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Loved Into Existence – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily November 27, 2022

“So Advent, the season we prepare in joyful hope for the Lord’s coming. The second reading today from Romans said, ‘It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep for our salvation is nearer now than when you first believed.’ But are we away or are we drowsy? Is the world awake to what matters? What do we talk about or think about the most day in and day out? What questions do we explore and ask? Ponder? Well, for most of us, I suspect that, hey, what’s for dinner? Or who’s going to pick the kids up from soccer practice? Are we going to the game this weekend? And while those certainly have their place. What about the really fundamental questions, questions that have eternal significance. Why am I here? Where am I going? And how do I get there? Now, to be honest, maybe my parents or my grandparents, maybe they didn’t didn’t explicitly ask those questions often themselves, but the world they lived in was undergirded by those questions. It was an age of Christendom, at least the waning years of it. And society had a, if you want to use a negative term pressure, a positive term, influence. It doesn’t mean that everyone that lived back then was holy, but the Gospel message they understood. Families did things routinely to watch. They’d sit down to watch the movie Jesus of Nazareth or the ritual every year to watch the Ten Commandments. The culture had those Christian Judeo Christian elements in it that were undergirded by these questions. But no more. No more. And how I answer these questions will depend on how I see the world through what lens reality is viewed. And I would propose that there’s only one lens, only one way of seeing the world that affords a truly glorious outcome and that lens is the lens of the Gospel, the good news. That’s what the word gospel means, literally. And it’s not just good news, but it’s amazing news! It’s news that is meant to transform lives. Are you transformed when you hear the Gospel? I don’t know. I don’t mean just Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four Gospels. I mean the Gospel- the whole message of salvation that that’s in scripture, that’s that’s been lived out for the last 2000 years. Does that transform you?

Today, the culture, as I mentioned, is actually counter-gospel. People of influence create their own version of Christianity, their own interpretation of who Jesus is and what it means to be a Christian and many oppose the Christian message all together. Political figures. You know, movie stars. Those types. During these four weeks of Advent, all of the priests here will be preaching what is called the Kerygma. Now, I know that’s a weird word. It’s a Greek word theologians use that you probably never heard of it, but it means literally the proclamation. It meant a summation of the Gospel message in a way that you can digest, not something that takes five years to figure out, but the Kerygma traditionally meant telling God’s story, the Gospel story, using four components: one the goodness of creation. Two, sin and the consequences that came from it. Three What God did to respond to sin. And four our response to what God has done, and if that seems that’s still a bit academic, you can rephrase it into questions. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is everything so obviously messed up? What, if anything, has God done about it? And if he has done something, how should I respond?

Fr. John Ricardo, a priest from the Detroit archdiocese, authored a book called Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel, the book that prompted this Homily series and he puts the Kerygma in even more simple terms. He uses four words: created, captured, rescued, and response. Ricardo says, if you know those four words, if you know what they mean in the context of the Kerygma, then you know the Gospel. Each of those words will be the topic of our next four. Well, this today and the next three homilies. So today we start with the word created. The creation account is in the Book of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. Now, before we can even talk about that, we’ve got to talk about how you read the Bible, because many don’t know how to read the Bible. They try to read books literally in the Bible that were not meant to be read literally. The Bible is not one book, it’s a library with all kinds of different writings- poetry, historical narrative, apocalyptic writings, even a love song. You can’t read all of those the same way. You don’t read a fairy tale the same way you read a newspaper report. (Fairy tale might be more accurate nowadays, but…) Not all parts of the Bible are meant to be read literally, but they all convey a truth. You must know what you’re reading. Now, if your children, when they go off to college, they may likely hear from professors, Oh, that this Genesis, this Judeo-Christian account of creation, it’s just one of the many ancient creation myths that people came up with trying to explain why things were the way they are and that all primitive people had one, and Genesis was no different. Hogwash. It’s very different. There are numerous creation accounts, that’s for sure, but the other creation accounts depict many gods. And the gods are just projections of human beings, just kind of a superhuman version of them, but they’re still greedy and lustful and spiteful and angry and constantly at war with one another. And humans are their expendable servants meant to entertain and appease the gods, lest those humans experience the wrath of them. Women are seen in almost all of them as inferior and used merely for pleasure and reproduction. The human person has no real dignity in that kind of worldview. That’s not so with his Judeo-Christian creation account. There is one God and he freely chooses to create. He doesn’t have to. He really chooses to create and everything he’s made is good. The Prologue of the catechism, the first line says, ‘God infinitely perfect and blessed in himself.’ He didn’t need anything! He’s existed before time. He was fully complete without creating one thing, space, time matter, anything. But in a plan of sheer goodness, you could translate that as the love- willing the good. He freely created man and woman to make him share in God’s own blessed life. That’s in some sense, the summation of the message itself. He created out of Love and he created man and woman for a divine purpose, a glorious purpose.

