Grace: To have a deep appreciation, realization, feeling, and taste for what it means to be a creature, to have God’s love create me and keep creating me each day, to be totally possessed by the creator.
Text for Prayer: Ps. 104
“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.”
-St. Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, n. 23
Reflection: As we begin the holy, penitential season of Lent today, let us also consider the way in which St. Ignatius begins the Spiritual Exercises that will guide us as we approach Easter. Ignatius speaks both of the moment of creation—of the moment when God loves the first man into being—and of the end of man—of the reason for man’s existence and the ultimate goal of his life. In this way, we start the retreat with a consideration of both the beginning and the end of man. However, Ignatius is not speaking about only the first man, Adam, who fell. Instead, he is speaking of every single human person; he is saying that we all have the same origin and the same goal. We are all from God and are all meant for God, and that is what he wants us to know—and to know deeply—as we begin these Lenten Exercises.
It might be helpful to consider first how God creates. God creates man out of nothing and continues to create him every day, his whole life long. This is not merely a moment of invention, when a switch is flipped on man’s back before he is left to run his course. Instead, God’s hand is always at work in His creation, forming and guiding it, even when He does this through His creature’s freedom. This is a rather spectacular fact, if for no other reason than that man cannot create a single speck. The whole of the universe—from the greatest galaxy to the most evasive sub-atomic particle—is not created by anyone but God. Human beings might change some part of that universe, might subdue the earth in order to make it more livable, for instance; but these changes always depend utterly upon all that God continues to do for us in continuously creating the world.
After considering how God creates, it is reasonable for us to then ask why He creates. Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th-century English Jesuit and poet, answers the question in this way:
Not for sport, not for nothing. Every sensible man has a purpose in all he does, every workman has a use for every object he makes. Much more has God a purpose, an end, for every object he makes. He meant the world to give him praise, reverence, and service; to give him glory. It is like a garden, a field he sows: what should it bear him? Praise, reverence, and service; it should yield him glory. …It is a glass he looks in: what should it shew him? With praise, reverence, and service it should shew him his own glory. It is a book he has written, of the riches of his knowledge, teaching endless truths, full lessons of wisdom, a poem of beauty: what is it about? His praise, the reverence due to him, the way to serve him; it tells him of his glory. It is a censer fuming: what is the sweet incense? His praise, his reverence, his service; it rises to his glory. It is an altar and a victim on it lying in his sight: why is it offered? To his praise, honour, and service; it is a sacrifice to his glory.
In this way, the whole of creation is oriented towards the praise, reverence, and service of God. This is in spite of the fact that God does not need our praise and service, and our praising Him is itself His gift to us. But man can know God, can mean to give him glory, and this sets all human beings apart from the rest of God’s creation. Human beings are unique in their freedom to choose to love God in response to His love, to His self-revelation to them. While plants and animals and all other natural things might praise God ceaselessly through their very nature, only man can know God and choose to praise Him. We might not always praise God as we should,
but what we have not done yet we can do now, what we have done badly hitherto we can do well henceforward, we can repent of our sins and begin to give God glory. The moment we do this we reach the end of our being, we do and are what we were made for, we make it worth God’s while to have created us. This is a comforting thought: we need not wait in fear till death; any day, any minute we bless God for our being or for anything, for food, for sunlight, we do and are what we were meant for—things that give and mean to give God glory. This is a thing to live for.
This first principle and foundation, then, is about life; it is about choosing to live as we are made to live, accepting who God has made us to be. Made in His image and likeness, man has a definite goal and an inescapable purpose that never changes. When we choose to embrace this identity as God’s creatures, we then come to see ourselves as we really are. It is only when we have this firm foundation in the reality of our human condition that we are then truly free to know God more deeply and to use all created things as He intends.
Man is created for life with God, and that life is not something off in the distance, too far away for us to reach in our present day. Instead, God comes to us in our here and now and offers us the life that we are made for, even while our lives still entail pain and suffering. As we contemplate life with God, let us also imitate the angels and the saints who never cease giving him praise, reverence, and service in Heaven. In so doing, we will achieve the end for which we, too, are created.
Questions: How would I describe my relationship with God right now? Where is God inviting me to go with Him? What do I want my relationship with God to be? Spend a few moments speaking to God about this.
The quotations in this post are taken from The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ed. Christopher Devlin, S.J. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1959. 238-41.