Monday, December 31, 2007


The Sunday in the octave of Christmas is the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (it is celebrated on December 30 when there is no Sunday between December 25 and January 1), the model for all families. It is an invitation to revisit Catholic doctrine on the family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states:

“A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated.” (CCC, No. 2202)

“The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.”(CCC,No.2205)

“The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.” (CCC, No. 2207; italics in the original)

Contemporary social philosophy owes to Father Joseph M. De Torre* the explanation—of the notion that the family is the “original cell” of society—in terms of society’s “ultimate causes” (from the classical paradigm): The "formal cause" (what gives a thing the act of being what it is), the “form”, of society is the “union of wills” of its members; society’s "efficient cause" (what directly gives rise to and maintains it in existence) is "love" or "solidarity" (the minimum of which is “justice”); the "final cause" (ultimate purpose), the “end”, of society is “the common good”. The family is the "material cause" (what gives a thing the potency or capacity to become what it is), the “matter”, of society.

The family, rather than the individual, is the “matter” of society because the individual’s participation in social life is normally mediated by the family, an entity different from the individual (the family is a group) and from society itself (the ties that bind members of the same family are different from those that bind in society). From birth until the age of majority (when he can vote, enter into contracts, etc.), the individual participates in social life through parents and family; and even in adulthood, his participation in social life is mostly colored by family considerations (concern for spouse and children).

The individual stands as the “remote” material cause of society. The “immediate” matter of society is the family. Accordingly, social policy should be primarily directed towards the well-being of families, rather than the individual; otherwise, society would fall into the error of “individualism” (which translates, politically, into anarchistic “liberalism” and, in the field of economics, into unbridled or laissez-faire "capitalism"). On the other hand, if social policy were made to serve, primarily, neither the individual nor the family, it would end up serving society itself, the State, which is the error of “collectivism” (politically, “totalitarianism”, and as to the economy, “socialism”). Individualist and Collectivist ideologies spring from a disordered operation of our basic instincts for self-preservation (self-assertion) and for association, respectively, which, in the right order, find expression in the principles of “subsidiarity”** (independence) and “solidarity” (inter-dependence).

The right order of society is linked with recognition of the family as the “basic cell” or matter of society that public policy must first serve, above the individual or the collective. This is so because, while Individualistic ideologies would have “(individual) freedom”, and Collectivist ideologies, “equality”, as the highest value of social life, in truth, it is neither freedom nor equality but “justice”.

Justice, as the “minimum” of love, is the “manageable” aspect of the “efficient cause” of society (what brings and keeps society in existence). While love itself cannot be a matter of compulsion, justice can be. Thus, the promotion of “justice” (giving everyone his due)—not “freedom”, not “equality”, although these are good in themselves—should be the primary function of government (the political authority operating as the legal system). As St. Augustine expressed it, “a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves” (De Civitate Dei, IV, 4; quoted in Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, 28).

At present, attacks against the family consist, precisely, in advocacies (that have, in some places, ripened into laws) which place the individual above the family—“freedom” to renege on the marriage vow (divorce), “freedom” to eliminate unwanted babies (abortion), “freedom” to enjoy the pleasures of sex in denial of its procreative purpose (contraception and same-sex marriage)—or which place the State above the family (and the individual), as in State-sponsored population-control programs that dictate the number of children families could have, whether by force or by fraud.

St. Josemaria writes: “In order to draw close to God, we must take the right road, which is the Sacred Humanity of Christ” (Friends of God, No. 299). God became man so that we could become His in Christ, imitating Christ, and collaborating with Him in the work of Redemption; in our case as laypeople, “by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (Lumen Gentium, No. 31). Not the least of these "temporal affairs" is family life. “The first thing Jesus sanctified with his presence was a home” (F. Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 1, No. 31.1). May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Family, help us to defend “the value of family life” (Opening Prayer, Feast of the Holy Family).

A blessed new year to all!

* See, among Father De Torre’s many books, The Roots of Society (Manila: Sinag-Tala Publishers, 1984). Father De Torre is Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Asia and the Pacific.

** The principle of subsidiarity states: “(A) community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good….By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” (John Paul II, Encylcical Letter Centesimus Annus [1991], No. 48).

Friday, December 21, 2007


Advent is a time of preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. One of the best acts we can do in this direction is to go to the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.

A Sacrament is a “sensible” (can be perceived by the senses) and “efficacious sign” (it effects what it also signifies) of “grace” (invisible help for our sanctification) instituted by our Lord. The seven Sacraments of our Faith are the normal channels of grace willed by God—“powers that come forth from the body of Christ,” the Church, to continue his ministry down the centuries. The Sacraments fit perfectly with the essence of man as “being incarnate”, a unity of “spiritual soul (form) and material body (matter)”: man receives spiritual helps through material or sensible elements.

