We might be surprised is our efforts in seeking God or doing things for God entails struggles. Everything that is valuable, whether it be any type of work, study, art, music or athletics, takes dedication. This dedication involves setting other things aside and giving our best efforts to whatever we pursue.
It should not discourage us if our commitment to Christ entails struggles. St. Thomas Aquinas counsels: “It is necessary for us to suffer in order to be glorified, and we should not reject sufferings, if we would have glory” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, 653).
Jesus Himself is the best example of one whose struggles brought Him to glory. St. Paul speaks of his struggles, any of which might seem to be too much for most of us:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (2 Cor 11:23-27).
God encouraged St. Paul by giving him a glimpse of the future: “And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Cor 12:3-4) (Commentary on Romans, 653).
Artists, musicians, scholars and athletes keep going through hope in what they are accomplishing even while others dismiss it. An old proverb says, “Never show a fool a half-finished work.” Others might discourage them but their conviction helps them keep going.
Paul is convinced that there is no comparison between present difficulties and what God will bring about in the future: “…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).
Paul speaks of “the glory that will be revealed.” St. Thomas Aquinas affirms: “For the saints have glory now, but it is hidden in their conscience: ‘Our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience’ (2 Cor 1:12). But later that glory will be revealed in the sight of all, both good and bad, about whom it is said: ‘They will be amazed at the unexpected salvation’ (Wis 5:2)” (Commentary on Romans, 654).
St. Paul refers to “the glory … in us.” Thomas Aquinas points out that most people settle for glory that comes through wealth or the praise of other people but the glory God gives is more lasting because it is interior: “But that glory will be based on something within a man, as it says in Luke: ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ (Lk 17:21)” (Commentary on Romans, 654).
We may be correct that bearing our struggles by our own selves may be too much but those who seek God or seek to do things for God are given strength and love from the Holy Spirit, as Thomas explains:
“The sufferings of this life, if they are considered in themselves, are slight in comparison of this glory… But if these sufferings are considered insofar as they are voluntarily endured for God out of love, which the Holy Spirit produces in us, then man properly merits eternal life through them. For the Holy Spirit is a fountain whose waters, i.e., effects, well up to eternal life (Jn 4:14) (Commentary on Romans, 655).
The revelation is that we are God’s children, as the First Letter of John declares: “We are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be” (1 Jn 3:2).
Thomas Aquinas reflects: “Future glory exceeds present sufferings… For the dignity of divine sonship is hidden in the saints on account of the things they suffer outwardly; but that dignity will be revealed later, when they receive immortal and glorious life… ‘Behold how they have been numbered among the sons of God’ (Wis 5:5) (Commentary on Romans, 657).
“Future glory” is the transformation that Jesus brings us. Many people believe in Jesus but don’t appreciate the eventual transformation He gives us.
Paul speaks of an expectation of this revelation, “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19). Thomas describes this “expectation” as an “intense eager longing.”
But how does “creation” expect this longing. Thomas proposes that there is a sense in which those, who are God’ creatures in a special way, that is, “those who continue in the good in which they were created” wait for this revelation.
Thomas indicates that good people are more connected with creation, “every creature somehow serves them” (Commentary on Romans, 658).”
The Letter of James promises: “Of His own will He brought us forth by His word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures’ (Jas 1:18).
Good people wait for the coming of God, as the Letter to Titus speaks of: “awaiting the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God (Titus 2:23).
Thomas also considers that the recreation may take place within human nature itself, which is “the subject of the goods of grace.” Those who are unrighteous have the need for God’s action in their lives. Even those who already seek God know that they are only “partially formed now with grace” and wait for God’s “grace received into our nature” to complete what He has begun. Thomas compares this with the way the body needs the soul or “colors wait for the completed picture…” (Commentary on Romans, 659).
In some way, the transformation that takes place within humans affects creation itself.
The Book of Wisdom states that created things reflect the Creator: “… from the goodness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator’ (Wis 13:5).
According to Thomas, every created thing “has its origin in God, is ordered to some end… inasmuch as God endows his creation with a natural form and powers that incline it to some natural end. Thus we might say that a tree waits for its fruit to be produced … ” (Commentary on Romans, 660).
Yet, in some way, not only humans will be transformed but all created things will be affected and changed, as Thomas explains:
“Creation is ordained by God to an end which transcends it natural form. For just as the human body will be clothed with the form of supernatural glory, so all creation in that glory of the children of God will itself obtain a new glory: [the Book of Revelation announces] ’I saw a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev 21:1). In this way sensible creation ‘waits for the revelation of the glory of the sons of God’ (Commentary on Romans, 660).
Paul states: “For creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:20-21).
