Marking the first week of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his general audience catechesis to living the season as an act of faith in God’s benevolent plan for humanity.
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of his letter to the Christians of Ephesus (cf. 1, 3-14), the apostle Paul raises a prayer of blessing God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – a prayer that we have just heard – that introduces us to live the season of Advent, in the context of the faith. The theme of this hymn of praise is God’s plan for man, defined in terms full of joy, wonder and gratitude, as a “benevolent plan” (see 9), mercy and love.
Why does the Apostle raise this blessing God, from the depths of his heart? Because he looks at his work in the history of salvation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, and he contemplates how Heavenly Father has chosen us even before the creation of the world, to be his sons in his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 8:14 s.; Gal 4:4 f.). Therefore we exist from eternity in God, in a major project that God has kept within himself and decided to implement and to reveal in “the fullness of time” (cf. Eph 1:10). St. Paul helps us to understand, then, how all creation and, in particular, man and woman are not the result of chance, but a loving plan to respond to the eternal reason of God with the creative and redemptive power of his Word which creates the world. This first statement reminds us that our vocation is not simply to exist in the world, being inserted in history, or even just being a creature of God, it is something greater: it is being chosen by God, even before the creation of the world, in the Son, Jesus Christ. In Him we exist, so to speak, already. God contemplates us in Christ, as adopted children. The “benevolent plan” of God, which is qualified by the Apostle as a “loving plan” (Eph 1:5), is called “the mystery” of Divine will (v. 9), hidden and now revealed in the Person and work of Christ. The divine initiative precedes any human response: it is a free gift of His love that surrounds us and transforms us.
But what is the ultimate goal of this mysterious plan? What is the centre of God’s will? It is – Saint Paul tells us – to “bring all things back to Christ, the only head” (v. 10). In this expression we find one of the central formulations of the New Testament that make us understand the plan of God, his plan of love for humanity, a formulation in the second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons placed at the core of his Christology : “to restore ” all reality in Christ. Perhaps some of you remember the formula used by Pope St. Pius X for the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Instaurare omnia in Christo“, a formula that refers to this Pauline expression, and that was also the motto of this holy Pontiff . The Apostle, however, speaks more specifically of restoring the universe in Christ, and this means that in the great design of creation and history, Christ stands as the center of the entire journey of the world, the central pillar, that attracts the whole of reality to itself, to overcome dispersion and limitation and lead everything to the fullness desired by God (cf. Eph 1:23).
This “benevolent plan” has not been kept, so to speak, in the silence of God in the height of his heaven, but He has made it known by engaging with the man, to whom He has not only revealed something, but His very self. He has not simply communicated a set of truths, but He communicated Himself to us, to the point of becoming one of us, to being incarnate. The Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum affirms: ” In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature “(n. 2). God not only says something, He communicates with us, draws us into the divine nature, so that we are involved in the divine nature, deified. God reveals His great plan of love engaging with man approaching him to the point of becoming himself is a man. The Council continues: “The invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself “(ibid.). By his intelligence and abilities alone man could not have reached this illuminating revelation of God’s love, it is God who has opened up His heaven and lowered himself to lead man into the abyss of his love.
As St. Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,” this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God”(2:9-10). And St. John Chrysostom, in a famous comment on the beginning of the Letter to the Ephesians, invites us to enjoy all the beauty of this “benevolent plan” of God revealed in Christ, and St. John Chrysostom says: ” What are you lacking? You have become immortal, you have become free, you have become a child, you have become righteous, you are a brother, you have become a joint heir, to reign with Christ, with Christ you are glorified. Everything is given to us, and – as it is written – “how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Rom 8:32). Your firstfruits (cf. 1 Cor 15,20.23) is adored by angels […]: what do you miss? “(PG 62.11).
This communion in Christ through the Holy Spirit, offered by God to all men with the light of Revelation, is not something that overlaps with our humanity, but it is the fulfilment of the deepest human longings, of the desire for infinity and fullness that dwells in the depths of the human being, and opens it up not to a temporary and limited happiness, but eternal. St. Bonaventure, referring to God who reveals Himself and speaks to us through Scripture to lead us to Him, says this: “Sacred Scripture is […] the book in which the words of eternal life are written so that not only we believe, but may also possess eternal life, in which we shall see, we shall love and all our wishes shall be realized “(Breviloquium, Ext., Opera Omnia V, 201S.). And finally, Blessed Pope John Paul II recalled also that – and I quote – ” Revelation has set within history a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known. Yet this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith “(Encyclical Fides et Ratio, 14).
