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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
The Mystery of Creation
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present meditation is the second on the Mystery of Creation. First a prolonged introduction. Before we go into examining the spiritual implications of our Faith in God's creating the world and us out of nothing, it will be useful to remind ourselves that God not only CREATED, He is CREATING. Each of us when we came to the world, was conceived and born, with a body and a soul. The body we received from our parents. The soul for each one of us was individually, distinctly, separately and immediately created by God. Let me repeat. It is not only that God created the world but every time a human being is conceived, the Church teaches at the moment of conception, God creates the soul and infuses it to the body. That is why the expression "God our Creator" refers not only to the beginning of time, it refers to the beginning of each one of us separately, distinctively, and as we soon find out, uniquely. The most fundamental reason why each of us is such a distinctive personality is because at the moment of conception, God created each one of our souls separately, uniquely.
We now wish to look at the spiritual consequences of our Faith in God our Creator. The number of these implications is beyond counting. I would like to limit myself to just seven: first, name them and then briefly explain each. First, humility; second, gratitude; third, confidence; fourth; divine respect; fifth; peaceful reliance; sixth; adoration and seventh; charity.
The first spiritual implication therefore of our having been created by God is humility. We believe that humility is living the Truth. And the Truth is that before God in His Goodness brought us into being, we were exactly, mathematically as we say metaphysically - NOTHING. We were nothing; we would be nothing except for God's gift of creation. In practice, we are not to consider ourselves more than we really are. More than we really are!!! What is more than nothing? Anything! As you reread the great saints and mystics of Catholic hagiography, men like John of the Cross, women like Catherine of Sienna - we are sometimes startled at how little, how unimportant they consider themselves in their own eyes. Well they might because whatever else the saints realized, they realized more clearly than most people that once we admit that of ourselves, we were and would be nothing, it becomes (I don't hesitate saying), psychologically impossible to indulge even in passing thoughts of pride. What have we, what have we, that we have not received?
Before we go on to the second of the implications, let's be a little more clear. One of the consequences of our having been made by God out of nothing is we have no claim to anything as our own. True, very true. However, though all we are and everything we have is a gift and is not ours that belongs to God, how for that very reason, it is to be used according to the Will of God. And we dare not hide in pseudo-humility in not putting into use, not exploiting the gifts that God has given us which He wants us to use for His greater glory. We should never be afraid that provided we use the gifts that God gave us according to His Will, He will protect us from pride because we can and should always keep telling ourselves "Whatever I have, whatever I am is a sheer, unmerited gift from God."
Second implications, Gratitude. Why did God create us? Very simply. Because He loved us. What are we saying? Do you mean you might object that God loved us before He made us? Sure! Otherwise, we wouldn't exist!! How this needs to be told in the most unqualified language to the now multi-millions who are not accepting the gifts that God wants to give them in the children that He intends to bring into the World. No mystery this: God loved before He made us. Our gratitude therefore should be boundless. How spontaneously (I don't say without a second, but even without a first thought), how spontaneously we are grateful for the least favor done for us. How grateful then we should be to the God who in His Goodness (no gain or profit as we have seen to ourselves), God wants us to imitate His generosity, not looking for profit in giving ourselves - grateful that God has been so generous in sharing with us what He as God possessed from all Eternity.
There are three words I would like to leave with you on how we should show our gratitude to God. They are what I would like to call thanks-thinking, thanks-saying and thanks-giving. Meaning what? Meaning that if I am to be grateful to God for all that He has given to me, having brought me out of nothing into existence, how careless, how thoughtless we can be in not first and most fundamentally thinking grateful thoughts unless (may I recommend), unless we each day (that's the way St. Ignatius trained us), never to let a day go by (that's my rule), without at least once and better twice a day taking time out to thank God for the gifts and graces He has given, me in the past and specifically for the last half a day. This evening, after we finish our conference, I'll make my evening examination of conscience - clocking myself - fifteen minutes, twice a day and I begin as I've done, (I can't believe it) - now, for 52 years, what a habit to get into to start by recalling the blessings God has given me and thank Him. But I must first think thankful thoughts. Little hard to pronounce but it's worth it. We must first think thank-full thoughts otherwise we will not practice the gratitude that God deserves for having created us and the world around us as His loving gift to His creatures who except for Him, would be what they were before He made them - NOTHING! If there is one word I will ask my guardian spirit to keep telling your guardian spirit to keep on your minds - it is the word NOTHING! The word is NOTHING! Except for the loving God, we would be what we were - nothing! Critics of St. John of the Cross call him unkindly the spiritual master of nothingness. They don't understand. John of the Cross as few other of God's saints realized, is nothingness and that is not a figure of speech! It is a stark reality.
