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TUESDSAY HOMILY: The First First Thing

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker
12/4/2012 (5 years ago)
Catholic Online (

One of the most common atheist attacks one hears is that the Christian God is just like every other God. "Why should we believe in your God called Yahweh?" the internet atheist asks. "Why is he any more real than Zeus or Shiva or Jupiter or the flying spaghetti monster?"


By Fr. Dwight Longenecker
Catholic Online (
12/4/2012 (5 years ago)

Published in Year of Faith

GREENVILLE, SC (Catholic Online) -  During Advent it is traditional to preach on the "Four Last Things" which are Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.  Wishing to stand things on their head, here is the first of series of homilies for Advent on "The Four First Things" which are God, Life, Light and Love.

One of the most common atheist attacks one hears is that the Christian God is just like every other God. "Why should we believe in your God called Yahweh?" the internet atheist asks. "Why is he any more real than Zeus or Shiva or Jupiter or the flying spaghetti monster?"
What the smart aleck atheist is revealing is not so much an intelligent argument for atheism, but the depth of his own ignorance about religion and specifically the Judeo-Christian understanding of God and other gods.

The Book of Genesis begins with the words, "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth", but reduce that opening phrase even further and you have a stark philosophical statement that takes some explanation. The simpler phrase is, "In the beginning God."

All the other deities of all the other religions never pretend to be the source of all things. They are what we call demi-gods--"gods" with a small "g" not God with a capital "G". They are created beings, and the church fathers considered them therefore to be in the same category as angels and demons. If they existed at all they were spiritual intelligences created by God.

The Judeo-Christian God, however, from the earliest days of the Jewish religion, was considered to be himself the beginning of all things. The church teaches that God created the world ex nihilo--out of nothing. This means there was nothing before God. God is the source of all things. Nothing can exist before him. He is not only the Creator, but he is the First Mover, the one who exists before all things--he is himself the source of all existence.

It is important to understand this basic Catholic truth. In our increasingly atheistic age people imagine a Sunday School God. They think he is the big man on the other side of the clouds who doles out punishment for some and rewards for others. They think that is what Catholics believe, and they rightly dismiss this God as a fairy tale invention.

Catholic theology challenges us to consider God at more depth. God is not just a grandfather in the sky. He's not like a celestial Santa Claus. Instead he is what we call the ipsum esse subsistens. That is to say, he is the ground and source of existence itself. All things can only exist in him and through him. Without him nothing would exist at all.

This is therefore the first of the "First Things"--that God is not only there at the very beginning of creation. He IS the beginning of creation. He is the source and foundation for all existence. Indeed, he is existence itself. He is, and without him nothing would be. 

The Jews understood this, and hold this is why they hold Moses' experience at the burning bush to be so definitive. There God revealed himself by the name Yahweh--with means "I AM"-- not only is God's name "I AM" but "I AM that I AM".  In other words, He is the source of all that IS. God is existence itself and all that exists rests in him.

The glory of the Advent season is that this "First Thing"--God and existence itself--becomes specific in human history in one time and one place. The one who is existence itself comes into the world of physical reality and takes human flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"In Jesus Christ" St Paul teaches, "all things live and move and have their being" and St John says, "all things came to be through him and without him nothing was made or could be made." The astounding teaching of the New Testament is that this First Thing of all things--the power and force of existence itself, took human form with the intention of drawing us to himself.

So we are reminded that our existence is rooted in him. In Christ we live and move and have our being. Through him in the waters of baptism we are made and without him we would be nothing.

Fr Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is Catholicism Pure and Simple. Visit his blog called Standing on My Head and go to his website to browse his books and make contact.


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