Spirituality of the Readings

A Copernican Revolution

Listen to this consoling sentence from Sunday’s First Reading.

You who fear my name, 
            for you there will arise
                      the sun of justice
                               with its healing rays.
Justice. Healing rays! We have wanted this for a long time now!

But what about the fear part? A lot of people have fear. Scripture is not talking about the kind of scare we get in horror films. Not that strange noise when you are alone in the house. Fear of God is instead a reasonable, settled matter, an awe before what is very much bigger than us. It uses the older meaning, a reverential wonder toward the creator.

This kind of “fear” is crucial for us. Only when we have it can we be ready to begin relating to God, to start maturing in our relation with the Most High. Only then do we begin to suspect what it really means to say that God is Love.

That suspicion is a sane one, but it requires a continuing revolution in our lives, like the one Copernicus caused. Remember? He showed us that the sun does not revolve around the earth but that the earth revolves around the sun.

Spiritually, most of us are pre-Copernican. We think God’s job is to circle around us, as if we small asteroids were the center of the universe. We declare that God is just someone to assist us, to answer our prayers, to make us peaceful, to make our side win the ball game, and so on.

Nothing is really wrong with any of these.

Yet we stand in terrible need of a Copernican revolution. God does not exist to serve me. Just the opposite. God is center of the universe! God quietly maintains all that is: stars, galaxies, lands, oceans, cities, humans hearts, butterfly wings, and so on. We owe reverence to God.
It takes a spiritual transformation to think in this way. What would happen if you or I tried it?

First, we would be living in truth instead of pretense. What truth? That human beings are created to welcome this true God within them, the source and goal of who they are. This instead of the latest fad. If God is greatest, why would we make something else the center of our life?

Second, the “sun of justice with its healing rays” would shine upon us. God’s love would appear to us in truth instead of as just a bauble to play with, or as way to find a parking place. We would begin to see God as the gentle source of life and the affectionate mother of the entire universe.

Third, Advent is coming very soon. We will be preparing to receive a tender invitation, shown forth in a child. In pre-Advent (now) we are receiving God’s grandeur in a awe filled and fear-invoking stage …

… in order that we will be humble enough to prepare for the baby.

Humble enough. Humility is why the First Reading and the Gospel thunder on about the day of reckoning when “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” etc. Such readings should indeed bring forth awe and fear, showing us who is at the center of the universe …

… waiting for us to climb down from our thrones.


John Foley, SJ

* The poem fragment comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” stanza 8. “Men” in that day meant all persons.

Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.


**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson