as to be true to form. Hence St. Augustine said that it is not enough for us to "live according to man,"10 that is, just in conformity to a purely human pattern; no, we should live according to God, copying in varied ways, in varied degrees, the pattern of the incomprehensible Father Himself, of whom His Son is the Word, the "Image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15). This, in sum, means imitating Him, "having that attitude in us which was also in Christ Jesus" (cf. Phil 2:5), the attitude of doing the will of the Father, just as His Son came down from Him not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him (Jn 6:38), so that He could even say: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me" (Jn 4:34). It is precisely when we join Him in the renewal of the New Covenant,11 which is the Mass, that we are to join our conformity to the will of the Father with His obedience even to death.
He is the Truth too in that He teaches us divine truth, and has sent us His Holy Spirit, who leads the Church into all truth (Jn 14:26) and will teach it all things, so that the Church can with divine authority fulfill the words of the Divine Master (Lk 10:16): "He who hears you, hears me."
He is the Life. It is only by Him that anyone can be spiritually alive-even those who, in this world in the ages before His coming, adhered to Him unknowingly, by carrying out the law written on their hearts. For He is the vine, we are the branches (Jn 15:5). If we are not engrafted into Him (cf. Rom 11:19) we are dead branches, for we then would not be joined to the Head "from whom the whole body [his Church] nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a divine growth" (Col. 2:19).
We who have the blessing of full membership in His Body, the Church, enter through the gate of Baptism, which, as the Fathers of the Church so often said, echoing St. Paul (2 Cor 1:22), seals us with the imprint of the Spirit of His Son. At the suitable point, we are strengthened by a further coming of His Spirit in Confirmation, to give the resources needed for strength since "our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spirits of evil in heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). Should we at times, in human weakness, slip or fall, He gave to His Apostles such power that "whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them" (Jn 20:23). We can have not only the lesser security of merely interior forgiveness, but the declaration with power that our sins are forgiven us.
But the peak of the fulfillment of His words "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10), the center of our participation in Him, comes in the Mass, the renewal of the New Covenant, in which we are asked to join our obedience to the Father with His obedience even to death, "so that in one and the same offering of the Victim . . . they may be presented to God the Father"12 in the offering of twofold obedience, of Head and members, melting into one, and united with the cooperation of the Mother of Jesus, who, since she shared intimately in the making of the New Covenant on Calvary, continues to share with the Divine Victim in each Mass (cf. chapter 11). So that our offering in the Mass may not be just empty words, as if saying "Lord Lord, we offer thee," we remember His words that "not everyone who says to me, Lord Lord, shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father" (Mt 7:21). To be open to and capable of that obedience/love (cf. chapters 14 & 15) we need the recollection of which chapter 21 spoke; we need the preparation and emptying of self for obedience that is achieved by following after His Cross through mortification (chapters 19 & 20), and by a humility (chapter 18) that recognizes with His Mother that every bit of good we are and have and do is the gift of the Father (cf. 1 Cor 4:7). We are greatly helped in all these things by the total dedication of a life of consecration to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary (chapter 24).
St. Augustine said well of the Mass that in it the Church, "since it is the body of this Head, learns through Him to offer herself."13
Varied are the walks in life that the Father may will for each one. If it is marriage, which is, as Paul VI told us, "a long path to sanctification"14 if used as our Father planned, there is the Sacrament He blessed at Cana to give present helps, and asssurance of future helps as needed (sacramental graces) to fulfill the role the Father has assigned to spouses.
If our lot is the ordained priesthood, the Sacrament of Holy Orders gives an imprint of the Spirit for indelible conformity to Christ precisely as Priest, for the benefit of His members, and for the human priest himself.
Finally, He who is our Life has prepared for us the sacred oil of anointing, to strengthen us for our crossing over to the Father, to even forgive sins if that be needed, provided that our dispositions are just sufficient. That crossing is indeed momentous, for the state in which we are at the moment of passage sets our pattern forever.
With the help of Holy Scripture, and the addition of principles of the great minds to whom the Father has willed to give special lights for our sake (cf. chapter 23), we can to some extent get some notion of what that crossing is like.
Aristotle, that pagan philosopher to whom the Father gave the greatest insights, tells us that "time is a measure of change on a scale of before and after."15 In this life, we are immersed in change, and so we are in time. Within our bodies, every cell is constantly being torn down and rebuilt, so that we are literally full of change. We are on a planet that revolves on its axis once every 24 hours, and in addition travels around our sun once each year-while the sun and all its planets, part of the Milky Way galaxy, are rushing through space at a tremendous rate, to what destination we know not.
We are, then, full of change interiorly and surrounded by change outside us. But the point of contact with all that change is the body. When we are freed form the body, we lose contact with all that change. Then we are no longer in time, which is the measure of that change. Popular speech speaks of the departed as in eternity. In the strict sense of the word, eternity applies only to God Himself, "with whom there is no shadow of change" (Jas 1:17). So for Him, there is no past, no future-He simply is. We, after our crossing, still have had a past, and to some extent face some changes in what lies ahead, but not the unceasing motion that puts before us constantly a moment we call future, which quickly changes into present, then into past; no, then we can know only some relatively shallow changes, and those not constantly, but at some hard-to-define intervals. There will be no substantial, that is, deep change, and so no possibility that our basic stance toward the will of the Father-for or against it-can ever change.
