Wednesday of week 30 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Rom 8:26-30

Today’s reading follows immediately on yesterday’s. Paul continues his message of encouragement and hope.

“In the same way the Spirit comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words.” Just as we saw that hope sustains the believer in his suffering, so the Spirit also is with him when he prays. Earlier Paul had spoken of the believer “groaning”, now it is the Spirit who “groans” as our petitions are passed on to the Father. Obviously, the Spirit does not literally “groan”. It simply means that he does not communicate in words or that his thoughts cannot be expressed in human language. (And why would the Spirit want to use our kind of language?)

And it is not that the Spirit, who is God, intercedes in the way that Our Lady or the saints are said to intercede for us. Rather it is through the Spirit, which has been given to us in Baptism, that the prayers we need to make are carried to the Father in language that we could never express.

“And he who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God’s holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God.” Genuine prayers will not be haphazard requests for something we simply happen to want at any particular time. Nor will it be a kind of arm-twisting by which we try to make God arrange things in the way we would like. It is not surprising that, when what we ask for in that way does not happen, we can feel that God is not listening to us.

On the other hand, prayers that we make in and through the Spirit will always include the desire to know the will of God and for the strength to be able to carry it out in the different circumstances of our lives. “God gives good things to those who ask him.” And in Luke we read: “If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13). Ultimately, all genuine prayer will be made in through the Spirit of God because, ultimately, the purpose of our prayer is to be united with God. Our prayer is to be “Your will be done” and not “Lord, my will be done”. We do not just want to do God’s will reluctantly; we positively long to make our will conform to his. His wants and ours then perfectly coincide. And that is where our deepest happiness lies. The purpose of prayer is find out what that will is, to know where the Spirit is leading us.

The Jerusalem Bible has this to say about prayer in the New Testament:

Paul insists on the necessity of constant prayer taught by Jesus himself and practised by the early Christians. Paul is always praying for the faithful and asks them to do the same for him and for each other. These prayers must ask for growth in holiness but also for the removal of all external and internal obstacles to it; we have to pray, too, for the orderly conduct of the country’s business. Paul lays special stress on prayers of thanksgiving for every gift of God and particularly for the food God gives us; he begins all his own letters with a prayer of thanks and he wants the spirit of gratitude to pervade all the Christians’ dealings with each other. In liturgical gatherings prayers of thanksgiving and praise must predominate and these sentiments must inspire the hymns that the Christians compose for these occasions. It is the Holy Spirit who inspires the prayer of the Christian, and Paul prefers to emphasise this.

Paul now moves on to discuss God’s call for us to share his glory.

“We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good.” Or, “all things work together for the good of those who love God”. And our “good”, of course, is that we grow evermore into the likeness of Christ and become “other Christs”. It is difficult at times to see how certain experiences can be working for our long-term good, yet this is a conviction that we need to learn – that our loving God is present in every experience. Of course, that may be extremely difficult to see at the time and it may be only after a long period that we begin to see how this experience was beneficial, that it was a true learning experience.

Again and again, people have – perhaps not till much later on – realised that some very painful experience, such as a serious illness or the loss of a loved one, has been an occasion of personal growth and maturing. This will help people who ask “Why?” or “Why me?” when they have had a very bad experience. In the middle of everything it can be very difficult to see where God’s love is working but it is there. It takes time, it takes faith to realise that God’s love is in operation all the time.

It is a limited view of God which sees him as a kind of puppet master who gives good things to his friends and punishes his enemies. His thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways not our ways.

The sooner we come to understand his thoughts the better. And it is important to realise that this is not fatalism. Fatalism is to lie down passively under the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Nor is it the “opium of the people” which Karl Marx spoke about – passively putting up with a life of suffering (and exploitation by ‘capitalists’) because of the promise of a happy life after death. The true Christian responds actively and positively to every experience, trying to find God there and responding to his call. And finding happiness in the here and now.

Paul now speaks of how God, from all eternity, knew those who would “be moulded to the pattern of his Son, so that he should be the eldest of many brothers and sisters”. We are touching here on the issue of predestination. There are those who believe that God has decided from all eternity who will be saved and who will not and that there is nothing anyone can do about it. Either you are one of the lucky ones or you are not. There are those who take the number 144,000 of the elect, mentioned in the Book of Revelation, as the revealed number of the saved. That puts several billions of the world’s population, including the majority of Christians, totally out of the running and reduces God’s saving love to a lottery.

It can be understood, however, in a very different way. God’s knowledge is infinite and eternal. Everything that has ever happened or will ever happen is known to him simultaneously in an eternal NOW. For God there is no past or future. God then knows who are going to live their lives according to his will and those who will decide of their own free choice to reject him. If one may use a rough analogy. It is like a man who stands on top of a hill and looks down on a winding road below. He sees two cars approaching in opposite directions at high speed. They cannot see each other but the man on the hill knows that, inevitably, there is going to be a serious collision. He knows it is going to happen but he is not in any way responsible.

God then knows now which people will accept the message of Jesus and put their faith in him as Lord and who, with that faith and commitment, will gradually grow into the likeness of Jesus, their Lord and Brother. But, in so far as they are modelling themselves on him, Jesus remains the “eldest brother”. He is the One who holds the position of highest honour in the Father’s family to which we, the baptised, also belong. And he is the ‘natural’ Son, while are adopted by God’s gift.

Christ, as the perfect image of the Father, came among us to restore to fallen Man the original splendour which had been darkened by sin. In union with Christ, we can now be formed in the even greater image of a son of God. The glory which Christ as the image of God possesses by right is progressively communicated to the Christian until his body is itself clothed in the image of the ‘heavenly’ person.

“It was those so destined that he called; those that he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought into glory.” Those whom God’s foreknowledge knows will do his will are those he has called (and who have answered his call). And because of their call and their positive response, they are ‘justified’, that is, they are made right with God through their openness to the ‘grace’ of his love poured into them. And these are the ones he will bring with him one day to share his glory.

Talk of predestination some may find disturbing. Predestination is really a way of speaking of God’s eternal knowing. God lives outside of time. For him there is neither past nor future; only the present. Each one of us has been in the mind of God eternally. The time of our arrival in his creation is known to him. The progress of our life and all the choices we make are known to him. We do not make our choices because he knows them; he knows our choices because we make them. God then knows from all eternity who says ‘Yes’ to him and who says ‘No’. All those who say ‘Yes’ can be said to be called and predestined for justification and glory; those who say a final ‘No’ are called but are not predestined – by their own choice – for justification and glory.

So, as far as God is concerned, our predestination is set because he knows what our choices and responses to his call will ultimately be. As far as we are concerned, it is not at all set because there are still opportunities for us to make a final ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Is that worrying? It need not be. As Jesus told Thomas A Kempis, the author of the Imitation of Christ, if we concentrate on saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus at every moment of every day the future will take care of itself and there will be nothing to fear.

So, in the words of a cigarette advertisement many years ago: “Have you said ‘Yes’ yet?”

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