The Slant of Glory

The Slant of Glory art

“Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Glory be to the Father…” (Ps 126:1)
(Introit from the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.)

In America, the gravity of major weekend games, many of them televised, is a threat to our necessary preference for the glory of God. “Blessed are those servants whom the master, on his return, shall find watching” (Lk 12:37). Life can be a struggle for the banished children of Eve: “Cursed is the earth in thy work; with labor and toil shalt thou eat therefore all the days of thy life” (Gn 3:17). Stadium glory is considered a welcome diversion from the workaday world. “Games,” according to the late German philosopher and theologian, Joseph Pieper (d. 1997), exist for the sake of work, and are to serve as a period of rest in order to safeguard against the breakdown of the utilitarian mindset which mandates a culture of “total labor.”1 To better endure life, fallen man needs celebration. A synergy seems to exist between stadium glory and fallen man—if you build it, he will come. In the world of games, stadium and television together promote a certain false glory, and seem to complement each other in the way that they displace temple and tabernacle. The Psalmist laments the dreadful lack of zeal for God.2 Moreover, “All have sinned, and have need of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

A brief reflection on the glory of God, its mystery, character, and purpose, seems appropriate. “Glory” is a word to be treated as a cipher in the sense that it indicates the great enigma of God—an all-powerful being whom we have limited ability to know. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word, kabod, is used in this context to describe something that is weighty, important, or impressive.3 In the Prophets and Psalms, God’s glory is associated with many things, for example, the places where God appeared, Mount Sinai, the Tent of Meeting, Solomon’s Temple, and his manifestation in dark cloud, fire, earthquakes, and storms (theophany). In the Old Testament, glory is the appearance of God as someone who saves, and refers to God’s liberation of Israel, and the covenant of peace and justice that he will bring. It is also man’s acknowledgment that glory belongs to God, is revealed by God, and is established by God. “Thus, giving God the glory refers to the obedient response of faith to God’s saving action in history.”4 Glory is the revelation of God found in the existences of things. “The heavens show forth the glory of God” (Ps 18:2). The First Vatican Council declared: “If any one shall say that the world was not created for the glory of God, let him be anathema.”5 The universe renders potential glory, gloria materialis, rather than the actual (formal) glory rendered by God’s intelligent creatures, the ones who are able to praise him. If beauty is a shadow of God, then glory requires that God be evidenth and that the mind acknowledge him. “The gift of intellect also imposes on man the duty of returning, to God, formal glory.”6

Glory is a cipher because in the New Testament a startling dimension of God’s glory is revealed in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, born of a woman—who teaches us how to unite human glory with divine glory. The climax of God’s self-revelation and manifestation of his glory in the universe came with the Incarnation, and thus the summit of glory is Christ Jesus. Christ is the glory of God.

Like the Old Testament, we find that the New Testament thinks of God’s glory primarily as God’s own initiative and action. God’s glory reveals and establishes itself as the salvation of the world. Thus, for the New Testament, giving God glory is the response of faith to the self-communication of God in Jesus Christ.7

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I do not receive glory from men” (Jn 5:41). God is self-fulfilled, and glorifies himself through the glory that he reveals to man. We never add to his glory, but responding to knowledge of him, who has infinite knowledge and is above all, we help others to see it more clearly. To be glorified by someone denotes a certain charity because, “to be glorified is the same as to be clarified; the word glory properly denotes that somebody’s good is known and approved by many.”8 The acceptance of God’s self-clarification is crucial to the establishment of glory, and in this way man is seen to participate in it, and to lead souls to it, for the sake of salvation. “It is, therefore, evident that God seeks glory, not for his own sake, but for ours.”9

God’s glory, and the virtue of divine faith, are integral to each other. In John 5:44, Jesus asks, “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another, and do not seek the glory which is from the only God?” Increased faith is the working principle of glory. Greater glory obtains greater faith. Jesus said, “If thou believe, thou shalt behold the glory of God” (Jn 11:40). Glory is supernatural; it is miraculous; it creates faith.

Although many shades of meaning are found for glory, the definition of Augustine is foundational to its many applications: Gloria clara notitia cum laude est, “glory is brilliant celebrity with praise.”10 St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “A man may rightly seek his own glory for the good of others, according to Matt 5:16, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” It is permissible to know and approve one’s own good (cf. 1 Cor 2:12).11 “Hence, the desire for glory does not of itself denote a sin,” St. Thomas points out, “but the desire for empty or vain glory denotes a sin, for it is sinful to desire anything vain.”12 According to Thomas, glory can be vain (empty or meaningless) in three ways: (1) if one is seeking it through something superfluous or fleeting, (2) if one is seeking esteem from those who are undiscriminating, and (3) if one desires glory before men without subordinating it to the pursuit of righteousness, such as through God’s honor, or the spiritual benefit of men. We were created for God, and thus, authentic human glory reflects and serves divine glory in a parent-child relationship. In the synoptic Gospels, when Jesus was addressed by a man as “Good Master,” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good when only God is good?” Jesus was putting goodness in its proper perspective, and subordinating the human dimension of his glory to the divine dimension—“For the Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28).

The Mass and stadium glory are a dichotomy. As stated by Aquinas, the Mass is pignus futurae gloriae, a pledge of the glory to come.13 It is a taste of heaven. The Gloria in Excelsis Deo prayer originated in the second century, and was inserted into the Roman Mass in the sixth century.14 The Gloria tells us of a necessary reason for our attendance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—to give glory to God as our Lord and Savior did by his life, and to obtain needy peace, that peace which the Prince of Peace alone can give (cf. Jn 16:33 and 14:27).15 The rubrics of the Mass are ordered to the glory of God, and rooted in the idea of priestly humility as their organizing principle. The priesthood of Christ acts in the ministerial priest who is ordained into Christ’s obedience. The priest is a servant to the liturgy, commanded by the rubrics where to stand, what gestures to make, when to kiss the altar, entering into the Cross through self-abasement in order to be an icon of Christ. With stadium glory, one typically sees a contrived, commercialized glory that is meant to attract advertisers, and build superstars. Athletes, impressive in their skill and endurance, can become pawns for the worship of mammon by agents, or objects of adoration for fans. “Refuse, therefore, to be exalted for any skill or knowledge; but rather fear for the fame given to you.”16 One needs to beware the deceptive satisfaction, or false sense of redemption, one gets through team affiliation: O quam cito transit Gloria mundi!17

Stadium glory exploits leisure, the hours available for family life, personal improvement, and spiritual growth. Leisure, the act of un-boring oneself (to put it bluntly), requires celebration. But celebration, says Pieper, requires affirmation of the world in a non-everyday kind of way. The greatest affirmation of the world is the praise of God who created the world, and who rested on the seventh day. Sunday, a feast day and day of rest, is a day of celebration.

The most festive feast possible is to celebrate divine worship. There can be, of course, games and circenses (circuses)—but who would think of describing that kind of mass entertainment as festal?18

Furthermore, says Pieper, there is no such thing as a feast “without gods”—whether it be a carnival or a marriage, a feast without gods, and unrelated to worship, is quite simply unknown. Leisure, celebration, festivity, and worship are linked organically. Stadium glory is an accretion.

Stadium glory ignores the majesty of God. Former college football star quarterback, Tim Tebow, lettered Scripture references into the glare-reducing black paint beneath his eyes. A son of Christian missionaries, he was trying to evangelize on the gridiron. He was seen kneeling in prayer on the sidelines.19 The Scripture notations inspired millions of Google searches. Many fans, however, were annoyed, saying that sports and religion are a bad mix. The National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Football League summoned rules against messages in eye paint, and web sites seemed to mock “Tebowing,” the distinctive praying-on-one-knee-with-head-bowed posture.20 In addition, a pro-life ad by Focus on the Family broadcast during Super Bowl XLIV caused controversy when women’s groups complained the ad should never have been allowed. We see a boundary line drawn in the sand—stadium glory stands aloof from Christian celebration—“For they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God” (Jn 12:43).