In this perspective, what is then, the act of faith? It is man’s response to God’s Revelation, which is made known, which shows His loving plan for humanity, and is, to use an expression of St. Augustine, allowing ourselves be grasped by the truth that is God, a truth that is love . This is why St. Paul emphasizes that we owe God, who has revealed His mystery, “obedience of faith” (Rom 16:26; see 1.5, 2 Cor 10: 5-6), the attitude with which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him” (Dei Verbum, 5). Obedience is not an act of coercion, it letting go, surrendering to the ocean of God’s goodness All this leads to a fundamental change in the way we deal with the whole of reality, everything appears in a new light, it is therefore a true “conversion,” faith is a “change of mentality” because the God who has revealed Himself in Christ, and has made known His plan, seizes us, draws us to Himself, becomes the meaning that supports life, the rock on which it can find stability. In the Old Testament we find an intense expression on faith, which God entrusts the prophet Isaiah to communicate to the king of Judah, Ahaz. God says: “Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm” (Is 7.9 b). There is therefore a link between being and understanding that expresses how faith is a welcoming into our lives God’s vision of reality, letting God guide us through His Word and Sacraments to understand what we must do, the path we must take, how to live. At the same time, however, it is precisely understanding according to God, seeing with His eyes that makes our lives more solid, which allows us to “stand”, not to fall.
Dear friends, Advent, the liturgical season that we have just begun and that prepares us for Christmas, places us before a the luminous mystery of the coming of the Son of God, the great “Benevolent Plan” with which he wants to draw us to Himself, to help us live in full communion of joy and peace with Him Advent invites us once again, in the midst of many difficulties, to renew our awareness that God is present: He came into the world, becoming a man like us , to bring His plan of love to fullness. And God demands that we become a sign of his action in the world. Through our faith, our hope, our love, He wants to enter the world again and again He wants to shine His light in our night. Thank you.
“Wednesday General Audience, Full Text: Advent and God’s benevolent plan
Posted on December ..”
The old “God’s Plan” again!
He’s God. He can do anything He wants.
He doesn’t need a “plan.” He knows what’s going to happen, everywhere, everywhen, everyway.
Only human beings “need” plans.
…To plan to do what they think is needed to be done.
And they aren’t ever sure if they will succeed or not.
God has no such problem. We are told.
Can anyone on here explain what is wrong with Toad’s logic here?
Because, if they can, he might become a Catholic again. Possibly.
But, there are one or two other things to clear up first…
“…what is wrong with Toad’s logic here?”
Oxymoron alert, what?
Anyway, don’t want to get into that tonight, as I’m watching Tequila Mockingbird, starring the best Catholic actor ever (Martin Sheen? Ha!), Gregory Peck, as a Mexican lawyer who defends an Irishman in 1930s Alabama accused of breaking the Prohibition laws.
Oxymoron alert, if you like, JH, but Toad gets no answer. He has to assume nobody knows the answer, Fair enough. He certainly doesn’t.
He doesn’t care about the silly insults, but they get us nowhere.
Gertrude – your name is on the article.
How can a being who lacks nothing, need or have, a plan?
“Silly insult”, Toad? Well, I suppose it could be taken that way. Apologies for (accidentally) breaking the ceasefire.
No need at all to apologise, JH, but what Toad would really like is an explanation to what seems, to him, somewhat of a riddle.
I read very carefully the whole of what the Pope said and found it largely incomprehensible, which will not come as much of a surprise..
I can understand clearly when Popes and other nice people advise, “Be kind to one another – try to help one another – love one another…,”
However, when they say…“… Revelation has set within history a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known. Yet this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith…” ….I get lost.
Maybe someone else can explain that?
If I hadn’t been only too aware I was an eejit before, I would have to very seriously reconsider the position now.
Is the “point of reference” the death of Christ?
Either way, how does the “point of reference” explain “… the mystery of human life…”? Does it, in fact, even attempt to explain that?
Indeed, why should “human life” be a mystery to a Catholic anyway?
(I get a vague suspicion that The Holy Father is waffling just a bit in this address. But probably not.)
