February 13, 2012

From the Father, To the Father

The Holy Father begins the third and final part of Verbum Domini by describing the "fundamental paradox of the Christian faith". We both have and have not seen the face of God. "No one has ever seen God", Pope Benedict quotes from John 1:18 (cf. 1 Jn 4:12). At the same time - in the same first chapter of John's Gospel, no less - we are told that "the Word became flesh". We have seen the face of God because we have seen Christ, and Jesus is the one true God. We have not, however, seen God without flesh. No one has seen God the Father as He is, only the Father as shown through the Son.
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul the Great teaches us that "(t)he Church professes: 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God'. Over the centuries this has been the Church’s profession of faith and of all those to whom the Father revealed the Son in the Holy Spirit, just as the Song in the Holy Spirit revealed to them the Father (cf Mt 11:25-27)."
We might say that we've seen God in the flesh but not in the spirit (that is, apart from the flesh). What we've seen is God come into the world.  God sent Himself to us. The Holy Father goes on in that opening paragraph of part three to remind us that God taught that "the word of God 'shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose...'". The Word came from the Father and did not return empty. Jesus accomplished in the world what He was sent to do, then He returned to the Father (the ascension).

The Word comes to us, too, individually. The Word is preached to us at each Mass. We receive Him in the Eucharist. We receive Him spiritually in our hearts. Should Jesus come to us individually and return empty?

Pope Benedict notes that "(t)he one whom the Father has sent to do his will... makes us part of his life and mission.... empowers us to proclaim the word everything by the witness of our lives."  This is what God has sent into our individual lives - a share in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. That is what He has sent to us, and we must not let it return empty. "Everyone today, whether he or she knows it or not, needs the message," Pope Benedict tells us. "It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God's grace, we ourselves have received."

Consider the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30). The man that returned to his master without doing anything was cast out. Those that did something, however large or small, were rewarded. I suspect that even had one servant lost the investment, that he used it and acted would be enough.* God works good through even our failure. He waits, instead, through our inaction. if I might mix my metaphors (and parables), it is not our job to make the seeds grow, only to plant them. We cannot be sure we'll be successful in the world, but we're not told to always be successful.  We're told to go into the world and witness.
"We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful."- Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
* Kevin O'Brien treated this topic with humor and clarity in a recent article in the St. Austin Review: The Problem of Love and Frozen Banana Stands

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