God’s three-step program: Vocation, justification, glorification

Father John A. Kiley

My years at Our Lady of Providence Seminary at Warwick Neck were privileged by having fine organists to offer majestic praise to God and to support the student choir. Father Ronald Brassard, recently retired from St. Mark Church in Jamestown, manned the keyboard in my final year and continued to be quite involved in liturgical and musical events during his priesthood. Joe Gama was one of the organists during my college years and has continued to provide organ accompaniment for a number of R.I. churches. Father Thomas Trepanier, another Woonsocket native and an accomplished musician from his youth, accompanied the choir as a student and then later as a priest put his talent to work offering classical concerts raising funds for Holy Name School in Providence. Enrico Garzilli was the organist my first year at Warwick Neck and has since attained international fame as a musician and playwright. His musical composition, Romans VIII, is included in the official Roman Breviary, the clerical prayer book used throughout the English speaking world. Quite an honor!

Romans VIII celebrates in music a few profound words from the eighth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the early church at Rome. These same phrases happily form the second reading at Mass this coming Sunday. St. Paul writes: Brothers and sisters, we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified (Rom.8:28-30). Enrico Garzilli’s work is of course copyrighted, but his text follows pretty closely St. Paul’s original phrases.

The opening line of this Scriptural passage is sometimes subjected to a very mild controversy. Some translations from the original Greek read: “For to those who love God, all things work together unto good.” Other translations read: “For those who love, God works all things together unto good.” St. Paul did not have the advantage of punctuation marks so a bit of confusion has crept in over the centuries. Must mankind love God explicitly (“those who love God”) in order to be saved or is love expressed generically (“those who love”) sufficient to win God’s favor? In a world plagued by terrorism, injustice, ignorance, and self-indulgence, it is refreshing to argue over which is more important – the height of a person’s love (love of God) or the breadth of a person’s love (love of neighbor). The chances are very good that a truly God-centered love will spill over into fraternal love and a genuine fraternal love will more and more see the need for Divine love. So with either option, a happy result should follow. Indeed all things should “work together unto good.”

The second part of this reading from Romans can be just a bit disconcerting. St. Paul twice refers to the ominous and mysterious notion of predestination. “…those he foreknew he predestined…” and “…those he predestined he also called…” The word predestination is wisely not found in Garzilli’s text. Predestination fosters the daunting perception that God’s creation consists of haves and have-nots, with the distinction remaining entirely outside a believer’s hands. Calvinistic Protestants were driven to distraction trying to discern whether or not they were among the elect. Jansenistic Catholics experienced near despair fretting about their eternal destiny.

Predestination sadly evokes the image of an arbitrary and capricious God who helter-skelter saves or damns hapless human beings. But predestination, seldom explained and rarely grasped, is actually a celebration of God’s Providence. Predestination is God wisely planning ahead to bring his work of creation to completion through Christ. God the Father planned from all eternity (that is, he predestined) to create mankind and he further planned that mankind should eventually be conformed to the image of his Son. Not man’s damnation but Christ’s glorification is the true focus of predestination. Christ was to be the firstborn of many believers. All men and women are called specifically to be other Christs. God’s Providence offers the human race through Christ a three-step program: vocation, justification, and glorification. All persons are called to be other Christs (vocation). Those who freely accept the call and follow God’s plan will be made worthy (justification). Those who persevere to the end and accept God’s eternal destiny for them will be saved (glorification). Predestination is God’s enduring plan to ensure that all things will indeed work out for humanity’s good and for Christ’s glorification.