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Adoration of God: The First Commandment
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present meditation is on the first Commandment of the Decalogue and specifically on adoration of God. As we begin our reflections on the Decalogue we should first point out that the Decalogue is immense, it embraces, literally all the religious and moral responsibilities of the human race. Remember too that our focus is on the Ten Commandments and Sanctity. Consequently, we shall necessarily have to be selective not so much in what we meditate on but rather, in how much, how much attention we give in what is not just an ocean, but a universe of revealed truth. My hope is that nothing essential will be omitted, or, to coin a word, transmitted. There are certain duties of our lives as believing Christians aspiring after holiness that are paramount. In treating each commandment of the Decalogue, we will focus on those aspects of the Ten Commandments that are especially relevant in our own pursuit of sanctity.
Thus in beginning with the First Commandment, which is first not only chronologically or even just logically, but theologically, absolutely speaking we may say the First Commandment synthesizes all ten. And beginning then with the First Commandment we shall concentrate on three duties which this, primordial precept prescribes on the whole human race. And with particular urgency on us Christians, and even more particularly on us Catholic Christians, and with resounding emphasis on us Catholics in the modern world.
The three aspects are adoration, prayer, and sacrifice. Our present meditation is on the first of these three and our plan is to ask ourselves, what else, three questions. What is adoration? Why must we adore God? And then, how are we to adore our God?
What is Adoration?
Over the years, Ive convinced myself that the most important single element in the spiritual life is understanding our faith. No substitute. That is why we ask ourselves what is adoration? First, a generic definition. Adoration is the recognition with our minds of who God is and the response with our wills to this recognition. I think it is worth repeating. Adoration is the recognition with our minds of who God is and the response with our wills to this recognition.
Adoration is therefore first that our minds recognize who God is. Recognition is more than mere knowledge. Recognition is realized knowledge or if you wish, recognition is realization. Oh how much we can know and how little of what we know can we realize. What are we saying? Recognition is realization of who God is. I recognize who God is. He is real to me. What a pedestrian term on which everything, everything in our lives depends, everything depends on our knowing God because He is real to me. Recognizing God as realizing God means that He is no mere construct of my intellect or conclusion of my reason. He is a reality. And of course we always capitalize the non-reality when speaking of God. Indeed, He is the first and primary, and necessary reality, without whom and except for whom, nothing else would exist. There would be no other reality, including the one reality that we so, so ardently cherish and so deeply love. Forget it. This one reality is the one who if I realize (does?) what were doing with just one word, realize, reality, from the Latin word res, that which exists, whether I know theres a God, whether I believe theres a God, does not really matter. God exists. But notice. I realize not only that God is, I realize who God is. This is our principle task in life, to grow in our realization of who is God. Everything else, what a mild and cheap adjective, is secondary.
I not only know about God, I know God. Even as I use this human language and crawl along with my human vocabulary, I say to myself, in speaking of God, I am groping in darkness. Yet, adoration is founded on our realization of who is God. So, who is God? God is the necessary being. Nothing else, nothing else need exist, only God must exist. There could not have been, to coin an adverb, primordially nothing. There must have been being. Otherwise there would not be lowercase, beings, like who? Pardon me, like us. God is infinite being. Oh, how we can twirl the syllables, and the more mathematics we know the more we know all about infinity, nonsense. God is perfect being. He not only is intelligent. He not only is loving. He not only is powerful. God is love. God is wisdom. God is omnipotence. In a word, God is the Creator of all things that except for Him would not even exist. Except for God youd be the empty pews and I would be the empty chair.
But so far weve seen only the basis of adoration which we said is the recognition of who God is, which we then synonymize with realizing who God is. If there is one aspect of our faith where we can never really say all that we believe it is in speaking about God. But if the realization with our minds of who God is, is the foundation of adoration we are to act on that realization. In other words we are to respond with our wills to what our minds tell us is true. It is on this level that adoration is the most fundamental duty we have in life. Fundamental not only logically, but fundamental comprehensibly. Whatever else we do that is pleasing to God, whatever else we do that will gain us our eternal destiny, you name it, it is all, everything a form of adoration, everything, everything!