Some imagine death as if it were a turning off of the lights. Rather, it is a turning on of the light into a brilliance we have never yet known. Hence the same Aristotle wrote that only then-when separated from the body-is the mind fully itself.16 For in this life, our intelligence has two components: the physical brain, a marvelous instrument, which the best scientists understand only imperfectly; plus the spirit intellect that is natural to our soul. Such a spirit intellect is, obviously, far more powerful than the physical intrument in our heads, for spirit is immeasurably above matter. Yet in the present life, those two components are inescapably tied together, so that if there be severe damage to our physical brain, we may lack all consciousness. Hence the power of our spiritual intellect is restrained, greatly hampered in this life.17
But when we have crossed over, when we have shaken off this mortal coil, then the natural power of the spiritual intellect asserts itself. Then we shall know-even if we do not at once reach the direct vision of God-what God is like, in a way we never knew in this world. For our spiritual memory retains data, once very poorly grasped, but then illumined by the brilliant light of the spirit. Further, in this life we find it so easy to do without the thought of God. The reason is that our senses are constantly bringing into us input, reports saying that the physical world is the thing that counts, the only fully real thing.18 But then, lacking the body, we will lack those senses, and so will lack that distraction. The glaring light of the spirit intellect will know what He is like. Therefore it will most intensely want Him with a desire we cannot really feel in this life, even though the greatest Saints have approached that point. The soul makes its own the words of Psalm 42: "As the hart pants after the flowing water, so my souls longs for you, O God . . . When shall I come and behold the face of God?"
Even those who are eternally lost will feel this longing-except in them it is never to be satisfied. Rather, they both long for Him, and hate Him, for they have left this world with their wills opposed to His will-a condition that never will be, never can be corrected. In that lies the worst pain of hell. We might speculate that it would be like a sick, twisted state, both wanting and hating, like the state of a person who tries to awake in the middle of the night, yet, from sickness, is not able to reach fully the level of consciousness, and so is in anguish in a horror state between sleep and waking.
At the resurrection, there will also be what the Church speaks of as a "repercussion on the whole being of the sinner,"19 that is, the body will suffer in some mysterious way, which it deserves since it has shared in sin, even incited the soul to sin. This "repercussion" must be dreadful, for Christ Himself described it as "fire."
But those whose will is basically in accord with the will of the Father, know, thanks to the judgment already given them by Christ, that at least eventually they will reach that vision, they will behold the face of God. But they may lack the needed preparation. They may not have fully done their part to rebalance the objective order (cf. chapters 4 & 19) damaged by their personal sins; their soul may not have achieved that high degree of purity and elevation needed to be able to see the face of God. Ideally, they should have reached that perfection in this life. If they did not, thanks to the mercy of the Father, there is purgatory, which can remedy both deficiencies. Were there no purgatory, they could never come before the face of God.
There is no time in purgatory, yet there surely are some mysterious stages in the purification. One can, as it were, drop a line from the curve on the graph representing the duration (not time) of purgatory to the curve below representing time on earth. A corresponding point can be found. If we can believe some of the private revelations to some of the Saints, such as St. Catherine of Genoa, for small faults there may be need of a purification that is very long, comparable to many years on earth.
Souls in that state are really incomplete persons, for a human person consists of both body and soul. They lack body until the resurrection. Those in hell have to wait but one instant for the resurrection day with its increased pains forever, for there is no change in hell. Those who at once reach the vision of God in heaven also wait but one instant. But in pugatory, there is prolonged waiting.
When finally the soul is purified, refined enough to be able to stand the vision of God, then what is it like? As we saw in chapter 2, it is participating in infinite streams of knowledge and of love, a thing possible for no conceivable creature, only for one made partly divine by grace, which then turns into the light of glory. Then God joins Himself directly to the created intellect, with no image in between, for no image could show Him as He is (cf. chapter 2).
That vision is infinite-the soul there is a finite receptacle, trying to take in the infinite, comparable to the butterfly image used by Arendzen which we saw in chapter 2. Will it become dull as endless ages pass? No, because the vision is infinite, and we are finite, incapable of taking in all. But also, because as St. Augustine says, we shall be partakers of His eternity,20 in which there is no sucession of future-present-past. We, by participation in Him, will simply be, will be blessed, unimaginably happy, satisfied.
Here too shows the mercy of our Father. Yes, hell is endless, but we should not picture it as an old popular image did-a bird comes once every ten thousand years, takes one peck at a granite mountain: when it has the mountain gone, eternity is only beginning. No, even the souls in hell will simply be, be miserable. There is no dragging out endlessly, as it were. This does not make it less than terrible. We cannot visualize it, even for the bodiless soul, still less when that misery causes a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner that is comparable to fire.
For those in the vision of God, there will be a secondary, but wondrous joy from being able to go anywhere in the universe to see the marvels of our Father, by merely willing it, without the restrictions of the speed of light, which seems to be the speed-limit of the universe now. There will be the joy of being with all our dear ones, and all other marvelous souls of Saints. And greatest in this category will be the sight of Mary, which, as we saw in chapter 24, Pius XII pictures splendidly:
As Vatican II tells us, "The Church will attain her full perfection only in the glory of heaven."21 Then the promise of the covenant will be most completely fulfilled, the promise of which the Father spoke already at Sinai (Ex 19:5): "If you really obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, more than all people," the People of God of whom our Father said through Jeremiah (31:33): "I will be their God and they will be my people." For we shall be forever members joined to our Head, through whom we are eternally blessed.
It is highly suitable to borrow the words with which St. Augustine closed his City of God:
And I add with St. Augustine: "I seem to myself, with the help24 of the Lord, to have paid the debt of this large work. Let those for whom it is too little or too much forgive me. Let those for whom it is right, give thanks not to me, but to God. Amen. Amen."25