The problem here is broached in Boethius’ consolation of philosophy…. God’s plan so to speak does not connote predestination since if we were merely automatons acting without choice then prohibitions and the notion of culpability would be meaningless since we would not be responsible for our actions … since we know God is all good and cannot execute a contradiction in his nature …we know he can’t sin and so that means he wouldn’t plan for anyone to choose wrongly…however people do choose poorly…however we do see that because we have choice to choose from best to better or worse to worst there is a notion of merit…. since God sees all things as an eternal present…and wills(wishes) that all men are saved however some are not because they do not cooperate with his grace and choose incorrectly…yet there is still the notion of efficacious grace which causes us to act rightly and prevenient grace which gently nudges our conscience to think about searching for the correct course still the choice remains ours….God is omnipotent in the way that he can do anything that is possible in a realistic sense however he can’t sin since that is a contradiction and he can’t unmake something that is already made …he is prescient or omniscient in the way that he sees all things as they happen in his eternal now..and he apprehends every action as an eternal now… since he is not bound by time…however he does not use discursive reasoning because he can see the repercussions of an action before it occurs yet we cant because we are stuck in time and so a plan for us would be a game of wait and see what happens …however with God because he sees us doing something or making bad choices this does not mean he is the cause of our bad behaviour…in God’s plan he has set up rewards for the good and punishment for the wicked it is all just and all perfect…God’s plan is to provide a world or proving ground in which we can choose…the only limit being our human reason…however God retains the right to send expedient graces so that his will or plan for the salvation of the just will be rendered completely fair and impartial…if we decide to commit ourselves then we gain but if not then we lose…in the final analysis God knows what will transpire and if some are not saved that does not mean God’s will is frustrated it only means that the notion of merit based on the natural law has exacted its lawful decrees…
Well, that is nicely put all right, JH. and thanks, and it will require much thought during the day. But…
“…however with God because he sees us doing something or making bad choices this does not mean he is the cause of our bad behaviour… “
If we accept that God is not the cause, do we also accept that He choses to have, or can have, no part in the effect?
That is to say, having made us imperfect, as He clearly has, could He not have made us a liitle better (or less worse) than we are, so that the danger of eternal damnation is not an issue?
I think this must be so.
(There is an analogy here with my dogs, that I’m working on, although what it boils down to, I suspect, is: if God loves all of us, how can he allow any of us to reject Him? I wouldn’t damn lady Gaga for rejecting me, foolish though it might be on her part..)
Ould Eejit Toad has made a fearful balls here, and got his Johns crossed.
Humble apologies to both.
Oh Toad, I wish I had more time to go into this issue in greater depth. I’m afraid it will have to wait for another time, except to say yet again (I am definitely beginning to repeat myself, sorry) that God is Just. Apart from John Konnor’s detailed explanation, I will just add the following for now:
Those unfortunate souls who might find themselves in Hell, have not got themselves there through something as trivial as ‘silly mistakes’ or ‘through bad luck’. These are God haters, who though they were given their share of talents in life – some more, some less – have continually and freely refused the abundant opportunities and grace to make use of them, consistently and wontedly choosing evil. The vision they will have of the splendour of God at their judgement will be so abhorrant to them that they will willingly turn from the sight. Yes, they will know despair, but they would not want to find themselves in the presence of His Goodness; this would be anathema to them.
BTW, you are incorrect in saying that we were created ‘imperfect’ – at least at the start. Man was created ‘perfect’……. but we messed things up! 😦 As a consequence of the sin of our first parents, we are born with original sin – so in this sense you are right – and we are susceptible to concupiscence, even though Baptism washes away Original Sin!
Do not repine about repeating yourself, Kathleen; we all must, it seems.
(Like Neitzsche, eternally – there’s a hellish thought!)
You talk of “God haters.” I have never met one, and – I strongly suggest – neither have you. Because they cannot – by any normal standards of sanity – exist.
(I trust it’s not necessary to spell out why this must be so.)
As a result, , if any such unhappy human actually does exist he, or she, must be insane and thus incapable of making a reasoned judgement on their own behalf.
And would a kindly and loving God condemn a mad person to eternal damnation?
You see what I mean? We must hope not. For God’s sake.
And, by the way, nobody sane cho0oses evil. Same argument. Why would they?
But there are sane people who do choose evil Toad. Just take a look at the world around you! Mind you, most people would never admit they are doing evil deeds when they commit all types of sexual sins, or lie, cheat, murder (remember Stalin, Hitler, Mao?), enslave, steal…….. the list of deadly sins is very long. They thus become ‘God haters’, or haters of all that is Good.
Don’t forget however, that no matter how wicked the sins of men might be, there is always the possibility of forgiveness. Our Blessed Lord is Divine Mercy for sinners.
The point is, Kathleen, that Hitler, Stalin and Mao (and Franco) were all convinced that what they were doing was good.
And most Germans thought that what Hitler did was good – until he started losing.
Muslim fanatics always think what they are doing is good. As did the Crusaders.
A great may Americans think that killing Bin Laden was good. Perhaps you do. But I doubt it.
However, to hate God, you’d have to believe in Him first.
Otherwise, you might as well hate unicorns.
Thank you for posting this beautiful mystical teaching on God’s love. I had as hard time finding the text.