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Fr. Glenn: The Question

on October 6, 2019 - 9:16am

By Fr. Glenn Jones

If there was [absolutely] nothing, whence came anything at all? If nothing existed, whence came existence? If all things have a source, from what does the first thing come?

Ooooo … the paradoxical question that at some time occupies musing minds of all. In fact, one of the great questions driving science itself. Even ancient philosophers like Plato and the pre-Socratics considered that question, formulating rudimentary ideas of atoms and “prime matter”—unformed “stuff” (by analogy think of modeling clay) which composed materiality. 

Big bangs, multiverses, and who knows what the most recent theory of such things. But … will we ever really know … scientifically, that is. Or … will there always be another layer of the onion of discovery to be peeled away? It seems that way with quantum physics—always decreasingly-sized particles composing the larger. So … is each of those particles itself a little universe of particles in its own right, with even tinier particles, energies and states simply too minute and/or ephemeral to be discerned by ham-fisted humanity?

Regrettably, most of us are too occupied by daily life to keep up on many scientific discoveries, as fascinating as they are. Such rapidly become a specialization in physics/mathematics in which the common man/woman quickly finds beyond casual investigation.  But the “source” question dogs the inquisitive mind nonetheless:  If once there was [absolutely] nothing, whence came anything?  Does that not necessitate a being which has existence in itself, and thus is the source of all other things that exist?

Well, obviously, the Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, and likely virtually every religion, would answer in the affirmative: that self-existent, necessary being and source of all other being is God.

I was pondering this anew when reviewing scriptural readings for Mass this weekend, one in which Jesus seems almost harsh: “Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’?  Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you.  When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
(Luke 17:7-10)

Prior to that reading we read St. Paul to Timothy, an early church leader: “…the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands…” … referring to the gift of ordination, which we Catholics hold made Timothy the bishop of his local Church. That “imposition” or “laying on” of hands for ordination of bishops, priests and deacons continues to our own day, and lays upon the ordained—as baptism lays upon all who accept it—both gift and obligation. Like in the Jesus’ parable of the talents given to invest (Matthew 25)—those receiving the gift  are servants who will be called to account for how they invested that which was entrusted to them, much as St. Paul says about his own mission: “…if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me…I am entrusted with a commission…” (1Corinthians 9:16-17) Entrusted with an obligation. A duty.

This dovetails quite nicely with our previous pondering of creation. As God is the source of existence—including our own—we are truly servants of the Lord, bound by that very existence to God’s service, and which—in accord with His Word and His will/desire—directs us to observance of His commandments of love and charity.

Such service is not oppression or indignity, but rather a real joy for us … a true honor … for in it we serve the Almighty God and so rejoice in the privilege given us. The believer knows that he is enlisted into the greatest of enterprises: the honor of participating (albeit in a small but significant way) in the upbuilding of the kingdom of God—an undeserved honor presented by  His magnanimity and love.

However, regardless of His being our creator, some think that God “owes” them something. But take away what God has made, and there is literally … nothing. No thing. No existence whatever. Or, rather, nothing other than God, who IS existence … the one self-existent and necessary-for-all-else-to-exist Being. And so again we remember St. Paul: “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Not having the immediate answer to all the questions arising in life is a source of perplexity and consternation. But Christians find comfort in words of God to Job, who while protesting sufferings he didn’t understand, heard God say: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) … implying those words of Isaiah: “…as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) 

Can the house know more than its builder, or the painting more than its artist? The most brilliant, strongest, most capable ant is still an ant … still incapable of exceeding the ability of ants. And so why believe we can we know better than God—for as we hear in Psalm 139: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13-14) And yet … in the house, in the painting, is an “imprint” of the maker, just as we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26)—most of all in our ability to love, for God IS love (1 John 4:8); thus, the more we love, the more we resemble God. 

Yes, Jesus says today: “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’” … and yet, even though given all that we have and are, and thus God “owes” us nothing whatever, Jesus nonetheless promises elsewhere: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them.” (Luke 12:37) And could there be anything more comforting … could there be anything more thrilling … than to hear from His throne on the great day: “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matthew 25:21)

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.


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