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Chapter 19: Fulfillment in Jesus and Human Fulfillment

Question G: How does the human contribution to the fullness of Jesus constitute a gift to God?

1. We saw in question A that God creates for his own glory, but not as if by creating he acquired something for himself. Creatures cannot give God anything not already his; it is impossible to enrich him from whom all goods come (see Acts 17.25; Jas 1.17). Still, human goods can in some sense be shared with the divine persons, so that the communal life of heaven involves a certain mutuality. The possibility of this sharing can be understood by considering the idea of sacrifice.

2. Sacrifice is central to all religion. The very notion of sacrifice involves a gift offered to God (see S.t., 2–2, q. 85, a. 3, ad 2; 3, q. 48, a. 3).20 To the one who offers sacrifice it is important that God accept the gift. While the Old Testament sets forth an elaborate ritual of sacrifice, the prophets criticized allowing mere ritual to displace love, faithfulness, and good works (see Jer 7.21–23; Hos 6.6). By contrast, willing obedience and a contrite spirit are gifts which God will not reject (see Ps 40.7–9; 51.19).

3. In forming the new covenant, Jesus, by virtue of his obedience, “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5.2). In particular, the concept of sacrifice is implicit in Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, and the Church definitively teaches that in the Mass a real sacrifice is offered to God (see DS 1751/948). But, as the very prayers of the rite make clear, Catholics who participate in the Mass offer Jesus’ sacrifice with him, joining with it the offering of their own lives (see SC 48). Furthermore, the theme of praise and thanks runs throughout the Bible and Christian liturgy; these are due to God for his goodness and greatness, and they are true gifts to him. Indeed, Christian life itself is a living, spiritual sacrifice (see Rom 12.1; 1 Pt 2.5). Thus, human goods, immanent in a Christian life, can be given to God.

4. From one point of view, giving human goods to God can be understood as putting them at the service of all that God intends in creating. Obedient service fulfills the Father’s providential plan, builds up Jesus’ body toward ultimate fulfillment, and cooperates with the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work. The lives of Christians contribute to the fulfillment of the mission the Father gave Jesus, and in the accomplishment of this mission, he “delivers the kingdom to God the Father” (1 Cor 15.24); not that Jesus’ reign will end (see 2 Pt 1.11; and the Credo, DS 150/86), but that his mission will in all respects be complete.

5. From another, deeper point of view, we must believe that, when we wish to do God’s will and please him, our efforts are received by him with satisfaction, and we somehow return good to the Lord for the good he has given us. According to St. John of the Cross, the bride and the Bridegroom—the soul and the Son of God—show each other their riches “in order to celebrate the feast of this espousal, and they mutually communicate their goods and delights with a wine of savory love in the Holy Spirit.”21

While it is wrong to suppose that God needs anything or that we can in any way enrich him, it is also wrong to imagine that God cannot be given anything by us, if this supposition is based upon characteristics which make human beings unreceptive to gifts. Whatever the assumed characteristics might be, they cannot be attributed to God in the same sense as to anyone else. For example, God is not like the person who has everything, for whom it is impossible to find a suitable present. Nor is he like the person who is so important that any gift we offer will never reach him.

The situation of the child who gives to a parent, while only an analogy, throws some light on this matter. The child has nothing of its own. But a child can take something which its parents allow it to use and bring this as an offering. The child’s gift somehow expresses what is the child’s own: a loving and obedient heart. In sharing human goods with the divine persons, we give them what is theirs with a heart which also belongs to them and with love they first give us. Nevertheless, the free giving itself is truly ours; we can withhold it, and our choice not to withhold this gift pleases our heavenly Father.

20. See Mariasusai Dhavamony, Phenomenology of Religion (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1973), 195–211; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 2, Religious Institutions (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 447–56. For a simple and yet profound catechesis on the concept of sacrifice in relation to the Eucharist, see Clifford Howell, S.J., Of Sacraments and Sacrifice (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1952), 81–123.

21. St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964), 527.