God’s glory is often neglected. Profane diversions for the people of Israel go back thousands of years. They are part of the endless cycle of pagan vanity. Pieper mentions the existence of “rootless celebrations, artificial festivals, sham festivity,” and an “illusory, semi-opaque semblance of holidays.” Such holidays, he says, are actually “based on suppression of affirmation of God’s creation, and they derive their dangerous seductiveness precisely from that.”21 Acknowledgment of God’s creative power is subordinated to the lure of holiday entertainment. Years ago, I had occasion to assist at the Mass of anticipation in my parish— the Mass on Saturday evening that uses the texts from the following Sunday.22 I arrived at church only to discover a notice taped to the doors stating that Mass had been cancelled to allow everyone to spend the holiday with his or her family. Curious enough, our local college football team was playing in a major televised bowl game at the same time as Mass that evening. The unusual cancellation was mum about the game, and seemed like a prevarication. It took a while for the shock to wear off—Mass had been pre-empted by a football game.23 It begs the question, “Can you not watch with me one hour?” (Matt 26:40).

In conclusion, glory also refers to the blessedness (or beatitude) of man’s eternal life with God. At the beatific vision, the soul goes beyond the experience of God in the height of glory, and is itself transformed into the glory and likeness of God (cf. 2 Cor 3:18; 1 Jn 3:2).24 The soul dwells within glory, and reflects its brightness and clarity. The Blessed Virgin Mary is dazzling in this transformation (cf. Rev 12:1). Already assumed corporally into the eternal kingdom, she alone, after her divine son, Jesus, is glorified bodily in heaven, and on earth. Like lights in a stadium, she illuminates the road to glory, and leads Eve’s children out of exile.

God’s honor and glory are at stake. Everything we do in life is a step toward heaven, or a step away. Our purpose in life is to glorify God by proclaiming that we recognize his blessings, and the more we do this, the more our souls resemble the image and likeness of God through an increase in sanctifying grace. On the word of the Psalmist, fervor for God’s glory is endless—zeal never takes a vacation. Someone might say the Psalmist was a victim of his religion, so to speak, too devout, or a fanatic, but zeal for true glory is never a vice. We are experiencing a categorical silence where the word “vainglory” is concerned. Gone undercover for the sake of bread and circuses, it dies of neglect. Meanwhile, stadium glory thrives relentlessly. The young Joan of Arc served the King of Heaven to restore France, the eldest daughter of the Church. Will America ever consent to be God’s temple? Give place to the Lord Jesus Christ.25 As Saint Joan was known to say, “sooner is better than later.” Amen.

  1. Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, trans. Alexander Dru (New York: New American Library, 1963), 58.
  2. See Ps 68:10 and Ps 118:139 (Douay).
  3. The New Dictionary of Theology, s.v. “Glory.”
  4. Ibid.
  5. Vatican I Council, Session III, C.I., Can.5.
  6. catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=5201, s.v. “Glory” (Accessed 19 May 2016).
  7. The New Dictionary of Theology, s.v. “Glory.”
  8. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, qu. 132, art. 1.
  9. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, qu.132, art. 1, obj. 1.
  10. catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=5201, s.v. “Glory,” (Accessed 20 May 2016).
  11. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, qu. 132, a.1, obj. 1.
  12. Ibid.
  13. “Sancti Thomae de Aquino Officium corporis Christi ‘Sacerdos’ authenticitate probabile”, CorpusThomisticum.org, (Accessed May 3, 2016).
  14. Henri Daniel-Rops, Yousuf Karsh, and Fulton J. Sheen, This is the Mass, 2nd ed., trans. Alastair Guinan (New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1958), 44.
  15. Rev. Victor J. Hintgen, What the Mass Means, (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1948), 15.5
  16. Thomas A. Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, (U.S.A.: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1941), I.II.3.
  17. Ibid, I.IV.6. “Oh how quickly passes the glory of the world!”
  18. Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, 56.
  19. Eye paint acts as a shade from the sun. Tebow has trademarked the term, “Tebowing.”
  20. tebowing.com, (Accessed 16 May 2016).
  21. Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, 57.
  22. Eucharisticum Mysterium (25 May 1967), n. 28.
  23. The original intent of the anticipated Sunday Mass in the U.S. was to provide an opportunity for Catholics who have to work on Sundays to use Saturday to satisfy their obligation. This was explained by our bishop in a homily. It was also said by the bishop that initially it was intended that only one parish in every city was to offer a Saturday night anticipated Mass. But once people discovered that the anticipated Mass could be used to free up one’s schedule for Sunday sports and other entertainments, it spread to every parish.
  24. catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=5201, s.v. “Glory” (Accessed 19 May 2016).
  25. Rite of Exorcism 1614, Part II.Da locum Domino Jesu Christo.”
John T. Knox About John T. Knox

