Grace: That all intentions, actions, and works may be purely directed towards the praise and service of God our Lord.
Text for Prayer: Genesis 1:26-31
Reflection: Why did God choose to make mankind? If I were to pose this question to the 8th graders whom I teach, they would likely—using their energetic imaginations—come up with various hypotheses: Maybe God made us because He was lonely and wanted some friends. Maybe He was bored. Maybe it was an experiment to see what would happen and what we might to do to entertain Him. Maybe He wanted someone who would pay attention to Him and do things for Him. These answers may seem humorous, but they flow from the difficulty of trying to envision a God who is not just one thing among many other things but who is wholly unique, wholly other.
When we ask the question, “For what purpose did God create man?”, we naturally tend to put ourselves in God’s place and to imagine how and why we would have created mankind, and the rest of creation, if we had been in the same situation. This can lead us to think that God’s purpose in creating must have been to fill some need or to make up for some insufficiency. However, if we want to understand better why God created us, we might be helped by first asking a related question: Who is this God who did create us?
The Church has always taught that God can be known through his effects, that is, through the things that He has made. Saint Paul writes to the Romans, “[e]ver since the creation of the world, his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). Thus, by using the power of our human reason and reflecting upon the things we see around us as well as upon ourselves we can eventually determine with certainty specific qualities which God must possess. We can know, for example, that God is totally simple, that He is one, that He is unchanging, infinite, perfect. Using human reason in this way, we come to see the inadequacy of some of the hypotheses proffered above: God couldn’t have made us in order to fill some gap because he is a perfect, infinite being and lacks nothing.
Beyond these bare facts, however, we also know, through divine revelation, that God is love (1 Jn. 4:16). Indeed, God is a community of boundless, expansive love between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The life of the Holy Trinity is an exchange of love so powerful, in fact, that it cannot be contained within itself but spills out, as it were, into God’s act of creation. The love that flows from God is the kind of love which desires to give itself away, the kind of love that is never calculating or self-serving but gives without thought of what it will receive in return. Applying this knowledge to creation, we can say that God created mankind because He is a community of infinite love and desires to share His life of love with others and to bring men into fellowship with Himself.
The original sense of the word “generous” was associated with being of noble birth. The word “genus” means race, stock, family, birth, descent, or origin in Latin. A generous man was someone who was able to give because of who he was. That is, because he came from a noble or rich family. Likewise, God gives and creates because of who He is. God is our Father, our origin, our goal and final destination, as well as the source of all good things. Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw very clearly that God our Lord is a tremendous lover and giver of good gifts. And he taught that the only appropriate response to such a generous and gracious God is the assent of a life of thanksgiving ordered toward God’s praise and service. This is how he expressed it in the First Principle and Foundation, which comes at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord and by this means to save his soul.”
In the end, it really comes down to being able to say Yes to God’s plan, Yes to receiving the gift of friendship that He wants to share with us, the same way that the humble Virgin of Nazareth was able to say, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”
The Church Fathers were fond of the saying, Deus semper maior, God is always greater. God’s capacity to give is always beyond what we can fathom. We have the kind of God who will give us 50 million good gifts one day and turn around and surprise us the next day by saying, “I have 50 million more where those came from.” As we embark on this spiritual journey, let us reflect on the generosity of our God and what our response to Him should be.
Questions: When have I experienced God’s power and might in my life? When have I known God to be my Creator, my Father, my benefactor, and the giver of many good gifts? What gifts might the Lord want to bestow on me during these forty days of Lent as I make these Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola? Am I open to receiving whatever gifts the Lord might have in store for me at this time? How will I respond to the Lord’s generosity?