The Prism of Glory
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Acts 14:21-27; Ps 144; Rev 21:1-5; Jn 13:31-35
Today’s Gospel draws attention, five times, to the notion of ‘glory’ or, rather, being glorified. Jesus states that not only has God been glorified in him, but that God will also glorify him ‘in himself’ – and very soon. The notion of ‘glory’ or ‘being glorified’ is also mentioned in today’s Psalm and implied in the second reading, which refers to the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven. As it is not easy, however, to understand exactly what is meant by glory, I shall devote today’s brief homily to this theme of being glorified.
Some people think that glory is the same as honour, since the two often seem to go together. For example, an honoured athlete or a soldier may also be described as having a ‘moment of glory’ on the sports field or on the battlefield. Glory, however, seems to be more than just honour. In Scripture, glory is associated with clarity, with light and, in particular, with the vision of God. A natural image of glory, implied by many Scriptural texts, is that of sunlight shining through and behind a cloud, and the cloud itself glowing with golden colours. This cloud is not a ‘cloud of unknowing’, but of illumination that manifests the invisible sun, the sun that we cannot look at directly. Similarly, glory in Scripture is associated with a manifestation of what we cannot see directly, namely God and what is divine. The saints, for example, are described as being ‘glorified’ (Rom 8:30).
Christian glory, however, is remarkable in several ways. First, such glory is entirely relational. Beings in Scripture described as glorifying themselves tend to be evil (see, for example, Rev 18:7). By contrast, even Jesus Christ does not glorify himself, but glorifies God and is glorified by God: here the phrase ‘Son of Man’ underlines that it is the human nature of Jesus Christ being glorified by the Trinity. So if we are to achieve glory, this glory will be in relationship to God and not in isolation from God.
Second, Christian glory does not always appear as glory in the eyes of the world: indeed, what follows after Jesus’ prayer to be glorified is that he is crucified and then raised from the dead, but the world does not see this glory. All the world sees is dishonour, disgrace and the empty tomb. The world does not see God’s love on the cross, or indeed God Himself on the cross, because the world lacks the love of God, who is love. Similarly, the glory of the saints often involves disgrace and humiliation in the eyes of the world.
The third unusual aspect of Christian glory is that what is glorified by God itself has a glory – Jesus says that God will glorify him ‘in himself’. God does not treat the human nature of Jesus Christ simply as an empty container through which He passes, but that nature is itself glorified. One can think, perhaps, of the way in which an object placed in a bright light itself radiates light. Similarly, God wants to glorify his saints, not simply as conduits for Himself, like the slaves of a dictator, but as having their own proper glory.
Finally, what God glorifies is extraordinarily diverse. In the history of science, people were scandalised when Newton used a prism to split white light into the multiple colours of the rainbow, showing that the purity of white light is not uniformity but a rich diversity. Light, however, is an image of God and the light of glory is multi-coloured. One can see this diversity in the effects of the Gospel on the world. The Holy Spirit has produced, for example, very diverse religious orders – Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, Marists for instance. Christian civilisation has tended to generate diversity, not uniformity: one can cite, for example, the division of powers in Christian governments, the extraordinary cultural differences of Italian towns and the distinct cultures of those states of Europe established and shaped by Christianity. Indeed, this diversity has been a constant frustration those rationalist political theorists who promote mind-numbing uniformity. Above all, the saints are extraordinarily diverse: St Francis, St Therese, St Thomas Aquinas and St Catherine of Siena, for example, are all very different from one another, yet they are all saints. The light of glory is multi-coloured.
How, then, can we achieve glory – the true glory that God wishes us to have? Like so many questions in the Christian life, the answer is simple but rarely put into practice. First, we need to come into the light to radiate light – in other words we need to pray regularly and make use of the sacraments. Second, we must do only what is pleasing to our heavenly Father – surrender to His grace and avoid sin. If we were to do just these things consistently, we would all become saints – each one of us with our own particular perfection and glory.
May God help us to surrender to his grace and attain, one day, that particular glory which He desires for us.
© Fr Andrew Pinsent. Academic Web Site.