So then what is this duty referring to our wills? It is the duty to respond to what we believe. We believe with the mind. In fact we can say this is the main reason why we have a free will. Weve got to have a mind, otherwise the will would not know what to choose. But why do we have a will? We have a will most fundamentally that we might freely choose to so direct our lives that everything we think, everything we desire, everything we do is to be an expression of our adoration of God. We will talk of this at length when we deal with the Sixth and Ninth Commandments. One of my favorite definitions of chastity: chastity is the adoration of God with our bodies, the adoration of God with the reproductive powers of our body. But you better know, you better know, whom youre using this language to or for.
Why Must We Adore God?
We go on. Why must we adore God? There are two fundamental reasons why we must adore God. And theres no imperative in our language in any language where the word must is more binding or necessary than here. Whatever else we must do, and we have many obligations in life, the most elementary from one perspective, the most imperative from another perspective, is we must adore God. Our impression is why? Why must we adore God? We must adore God because He is the origin of our being from whom we came. Secondly, we must adore God because He is the purpose, He is the purpose of our being for whom we are made. There are no more two important prepositions in any language as the preposition from and for relating to God. Thats why we must adore God. First then, we must adore God because He is the origin of our existence. Therefore, we owe God the adoration of the total submission to His divine will. As St. Paul observes, can the clay possibly tell the potter what it is to do with the clay? We are the clay. What a mild word, we are total, utter, abysmal, dependent on God. He is our Lord. We are His servants. He is master, we must obey Him. And this is the primary stress of adoration in the Old Testament. If there is one thing that the Old Law brings out, with clear and unqualifying certitude, it is that either we obey God by submitting to His will or He will exercise His will against our will. And that is why in the Old Testament, theres one book after another telling us of how God responds to those who refuse to recognize him as their master and Lord. In one simple and declarative sentence, He causes them pain. Thats why, and not coincidentally, theres pain in the world, did you know that? Theres pain in the world. Whats pain? Whatever we dont like. Whats pain? Pain is what we dont like. Why pain? Because those human beings who have been created by God, and owe him total submission refuse to obey, you refuse to do my will? Youll find out, Im going to act contrary to your will. And thats no speculative statement. All the pain in the world, all of it, is the result of sin. And what is sin except for the refusal of a creature. My God, we exclaim, the refusal of a creature to submit to its creator. And the next time were tempted to complain about the sufferings of our lives, wake up. Wake up. Youll notice again in the Old Testament the stress is: know the adoration of God by submission to His divine will. And the quality of motive which again is featured in all the books of the Old Law the motive of fear. Understandably, afraid that if, and when, and insofar as we disobey God, well, he will be displeased, and will cause us, guess what, pain. So much for the first why.
Why must we adore God? Because He is our creator and Lord and has a divine right to our constant and total submission to His divine will. But we go on. We must adore God not only because we have come from Him, we must adore God because we have been made for Him. He is not only our origin. He is also our destiny. He made us, He is our creator, but he made us for Himself. Thats our purpose, the reason why God brought us out of nothing. God made us that we might be happy, possessing Him for all eternity. What should be our response on this level? Our response should be the growing desire to reach the goal capitalized in my notes, the goal of our existence to return to the God for whom we came. This as we all know is the predominant theme of the New Testament. Never for a moment did Christ remove the first primordial motive for adoring God, our fear of a just God who will punish those who refuse to submit their wills to His divine will.
And how slow we know, how tragically slow, even His own chosen people were, to realize that first, and fundamental level of adoration. What did Yahweh have to do? Generation after generation one exile after another one enemy of the chosen people after another, and oh, how profoundly providential, all anticipated and planned by God when God became man and was born of the Virgin Mary what was the condition of the Jewish people when Christ came? Talk about God planning. He made sure, they were, what word shall we use? I know what word the Jews used. They were slaves of the Romans and they hated it. And when the Messiah came, what did they do to him? How stupid can you be? They figured the Messiah would deliver them from the yoke of the pagan Romans. For most of the Jewish people as history tells us, they did not realize the Messiah came to free them indeed, but free them from the yoke of sin.
In the New Testament the adoration of God does not, it sure does not, exclude the adoration of submission of a created will to the will of the creator except for whom the creature would not even exist. It would not even have a free will to say yes or no to God. And Christ couldnt have been more explicit the only truth of our faith found in the Gospels more clearly, explicitly, and frequently after Christs own divinity is the punishment of eternal damnation. Let no one say, no one dare say, that Christ removed the first motive for adoring God as our creator and Lord to whom we owe total submission at the risk of punishment from the almighty. But God became man to provide us with a much, what word shall I use, much higher, more sublime motive for adoring God, namely, loving God. In other words, God who is love became man to teach us that we are to adore Him. Not only because we fear him, but notice. Not only, also of course, to fear God: but also, and we grow in sanctity in the measure in which we dont cease to fear God. But we grow in the love of God and do His will not because we are afraid of His consequences but because we love the one who tells us that we are to show our love for Him in return for His unspeakable love for us.
