by Pope Benedict XVI
At the beginning of his letter to the Christians of Ephesus (cf. 1:3-14), the apostle Paul raises a prayer of blessing to God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the prayer we just heard, that helps us enter into living the time of Advent, in the context of the Year of Faith. The theme of this hymn of praise is God's plan for man, defined in terms full of joy, wonder and gratitude, as a "plan of kindness" (see v. 9), mercy and love.
Why does the Apostle raise to God, from the depths of his heart, this blessing? Because he looks at His work in the history of salvation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, and contemplates how Heavenly Father has chosen us before the foundation of the world, to be His sons, in His Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 8:14f; Gal 4:4f.). We therefore exist from all eternity in the mind of God, in a great plan that the Father has kept to Himself and has decided to implement and reveal "in the fullness of time" (cf. Eph 1:10).
St. Paul helps us to understand, then, how all creation and, in particular, man and woman are not the result of chance, but are part of a loving plan of God's eternal mind, who with the creative and redemptive power of his Word creates the world. This first statement reminds us that our vocation is not simply to exist in the world, to be inserted within history, nor is it merely to be a creature of God; it is something greater: it is being chosen by God, even before the creation of the world, in His Son, Jesus Christ. In him we exist, so to speak, from always. God contemplates us in Christ, as adopted children.
God's "plan of kindness", which is also qualified by the Apostle as a "plan of love" (Eph 1:5), is called "the mystery" of the divine will (cf. v. 9), hidden and now revealed in the Person and work of Christ. The divine initiative precedes any human response: it is a free gift of His love that surrounds us and transforms us.
But what is the ultimate goal of this mysterious plan? What is the center of God's will? St. Paul tells us it is to "bring everything together under Christ, as head" (cf. 10). In this expression we find one of the central formulations of the New Testament that allows us to understand God's plan of salvation, His plan of love for all humanity, a formulation that St. Irenaeus of Lyons set as the core of his Christology: "to recapitulate" all of reality in Christ.
Some of you will remember the formula used by Pope St. Pius X to consecrate the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: "Instaurare omnia in Christo", which refers to this Pauline expression, and which also the motto of this holy Pontiff. The Apostle, however, speaks more specifically of recapitulating the universe in Christ, and this means that in the great scheme of creation and history, Christ stands as the center of the entire world's journey, the cornerstone of everything, attracting the whole of reality to Himself, overcoming dispersion and limits and leading all to the fullness desired by God (cf. Eph 1:23).
This "plan of kindness" did not remain, so to speak, in the silence of God, in the heights His heaven; rather, He made it known by entering into a relationship with man, to whom He has not revealed merely something, but Himself. He has not simply communicated a set of truths, but has communicated Himself to us, to the point of becoming incarnate. The Second Vatican Council in its dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum says: "In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself - and not something about Himself - and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will, by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature" (no. 2). God not only says something, but He communicates Himself, draws us into the divine nature in such a way that we become involved in it, divinized.
God reveals His great plan of love, entering into relation with man, approaching him to the point of becoming man. "The invisible God," continues Dei Verbum, "out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (cf. Ex 33:11, Jn 15:14-15) and lives among them (cf. Bar 3:38) so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself" (ibid.). Man, using only his intelligence and his abilities, could not have arrived at so luminous a revelation of the love of God; it is God who has opened His heavens and lowered Himself to guide man into the abyss of His love.
As St. Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth: "What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot visualize; all that God has prepared for those who love Him. To us, though, God has given revelation through the Spirit, for the Spirit explores the depths of everything, even the depths of God" (1 Cor 2:9-10). And St. John Chrysostom, in a famous page of his commentary on the beginning of the Letter to the Ephesians, invites us to enjoy the beauty of God's "plan of kindness" revealed in Christ, with these words: "What do you lack? You have become immortal, you have become free, you have become a son, you have become righteous, you have become a brother, you have become a joint heir, with Christ you reign, with Christ you are glorified. Everything is given to us, and - as it is written - 'can we not expect that with Him He will freely give us all His gifts?' (Rom 8:32). Your first fruits (cf. 1 Cor 15:20.23) are adored by angels [...]: what do you lack? "(PG 62, 11).
This communion in Christ through the Holy Spirit, offered by God to all men with the light of Revelation, is not something that would overlap with our humanity, but is the fulfillment of the deepest human longings, of the desire for the infinite and for fullness that dwells in the depths of the human being, and opens him to a happiness not temporary and limited, but eternal.
St. Bonaventure, referring to God who reveals Himself and speaks to us through Scripture to lead us to Him, says: "Sacred Scripture is [...] the book in which the words of eternal life are written so that we might not only believe, but also possess eternal life, where we will see, we will love and all our wishes will be realized" (Breviloquium, Prol., Opera Omnia V, 201f). Blessed Pope John Paul II stated, moreover, that "Revelation has set within history a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known. Yet this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith." (Encyclical Fides et Ratio, 14).
In this perspective, what, then, is the act of faith? It is man's response to the revelation of God, who makes Himself known, who manifests His plan of kindness for humanity. It is, to use an expression of St. Augustine, to let oneself be grasped by the Truth that is God, a Truth that is Love. This is why St. Paul emphasizes that to God, who has revealed His mystery, we owe "the obedience of faith" (Rom 16:26; cf. 1:5, 2 Cor 10: 5-6), the attitude by which "man - in the words of the Second Vatican Council - commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals" (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 5). All this leads to a fundamental change in the way of dealing with all of reality; it involves a true "conversion", a "change of mentality" because the God who has revealed Himself in Christ, and has made known His design of love, takes hold of us, draws us to Himself, becomes the sense that sustains life, the rock on which it can find stability.
In the Old Testament, we find a compact expression concerning the faith, that God entrusts to the prophet Isaiah to communicate to Ahaz, king of Judah. God says: "Unless you believe" - that is, if you do not remain faithful to God - "you will not stand firm" (Is 7:9b). There is therefore a link between standing firm and understanding, which expresses how faith is to welcome God's vision of reality into one's life, letting God guide us through His Word and Sacraments to understand what we must do, what path we must follow. How to live! At the same time, however, it is understanding according to God, according to His will, seeing with His own eyes, that makes life stable, that allows us to "stand", not to fall.
Dear friends, Advent, the liturgical season that we have just begun and that prepares us for Christmas, places before us the luminous mystery of the coming of the Son of God, before the great "plan of kindness" with which He wants to draw us to Himself, to make us live in full communion of joy and peace with Him. Advent invites us once again, in the midst of many difficulties, to renew the certainty that God is present: He came into the world, becoming a man like us, to bring to fulfillment His plan of love. And God asks us, too, to become a sign of His action in the world. Through our faith, our hope, our love, He wants to enter into the world again, to make His light shine again in our night.
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