Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Do We Owe God Anything?

As stated above (FS, Question [68], Article [1]; FS, Question [69], Articles [1],3), the gifts of the Holy Ghost are habitual dispositions of the soul, rendering it amenable to the motion of the Holy Ghost. Now the Holy Ghost moves us to this effect among others, of having a filial affection towards God, according to Rm. 8:15, "You have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father)." And since it belongs properly to piety to pay duty and worship to one's father, it follows that piety, whereby, at the Holy Ghost's instigation, we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, is a gift of the Holy Ghost.
St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.II.121.1

Reflection – Ah, piety – the despised gift! Well, maybe that’s putting it a bit strongly. But we all know that the word ‘piety’ is a word that has fallen on hard times. We think of a pious person as someone very prim and proper, hands held ‘just so’ in prayer, head bowed at precisely the right angle, kneeling in just the right posture at a prie dieu , rosary beads draped artistically from his hands, a devout, slightly simpering, expression on his face.

Yuck, we think! Who wants to be like that? It all seems so mannered, so artificial, so posed. And then the pious person will be full of frowns and disapproval at conversations that even broach on irreverence, bringing a sort of pinched, fussy sensibility wherever they go.

Well, maybe that’s not what the word ‘piety’ connotes to you, but it does to many people, even here in Madonna House where we really should (and do) know better. The word has fallen into disrepute, even in… well, pious circles.

Piety is too often conflated with pietism, the vice that turns the genuine article into a showy artifice. But piety is really something very simple. It is to love God as our Father, and to render to Him, in a spirit of justice, that which is His due as our Father.
Piety is the perfection of justice. Now the virtue of justice is to render what is due to a person. Since God is the Person of all persons, justice is most fully engaged when we render unto God what is due to God. And what is due to God?

Well, let’s see. He made us, when He didn’t have to, out of love. He sent His Son Jesus to die for us, when we had made a mess of things and were in mortal peril. He sent His Spirit upon us to give us life and make it possible for us to love as Christ loves. He continually and constantly pours His grace upon humanity to comfort, lift up, heal, strengthen, teach, rescue. If we live in such a way as to be open to receive these gifts, when we die He will bear our soul across the mysterious threshold of death into the eternal kingdom of life, light, and joy. That is what God has given us, not in justice, but in total mercy and love.

So what do we owe Him? This is important to get clear on. So many people today have a strong sense of justice towards neighbor, but have very little if any sense of justice towards God. Because God does not ‘need’ our justice, as He does not ‘need’ anything at all from us, we can easily feel that we have no obligations towards God. So… go to church on Sunday or not, pray or not—who cares? God doesn’t need your prayers, so why bother? We can all too easily frame the whole moral life completely ignoring God, and hence any religious obligations or practices.

We bother because to live justly is not primarily for the other person, but for ourselves, The virtue of justice is a question of our own living in integrity and in truth. Justice towards God, which is the virtue of piety, is a question not of what God needs, but of our living in the truth of who God is, what God has done for us, and what our properly ordered relationship to God is.

That is the virtue of piety, by which our reason understands all these things and hence we can wrestle our lazy butts out of bed on Sunday morning to get to Mass. But the gift of piety is that by which we actually begin to love God with the love of the Trinity. The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Spirit is the communion of Love between Father and Son. By the Spirit’s gift of piety, we actually become part of this exchange of love, not simply grudgingly dragging ourselves to our pious devotions and religious duties, but wanting to do them, because we love God so much.

And of course, as this love grows in us, it extends far beyond the reaches of liturgical life and private devotional practice. Our whole life is meant to be lived as children of our Father in heaven, and every action we take is meant to be informed by the love of God in our hearts by the Spirit’s gift of piety. So, with that, if you don’t mind, it’s time for me to head over to the chapel for Morning Prayer – my pious duty of the moment! Talk to you again tomorrow.

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