We go on. Our third practical implication because of our Faith in creation, is confidence. Seeing what God has given us, all that He has done for us from the moment of our first existence to the present, can we possibly doubt His power and His goodness in the future? Our hope is grounded on our Faith. We believe in (and that's why I am going through these conferences to remind ourselves of the obvious) we believe that EVERYTHING we have and possess and enjoy (let me add) and ENDURE is a gift from God. "You mean pain is a blessing? Are you serious?" I couldn't be more serious. How dare we be anxious or worried. We should be confident that we shall receive from the same God who's been so good in the past all that we need first to remain faithful to Him until death and then confident the moment we cross the threshold from time into eternity, this God will be there waiting for us. Of course, the strength of our hope for our hopeful confidence depends on the depth of our trust. We hope in the good things that God promises to give us in the future. But our hope of receiving these good things depends on how completely we trust in God. Meaning what? How convinced we are of God's love for us. That is all, that is all the human heart wants in life - that's all - TO BE LOVED. And the one by whom we most want to be loved is the one who has been so good, so lavishly generous. (Words fail us in the past).
Our fourth implication: Divine Respect. Strange combination of words to be explained as we go along. It must be thirty years ago that I attended a lecture in Cleveland. You may have read some of his books - Vance Packard, a social scientist. The whole audience of about 500 were all clergy. He was describing how we in the modern world, so much of present day business, economy, and behind it advertising is based on what he called the instinct to conformity: the fear we have of being different and the desire we have to being accepted. During the retreat, I could not give you a more practical recommendation than to examine your conscience not only during these days but everyday on where and how you have allowed yourselves to be victims (and now the word), of human respect. How many temptations and as a consequence, how many sins come from our fear of what others will say or think of us. That by the way is how the human race first failed in, the Garden of Eden. Remember? The Devil, (shrewd demon), he watched Adam and he watched Eve. "I've got it! he said to himself. "I need to get Adam to sin - it's his fall that will bring down the whole human race, but I think the wondrous strategy, rather than tempting Adam directly is by first seducing Eve. Adam obviously loves Eve. The last thing he wants is to be separated from her. Very well, very well. See if it works so he will not be separated from Eve. Both will sin." I've been a priest 42 years. How we want to be accepted; I, a priest by other priests. Needless to say, not everything that all the priests I know are doing, should I do! I'm concelebrating Mass. The other priests come before the Altar before the Tabernacle - not one genuflects. But I tell myself, "Hardon, get down on your knees! You coward!!" In greater or less measure, we are all victims of human respect.
Now back to our Faith in creation. A moment's believing reflection will tell us, "Why should I be so concerned what other people think of me, or say about me, or what maybe the least painful, do to me? Before they were conceived in their mother's womb, like me, they were, exactly nothing!" In the profoundest sense of the word, we have NOTHING to be afraid of. Nothing created - it is only the Creator whom we should fear. The sobering remedy therefore for human respect is what I call Divine Respect. We are to be concerned ONLY (underlined in my notes), ONLY with what God thinks of us. We should strive ONLY to please Him. And if in the process of pleasing Him, others are pleased, too - GREAT! That's a bonus but it is not necessary.
Our fifth implication: Peaceful Reliance. Worry and anxiety are so epidemic in a prosperous country like ours and the single, most flourishing profession in our country - anxiety and worry are so epidemic in our country that the single most flourishing profession in the Health Sciences is the profession of Psychiatry. And over the years, I've counseled enough psychiatrists to be able to say this: The bottom line for worry, anxiety that we are all so constantly prone to give into is the realization that we have nothing to fear! Watch it. We have nothing to fear from God provided we are faithful to His Will. The reason we become an, worried is because we are so pathetically aware of our own weakness. We know how stupid we are and under the pressure of trial and temptation, how weak we are. This is why our Faith in Creation is the most effective remedy for anxiety and worry. "My dear, what are you worrying about?" The better we know ourselves, the more liable we are to be victims of anxiety. But this is where Faith must enlighten our minds and tell us, "You wouldn't even have begun to begin to be let alone have become what you are now if God had left you to yourself. Trust Him for the future." And this is why the daily examination of conscience which Ignatius recommended to us and I pass on to you - beginning with a daily reflection on God's goodness to me - so that void of, by the memory of God's blessing I might be strong to face what I fear the future. Our Faith therefore in the Act of Creation dissolves the myth of thinking we can do anything worthwhile to please God in the future without Him.
