Monday, December 15, 2008

The Goodness of the Human

Because I have been preparing for the retreat I'm leading this morning in Phoenix, I haven't posted as much this week as I would like. So I thought I would put abbreviated versions of my conferences online for your consideration, comments, questions and criticism.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Looking up to God, King David cries out:

O LORD, our Lord,

How excellent is Your name in all the earth,

Who have set Your glory above the heavens! (Ps 8.1)

Commenting on this opening verse, St John Chrysostom say that by the Name of God, that is through Christ, "death was dissolved, demons imprisoned . . . heaven opened, the gates of Paradise thrown wide, the [Holy] Spirit sent down, slaves made free, enemies become sons [of God], strangers . . . , heirs [of the Heavenly Kingdom]" and most extraordinarily of all, human beings, you and me and all of us who are in Christ have "become angels."

With Chrysostom, you might ask, why does David speak of human beings as "angels"?

Angels, for St John, are not what our popular religious culture means by angels. Rather for him human beings have become angelic because as with the Cherubim and the Angelic Hosts we who are in Christ are no longer separated from God.

As we will celebrate in just a few days, God has become man, and so "man became God; heaven accepted . . . earth, earth accepted" heaven. The separation between God and humanity, the divisions within the human family, and in each human heart, all of these have been overcome. "The wall . . . removed, the partition dissolved." What once "were separated" the saint tells us, are now in Christ "united, darkness [has been] banished, light [shines and] death [is] swallowed up" by life.

Immediately after considering the majesty of God, King David turns inward, he looks at humanity, he looks at himself, his own life and his own experience with the eyes of faith and realizes that God silences "the enemy and the avenger" not only by granting life, but guiding the growth and development of that life:

Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants

You have ordained strength,

Because of Your enemies,

That You may silence the enemy and the avenger. (v. 2)


David for a second time turns his mind and heart to God and is overwhelmed by the beauty of creation, of the harmony of the cosmos. And then he pauses in his meditation, his reverie on the majesty of God, and returns for a second time to the human mystery, to his place, and ours, in the divine plan:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,

What is man that You are mindful of him,

And the son of man that You visit him?

For You have made him a little lower than the angels,

And You have crowned him with glory and honor.


You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet,

All sheep and oxen—

Even the beasts of the field,

The birds of the air,

And the fish of the sea

That pass through the paths of the seas. (vv. 3-8)


And just as it has twice before, the mystery of the human causes David to again turn back in praise and thanksgiving to God:

O LORD, our Lord,

How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (v. 9)


There is something extraordinary about humanity, about each and every one of you here this evening and indeed each and every human being who was, is, and will someday be.

As we will celebrate in a few days, our common humanity is something worthy of God Himself. Or, as I tell my own spiritual children, being human is so good even God wants to do it.

Think about that for a moment. The God we worship, the God we preach, doesn't simply know about us as our Creator. He knows about us as our Brother. God knows and values you not simply from outside and above, but from within and next to you.

All of this is part and parcel of the Gospel—that we, you and me, all of us, are loved by God. That's the primary truth of both our personal identity and the content of the Gospel, all of this is central to Good News about Jesus Christ that Church is called to preach.

My life, your life, is an extraordinary and awe inspiring gift.

And it is a gift that comes to each of us not simply from God, but also from our parents, even as their life came from their parents, and so on.

But this doesn't exhaust the mystery of the gift of our life. Because just as my life comes from God through my parents, and their parents, and in at least a small way through the whole family, my life also comes to me as part of the natural order—both animate and inanimate.

More tomorrow…