So let’s look at what created means. Genesis 1:16- ‘and God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.’ Oh, he also made the stars. Now it doesn’t say, Oh, but ‘he made the stars also.’ He made the stars also kind of an afterthought. Oh, by the way. Yeah, all those stars out there. You know how many stars there are? The universe is 46 billion light years across. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even, I don’t even know what that is. That’s so immense. Our sun is roughly one of 100 billion stars just in our galaxy and there are roughly 100 billion galaxies in the universe! Those numbers are hard to fathom. We can’t even wrap our heads around it at all. By the way, he made the stars also. One astrophysicist put it this way: It’s the kind of imagined image, the immensity of the universe- imagine building a sandcastle where every grain of sand represents a star. How big would that sandcastle have to be? Imagine that, now how small a grain of sand is packed together in a sandcastle. It would have to be five miles long, five miles wide and five miles high! All those grains of sand, that’s what our God created! Our sun is a relatively small star in comparison to many others. Yet our sun, the thing we see in the sky every day, would hold 960,000 earths. That’s how much bigger it is than Earth. One of the largest stars in the universe would hold 7 quadrillion earths. I didn’t even know that that word meant. What’s a quadrillion? Well, to count, if you were to count to one million one second in time- one, two, three… and you wanted to count to a million, how long would it take you? 11 and a half days. If you wanted to count to 1 billion that way, it would take you 31 years. If you wanted to count to 1 trillion. Sorry, you couldn’t do it because it would take you 31,000 years. And to count to 1 quadrillion, to count 1,000,000,000,000,000 seconds? 31 million years. That’s big. That’s big. That’s how big God’s creation is. It’s mind blowing. And yeah, besides the sun, the moon, he made all of that. That’s the creation story. And at the pinnacle of all of that, at the pinnacle of creation, that immense universe, all the plants and animals he created, you and I, he created man and woman. The high point of his creation. That’s how much you mean to God. That’s the Gospel message that should transform lives. Genesis 1:26- Let us make man in our image after our likeness and let them have dominion over all the animals. In the image of God he created them male and female. He created them. It’s only together that man and woman can image fully. God, man and woman, though different and distinct, are equal in dignity and worth. Neither male alone nor female alone exhaust what it means to be human. They were told to be fruitful and multiply. From the beginning, God ordained sexuality in marriage and it was good. It was good. Of all creatures, man and woman are meant to represent God on Earth, to somehow make him present and to care for his creation. And man, unlike all the other creatures, was created with reason to be able to think and to imagine, to ponder things, to think outside of himself in a way because that’s being made in the image of God. Another way is made in the image of God, he’s meant to be free. While all animals have instincts, and we do too, we as humans don’t have to act on those instincts. They don’t have to control us. Today, it seems like many people follow only instincts, but we have intellect and will, those things that make us like God- to make informed choices. Humans and angels are the only creatures that have the capacity to choose obedience or disobedience. And this freedom, it’s essential to what the other thing God wants most from us. Love. Only someone who is free can genuinely love and we were made for love to receive God’s love. He’s love himself. The Scriptures say God is love.

To receive God’s love and to share His love and to image His love by loving others. Real happiness is to be loved and to love. We were made for loving relationships with Him and with each other and our destiny is to be divinized and partake fully in God’s own divine nature, to share in His own blessed life. Now, that doesn’t mean we become God, but we share in His Divine life and we were made to do that forever. We weren’t meant to die, but sin messed that part up. We’ll talk about that next week.

Why am I here? Where am I going and how do I get there? Fr. Ricardo says there’s one answer to all those questions and it’s love. I’m here because of love, God’s love. He loved me into existence. He loved you into existence. And you’re here and now in this place in this time in the world history. You weren’t created for the Middle Ages, weren’t created as a cave person you were made for here and now. And whether you’re healthy and vibrant, whether you’re old and sick, this is your time. If God made you for this, out of love, my life is oriented back to that same, love and I get there by learning to love as God loves, to imitate as best I can, His love. Sin interferes with that, too. So next week, we’ll delve into the question, why is everything so messed up? We’ll discuss the next topic of the Kerygma, captured, so stay tuned.”