How Are We To Adore God?
We now ask ourselves how, how are we to adore God? In one sense the answer is obvious. Basically we are to adore God in the two ways in which he is adorable. We are to adore him as our creator and we are to adore Him as our destiny. But I wish to stress the how. As our creator and Lord we are to adore Him by our humility. It is not only, not only that we came from God, past tense. It is not only that everything we have has been received, past tense from God. Oh, no. We are constantly, and totally, and utterly dependent on God for everything, everything we are, everything we do, and everything we hope to be, and everything we hope to achieve. What then follows from this primary form of adoration? The adoration of humility. The logic is inexorable. We are doing Gods will in the measure that we submit our wills to His. If there is one thing over the years in teaching theology, never thought I was boring my students in repeating, in God there are two kinds of will. There is the necessary will which constitutes the Holy Trinity. But in God there is also, how this needs to be said, a free will. Change the accent. There is also i in God a free will. It was by the exercise of His freedom that He chose to create us, thanks Lord. Otherwise I wouldnt be around to even know that I exist. Because what does not exist cannot possibly know that it doesnt exist. God exercises His freedom. His freedom to bring us out of nothing into being. And has given us a free will in this fundamental reason. That recognizing who He is on whom everything we have, everything we hope to have, and everything we are and hope to be totally and utterly depends. In other words, it is sheerest sanity to adore God. And is insanity to not recognize that except for God we wouldnt exist and therefore should respond accordingly.
I must have said this to you more than once. I like to recall my three wonderful days in debating with a declared atheist at the University of Michigan. I remember what I told him in my opening lecture. Dr. Van Buren, Ive been waiting for years for this opportunity to find a really intelligent atheist who could defend his atheism. I sincerely hope you will not disappoint me. He did. He was an ignoramus who had accumulated a big vocabulary. He was an Anglo-Saxon dumb.
I repeat, we are adoring God by our humility in the measure in which we submit our wills. Everything else is ancillary and consequent on that. You can find a hundred definitions on humility. The most fundamental is this. Humility is the submission of the created will to the will of God. And God is by now we know, He is divinely ingenious. What shall we say? I dont want to say He is divinely imaginative in finding ways of providing us with, well dare I say, means of submitting our wills to His. And needless to say He generally uses human beings to provide us with the blessed opportunity of adoring His divine will by submitting to His will. Oh no. Oh yes! Through other creatures.
We are asking ourselves how, how are we to adore God. We are to adore Him as our destiny. In other words we are to admire him by our selfless, total, complete love. This is different from more than the adoration of humility. This is the adoration of charity. By our humility we surrender everything created to the Almighty will of God. By our charity we aspire to our union with God. That is why the Incarnation is such a great gift to the human race whereas weve been saying the Old Testament precept prescribed that we are to love God with our whole heart, our whole strength, with our whole soul. We now believed that God became man and therefore everything that we are to do, in adoring God by loving Him, we are now to apply to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. Thus we can, and indeed we must say that the New Testament commandment tells us that we shall love Jesus Christ with our whole heart, our whole soul with our whole strength and then Christ added with your whole mind. The saints understood what adoration means. Thats why they became saints. Adoration is the humble surrender of everything in my life to Jesus Christ, my God. To be governed uniquely by His divine will. What is adoration? Adoration is the loving surrender of myself, ah, of myself, to Jesus Christ. Same with the saints. Speaking to our Lord, give me only your love and your grace, and having these I am rich enough and I ask for nothing more. The adoration of love is not afraid of what God will do to those who disobey Him. The adoration of love, oh how this needs to be said, actually loves, loves to suffer. Because God became man to show us how much He loves us.
Lord Jesus, we believe you are our God. Enlighten our minds to realize that you are indeed our creator, that You are our destiny. But above all dear Jesus strengthen our weak selfish wills to give ourselves to You with all our heart, as You gave yourself to us, with your whole heart pierced for us on Calvary because You love us. Amen.
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