John T. Knox is retired from the IT division of the University of Wisconsin. He recently completed a Franciscan University Steubenville MA Theology degree.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this interesting and helpful presentation, of what I read as one more affirmation of Augustine’s fundamental analysis of the story of man on earth ever since the Fall: the clash – the dichotomy – of the two cities, the city of man and the City of God. Your focus on these two centers of glory reveal it again. In your words, “The Mass and stadium glory are a dichotomy.”

    To be more clear, using your words, we are led to contrast the “necessary reason for our attendance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—to give glory to God”, with the opposing reason for the other: “Stadium glory exploits leisure, the hours available for family life, personal improvement, and spiritual growth.” That is, “stadium glory stands aloof from Christian celebration—‘For they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God’.”

    It is interesting to me, on the other hand, how sports in general can be symbolic of that real struggle appropriate to man – a struggle intrinsic to his vocation in this fallen state of humanity – the struggle against evil and the evil one. Thus, as the athlete strives to win the race and vanquish his adversary, so Paul sought to gain victory over evil and sin:
    1Cor 9:24  Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
    2Tim 4:7  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
    Heb 12:1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,….

    What a tragedy it is, that instincts (graces) placed in man by God – to help him fight against his true enemy – can be used against him! He can end up with idols, from the stadium, simulating the true God in true worship! And the idols (whether from sports or other “entertainment” venues) become like a parasite rooted in him, draining away out of him the saving power of life. God has given us a world filled with parables of His Truth, and one might say, “natural sacraments” – but also with an enemy of our souls. The enemy is very clever, with his counterfeits; and men can be so very undiscerning. But – but – in His light, we can see light!

    • John T Knox John T Knox says:

      Thomas: thank you for your insightful comments. They provide a nice postscript to my article. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (Father Z) has said that Olympic athletes in their demonstration of excellence are a metaphor for the Christian life, as you also mentioned, according to Paul. Excellence requires anointing with oil and the race ends in victory. Sport manifests the words and deeds of glory. Father Z mentions how the three comparative words citius, altius, and fortius have important applications to both sides of the dichotomy. Olympic and Christian fulfillment are both products of these three words. The one who achieves human and divine glory is the one who is swifter, higher, and possesses greater strength. Grace builds upon nature and we all have a place in the race. We win if we glorify God. The athlete and the Christian occupy a world stage. Their excellence, when seen in the proper context, glorifies God for “tout le monde” (the whole world). I think football player Tim Tebow might have been acting in that capacity. Thank you again for your supplement and for adding to the discussion.

      • Dr. William C. Zehringer Dr. William C. Zehringer says:

        John: I was quite taken with your insightful meditation on the rivalry between commercial sports and the practice of our faith. I myself, have recently published a young adult novel, I WANT A HERO, in which I attempt to show how how wide is the complicity at all levels in the corruption attending sports events and the exploitation of athletes. ( May I pause here to bestow utmost praise on the strong and spirited young American women who have earned a genuine Olympic glory?)
        For a searching study of the terrible cost that has, for a long time, been exacted on college athletes,
        I would like. finally, to recommend at book that I found indispensable in my research on university and college athletic programs. The book, entitled SATURDAY’S CHILDREN, tells of a year the author
        spent with the Rice University Owls, in 1971, and it is a truly strong indictment of those young men’s grim ordeals. Unfortunately, the name of the writer escapes me at present. But the volume is well
        worth searching out, if it’s in fact still in print.
        One again, john, thanks for sharing your timely thoughts with us.

        May God bless and keep all of us,

        Dr. William C. Zehringer.
        .
        .