Sixth implication: Adoration. God is to be adored for His Greatness, His Power and His Majesty. By now, how many prayers we have recited of adoration. Every "Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit," is an act of adoration. But, as we said in the beginning, the purpose of this retreat is to reach to the foundations of our Faith and strengthen our spiritual life so that here, we will not only be making verbal acts of adoration, well then when we say "Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit," we realize and I mean REALIZE the Greatness of God. What is, what is the deepest ground for adoring God? It is the fact that He is our Creator. You may have heard the name of an English poet by the name of Coventry Patmore. I first read him when I entered the Society of Jesus. One statement of his in essays that he also published, I'll never forget: "The highest purpose of creatures in the world, the highest purpose of creatures in the world is to reveal to us the Greatness of the Creator." The main purpose of the sun is not to give heat and light or the food that we might be nourished. With all the wonderful things in nature, the expression goes "we so much enjoy" - the highest purpose is that the creatures with which we deal, with whom we live, whom we see, whom we hear, that might all (and pray to the Lord), might always be windows revealing us the Great God. Every creature should be an impulse to adoration which means, to define the term, "to adore" means to give loving recognition of the excellence of God.
I've got five words each beginning with an "A" corresponding to adoration which also happens to begin with an "A". How are we, (thanks to the creatures with which we are surrounded), how are we to practice this adoration of God? First, by paying attention to God. Oh, how attentive we can be to creatures especially (you know what) creature who unless we watch ourselves can be constantly on our minds by being attentive to God. We practice adoration of the Divine Majesty by our admiration of God, marveling, standing in awe before what God is showing us so that by seeing IT, we might see through it and behold the wonderful God. We are to practice adoration and cultivate it everyday by our acceptance of God. Strange word. Not so strange. By our acceptance of the Will of God when it crosses our own and we call it (the only word we've got), we call it pain. Oh, the adoration of a loving heart suffering pain. We practice adoration of God by our acknowledgement of God's Sovereignty - He is Master, never allowing ourselves to be cowed by others. We should be a slave to no one except to the Almighty. And unexpectedly, we are to cultivate the spirit of adoration by our anticipation - anticipating that the God whom we now believe in, "Lord, how we look forward to that day when we will no longer believe in you, but dear God, we beg You we will see You."
We have one more practical implication for the spiritual life, number seven: Charity. I hope in the short time I will give to this seventh and last implication, I'll be clear. A lot depends on our clear understanding of how our belief in God's creating the world and us should be the deepest stimulus for our practice of selfless, generous charity toward others. We begin by making an obvious statement: God created the world. Yes, He did. But, mysteriously, this is God the All-Perfect, All-Good and Almighty God - how come in this world which God created there are so many people in need, so much suffering? How come? now, here's the key. God created the world - but, (let's say it), an uneven world: there are mountain crests, there are also deep valleys.
Why, why in the world created by the good God is there so much want, so much pain, so much need, so much! Is it God who made the world? Yes! but He wants us to cooperate with Him. The reason there are needy people is not that we should question God's goodness, but question our generosity. Where would any of us be now unless over the years we've lived so far, unless there have been people who without reflecting on the Theology but with the Divine impulse they realized what we needed. God then has put inequality in the world - need great need in order that we realizing that God has been so good to us, He wants us to cooperate (let me use the term) in His ONGOING CREATION of the world. We have things others lack. That's part of God's plan that those who have might give to those who need. Although everyone and everything has been created by God, He has in large measure left the distribution of His Gifts to us. Let me repeat the sentence. Although everyone and everything in the whole world has been created by God, yet He has in large measure left the distribution of His Gifts to us. In fact the Church has even coined a term to describe our role in cooperating with God by distributing His gifts. The Church calls it the Second Creation. The inequality among human beings which is such a scandal to unbelievers for us to believe is the foundation of Charity. Thank God for ignorant people! Thank God for unskilled people. Thank God for sick people. Thank God for lonely people. Thank God, what am I saying? But I have to - for the sinners!!! That God wants us by our practice of selfless charity, to share with them what God has so generously given to us.
A short closing prayer: "Most Holy Trinity, we thank You for creating us and we adore You the Creator of heaven and earth. Teach us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to cooperate with You in sharing with others the blessings you have given to us so that by sharing Your Creation with everyone whom you put into our lives, we might reach that destiny for which You created the world. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
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