What is the “slavery to corruption” to which creatures are subject? St. Thomas observes: “bodily things are changeable and inclined to fail.” Thomas notes: “Changeableness, such as aging and ceasing to be and the like, are contrary to the particular nature of this or that thing which seeks self-preservation.”
At the same time, there is “hope.” Thomas affirms ““For its waiting or hope is not in vain, “because the creature itself will be delivered from the servitude of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.”
Paul indicates that all creation is affected by the renewal that takes place among the children of God. Yet, all creation is subject to change, as Thomas points out: “Creation will be delivered from the servitude of corruption, i.e. changeableness, because in every change there is an element of decay …”
As those who put their hope in God are renewed and freed from corruption, so will their environment be renewed: “This will contribute to the liberty of the glory of the sons of God because just as they will be renewed, so will their dwelling places be renewed, “I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things will not be remembered, i.e. the former changeableness of the creature’ (Isa 65:17)” (Commentary on Romans, 668).
Paul says that “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now…” (Rom 8:22). How can creation groan? Thomas remarks that we groan at something repugnant. Creation “groans” at what is “contrary to the natural desire of a particular nature, its own corruption.
The current emphasis on care for the earth might give explore the connection that Paul makes between the renewal of humans and the renewal of creation.
Human nature shares something with every part of creation. Humans have a spiritual aspect as do angels. Humans have a bodily aspect as do animals: “The human creature ‘groans’ partly because of the evils it suffers and partly because of the good things it hopes for, which are delayed… ‘It ‘travails’ because it endures with affliction of soul the postponement of the glory it hopes for” (Commentary on Romans, 673).
Our groaning continues through life, as we yearn for the transformation that God brings: “This groaning was not removed when we were made righteous, but it remains ‘even till now,’ until death” (Commentary on Romans, 674).
Paul declares: “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves, as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23).
Thomas understands the “we ourselves” to mean the apostles, who had the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, “… because the apostles had the Holy Spirit before others and more abundantly… they have the Holy Spirit more fully” ” (Commentary on Romans, 676).
It is important to note that Thomas considers the reason why the apostles are greater than other saints: “The apostles are greater than all other saints no matter what their credentials, whether virginity or learning or martyrdom, because they have the Holy Spirit more fully” (Commentary on Romans, 676).
Love is the most important virtue, as Thomas explains:
“The amount of one’s merit depends principally, and in respect to essential reward on charity. For the essential reward consists in the joy one has in God. But it is plain that one who loves God will enjoy Him more. The Lord promises that blessed vision to those who love: ‘He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him and manifest Myself to Him’ ” (Commentary on Romans, 677).
God Himself gives charity/love: “Our charity is not derived from ourselves but from God’s grace, which is given ‘according to the measure of Christ’s gifts’ (Eph 4:7). God gives to each the grace proportionate to his/her calling” (Commentary on Romans, 678).
Christ, in His human nature, had the greatest grace: “The most excellent grace was given to Christ, because He was called to have His human nature taken into the unity of His divine person” (Commentary on Romans, 678).
Thomas considers that, after Christ, Mary had the greatest grace because of her close relationship with Him: “After Him, the greatest fullness of grace was conferred on blessed Mary, who was called to be the mother of Christ” (Commentary on Romans, 678).
The apostles were given the greatest graces after Jesus and Mary because “They received from Christ Himself the things that pertain to salvation and the commission to deliver them to others. Hence, the church is in a sense founded on them, ‘The walls of the city had twelve foundations and on them the twelve names of the apostles of the Lamb (Rev 21:14); ‘God indeed has set some in His church; first apostles’ (1 Cor 12:28). Therefore, God gave them a greater abundance of grace than the rest.”
Paul states: “We groan within ourselves” (Rom 8:23). Thomas comments: “This groaning indicates the distress caused by the postponement of something desired with great longing… This groaning is more internal than external, because it proceeds from the hidden feelings of the heart and because it is concerned with internal goods” (Commentary on Romans, 679).
Paul asserts that we are “waiting for the adoption of the sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23).
Thomas explains that we are waiting “for the completion of this adoption. For this adoption was begun by the Holy Spirit justifying the soul, ‘you have received the spirit of adoption of sons’ (Rom 8:150. But it will be brought to fulfillment when the body is glorified: ‘We rejoice in the hope of sharing the glory of the children of God (Rom 5:2). And that is why he adds, ‘the redemption of our body,’ so that as our spirit has been redeemed from sin, so our body might be redeemed from corruption and death… ‘He will change our lowly body to be like Him glorious body’ (Phil 3:21).
Perhaps, the most surprising thing that Paul says in this passage and that Thomas affirms with him is the close relationship between the renewal of humans and the renewal of creation. In addition, Paul is insistent that humans are not fully redeemed until their bodies are redeemed.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.,
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Romans are taken from the translation begun by Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. and edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012, pp. 219 - 226