POUR LA GLOIRE DE DIEU ET LE SALUT DU MONDE – Sunday before Lent 2012

 

Those of you who are familiar with the Roman Rite will know that after the offertory the priest says “Pray brethren that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father”, to which follows a long response beginning “May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands…” and tailing off into a gabble. In France they solved this problem by substituting a shorter response: “Pour la gloire de Dieu et le salut du monde” – “For the glory of God and the salvation of the world”. What a brilliant summary of what the Church and the Christian are aiming for, whether in offering the Eucharist or anything else. We seek the glory of God and the salvation of the world. Just imagine if every one of my thoughts and words and actions was done to give glory to God – all of them filled with the sort of goodness and generosity and wisdom that Jesus had, all of them as healing and forgiving and life-enhancing as he was. God has shone in our hearts to give the gospel of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, says St Paul; what good news for the world if every one of us reflected that glory. This is what we are called to: the vision of the transfigured Jesus is our goal. Just as he was completely transparent to God’s glory, every thought and will and desire conformed to God’s will and desire, every word and action so full of God’s compassion and holiness that here in Jesus is the kingdom – our goal. “Changed from glory into glory”.

If achievement is the measure of the sincerity of a goal, then all Christians must be hypocrites. When the ideal is so lofty, then one cannot but fail. But aim high we must. Partly because a lowered target inevitably lowers results; but more importantly, because in this there are no half-measures. Either our goal is to give God the glory, or it isn’t. You can never give God just some of the glory; you can never aim just for a partial holiness – for that is not to seek holiness or give glory at all. Our achievement may – will – be incomplete, as long as we are in this mortal life; but our goal and intention should be perfect.

It is perhaps worth saying that each of us lives out this ideal in the particular circumstances in which God has placed us. We seek the salvation of the world according to our opportunities and powers. Who is to say which is more useful to God, the statesmen who deal in power among nations, or the factory workers on minimum wage? The intellectuals and scientists, or the illiterate peasants? Any of them can live and work “For the glory of God and the salvation of the world”. Any of us can, by God’s grace.

 

The gospel story of the Transfiguration is linked to two other gospel stories. On the one hand, it harks back a few weeks to the Baptism: that same voice from heaven, “This is my Beloved Son”. On the other hand, it points forward to Holy Week, to that scene on the garden of Gethsemane when Peter, James and John will be taken aside again, to witness Jesus’ acceptance of God’s will and the cross. The Baptism was all about humility. The Holy One who had no need of cleansing, fully open to God’s glory, reveals that perfection in humbling himself with his brothers and sisters. And the immediate result of the Baptism is the Spirit-driven retreat into the wilderness, to make choices and to struggle with Satan. The Garden of Gethsemane is about the cost of seeking God’s glory, the inescapability of self-offering, of sacrifice. It continues the struggle with Satan in another mode. Humility and sacrifice – the way to transfiguration.

An indispensible aid to humility is prayer. The very act of turning to God to ask his help, to acknowledge our inadequacy and need, leads us into humility. It is not necessarily humiliation – we approach God in faith and love and with the confidence of beloved children – but it does tend towards making us humble, and thus more transparent to God’s glory. How can we seek God’s glory if we are constantly filling all our thoughts?

The Eucharist is important here, because it is full of God’s glory. The solemn rehearsal of God’s love for us and what he has done for us, the remembering of Jesus’ humility in entering our world and his sacrifice in accepting our death, the receiving of the fruits of that humility and self-offering: what we seek here is transfiguration. To be made like Jesus in his life and death and resurrection. To be conformed to God’s will, to show forth his glory, so that through us, through me, through you, God’s kingdom may come.

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