God's Election and Human Choice

(Homily for Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Bottom line: God's election does not eliminate human freedom. Our choices, however small they might appear, have eternal consequences.

In today's Gospel Jesus speaks about a day when he (the Son of Man) will "gather his elect from the four winds," the four corners of the earth. These elect are the ones the prophet Daniel referred to: "everyone found written in the book." From these and other verses in the Bible, you get the idea that our salvation is a foregone conclusion - that God already knows who will be saved. At the same time, Jesus calls for a personal decision. He tells us, for example, to "learn a lesson from the fig tree." He is not talking about the kind of lesson you have to learn to pass an exam. This lesson prepares us for something much more important: coming crisis. Jesus wants us to make sure we are on the right side. In other words, we will soon have to make a decision.

Divine election and human choice. Christian thinkers have always had a hard time bringing together those two ideas: God's election and human choice, predestination and free will. There is an amusing story which illustrates the dilemma:

Once some theologians were discussing predestination and free will. The argument got heated and they split into two factions: one side said God had already determined our salvation and the other that we must each make a choice. One man, however, could not make up his mind which group he belonged to.

Finally he decided to join the predestination group. But when he tried to sit down with them, they asked him, "Who sent you here?"

"Nobody sent me," he replied. "I came of my own free will."

"Free will!" they shouted. "You don't belong with us. You belong with the other group."

So he meekly walked across the room and asked the others if he could join them. "When did you decide to join us?" they asked him.

"Actually," he said, "I didn't decide. I was sent here."

Of course the free will people were horrified. "Sent here! You can't join us unless you choose to by your own free will."

Well, I think you can see the dilemma. Actually there is one group which the man can join: the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is a bit like the guy who couldn't decide whether to have an apple or walnuts for desert - so he made a salad with both. As Catholics we believe in both divine election and human choice. The Catechism teaches that "no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification." In the order of grace, "the initiative belongs to God." (#2010) At the same time the Catechism teaches that the grace of Christ is a not "rival" to human freedom. (#1742) On the contrary, his grace makes possible genuine inner freedom. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Jn 8:36

We can be confident that, because of baptism, we are part of the elect. Still, you and I must make a choice. Everything depends upon it. Daniel says that "some shall live forever," but "others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace." It is hard for us to imagine that so much depends upon our choice. A few years back Princess Anne of England visited the Smithsonian Museum. As part of her tour, Astronaut Neil Armstrong showed her a space suit used for the moon landing. She touched the material and then asked if there was danger of a rip. Armstrong calmly replied, "The difference between life and death is about a hundredth inch of rubber." Small things can have enormous consequences. So it is with the choices you and I make each day. They might appear small, but deep down we know they are not trivial: they involve the difference between life and death of ones soul. Every moral choice molds a person's character, their inmost being.

The choices that you make today are serious. You know, it is so easy for us to fall into the "Seinfeld Syndrome." When someone asked Jerry Seinfeld what his television show was about, he said, "nothing in particular." We can start thinking our lives are about nothing in particular. What a lie! Daniel tells us the truth. One day you and I will either "shine brightly" or become an "everlasting horror." It depends on the choice we make today.

At any moment you and I can turn toward God - or turn away from him. That state of flux will not last forever. Jesus warns us there will come a final day, a final moment. Early Christian writers compared our present life to the moist clay on a potters wheel. While still wet and pliable, the potter can form the clay into almost any shape. But when he places the clay in the fire, it retains that shape forever. The fire is death. At the moment of death we will either humbly face God or self-righteously turn away from him - forever. The choice is stark. But we are not completely alone. Jesus wishes to help us. He gives us his word - and his grace through the sacraments. More than we desire it ourselves, he wants us to be part of his elect.


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From Archives (Homilies for 33rd Sunday, Year B):

2012: The Last Things
2009: Like the Stars
2006: God's Election and Human Choice
2003: Purpose Driven
2000: The Final Recount

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Stewardship & Thanksgiving; Bishops: Receiving Christ Worthily in Eucharist, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination)


Fr. Richard John Neuhaus takes on the conventional wisdom:

If a Ted Haggard is by every indicator a good husband and father of his children, and also a preacher who teaches that homosexuality is morally disordered, but occasionally falls into sin and consorts with a male homosexual, it is obvious to such advocates that he is not a good husband and father but is gay. And a hypocrite to boot.

And Mark Shea comments on our tendency is to regard sin as the reality and virtue as the mask

Spiritual Pilgrimage with Pope Benedict XVI (Nov. 28 - Dec. 1 trip to Turkey)

CourageMan comments on U.S. Bishops' Document on Ministry to Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination (Guidelines for Pastoral Care):

It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered. Nor does it mean that one has been rejected by God or the Church. Sometimes the Church is misinterpreted or misrepresented as teaching that persons with homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered, as if everything about them were disordered or rendered morally defective by this inclination.

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(November 2009)

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Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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