Christian philosophy identifies the “essence” (manner of being) of a thing as the combination of its “form” or formal cause (what gives a thing the “act of being” what it is) and its “matter” or material cause (what gives a thing the potency or capacity to become what it is). In the case of the seven Sacraments, the formal cause is the set of words or prayer of the authorized minister (whence, our colloquial “formula”); while the material cause consists in the “sensible” material or action used in the process. Thus, in Baptism, the form is the set of words, “I baptize you in the name of…”, while the matter is obviously the water poured over the person being baptized. In Confirmation, the form consists in the words, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” while the matter is the anointing with chrism (consecrated oil) by a laying on of the hand. In the Eucharist, the form consists in the words of consecration (“This is my body…my blood”) while the matter is the bread and wine that is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In Holy Matrimony, the form is the exchange of vows of the bride and groom (“I do”) while the matter is their bodies. In Holy Orders, the form is the “prayer of consecration” said by the ordaining Bishop while the matter is the imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand. In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, the form consists in the prayer of the minister (“Through this holy anointing…”) while the matter is the anointing of the sick person (forehead and hands) with the holy oil.

It it not clear exactly when our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Penance (Confession), but on the evening of the day of His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:19-23). It is clearly implied here that the sins must be told to the minister so that they may be forgiven. Thus, the matter of Confession is the sin or sins of the penitent heard by the minister/confessor (“hearing” is indispensable to this being a “sensible” sign); while the form is the set of words uttered by the confessor in absolution (“I absolve you from your sins in the name of…”).

Confession reconciles the sinner with God and with His Church (community), and restores “sanctifying grace”— replaces one in the “state of grace”, of being in Christ—which he may have lost through mortal sin. It also remits at least part of the temporal punishment due, and strengthens the penitent to avoid sin. If sanctifying grace was not lost, it is increased by Confession. Catholics are obliged by Church law to go to Confession at least once a year (as an absolute minimum) and encouraged to do so frequently (many lay people go weekly).

While one’s “perfect contrition” (sorrow for sin because of love for God) forgives even his mortal sins, Church law also commands that he who is conscious of having mortally sinned must first go to Confession before he can receive Holy Communion (because no one could be sure that his contrition were, in truth, “perfect”). Strictly speaking, only mortal sins need be brought to Confession; but even venial sins can be the matter of a good confession (especially when one has no un-confessed mortal sins, as may be the case with those who practice frequent Confession). Mortal sins are mortal (from the Latin, mors, “death”) because they “kill” the divine life in a person by his radical turning-away from God, i.e., with full advertence (knowledge and consent) and in a serious matter.

A good Confession requires prayerful preparation (examination of conscience); contrition or faith-motivated “sorrow” over having sinned (because of love of God, "perfect contrition", or out of fear of losing heaven or of suffering the pains of hell, "imperfect contrition"); “purpose of amendment” (a decision to avoid sin); actual Confession to a priest (withholding no un-confessed mortal sin) and willingness to perform the “penance” (satisfaction) prescribed. The Sacrament does not depend on the “feelings” of the penitent but involves his intelligence and will, thereby protecting him from self-delusion and complacency, on one hand, and uncertainty and despair, on the other. As long as one meets these requirements of a good Confession, he infallibly receives the benefits of the Sacrament.

St. Josemaria writes: “You wrote to tell me that you have at last gone to confession and that you experienced the humiliation of having to open the sewer—that is what you say—of your life to ‘a man’. When will you get rid of that feeling of vain self-esteem? You will then go to confession happy to show yourself as you are to ‘that man’, who being anointed is another Christ—Christ himself—and gives you absolution, God’s forgiveness.” (Furrow, No. 45)


Friday, December 14, 2007


“Virtues” (from the Latin, virtus, for “strength”) are “habits,” “firm dispositions” or “habitual inclinations” in an individual to do what is good in every situation. Every good act is potentially a virtue, i.e., if it becomes a habit. Conversely, every bad act is potentially a “vice”, a bad habit, the opposite of virtue.

To facilitate discussion, since there could be an infinite array of particular virtues, Christian philosophy identifies four “cardinal” moral virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Prudence is the cardinal moral virtue which habitually disposes a person to make right judgments in every situation. Justice is the habitual inclination to give everyone his due. Fortitude disposes a person to do the good despite the difficulties involved. Temperance inclines a person to control his desires. These virtues are “cardinal” (from the Latin, cardo, “hinge”) in the sense that all the other virtues may be classified or “hung” under them. The virtue of “chastity”, for instance, which disposes a person to control his sexual desires (to the right use—or non-use—of the sexual capacity, i.e., within marriage and open to fruitfulness in offspring), may be classified under the cardinal virtue of Temperance. Likewise, the virtue of “religion” or “piety”, which disposes a person to give to God the worship which is due, falls under the cardinal virtue of Justice.

The cardinal virtues of Prudence and Justice correspond to our two spiritual powers (faculties), the intelligence and free will, respectively. The cardinal virtues of Fortitude and Temperance, on the other hand, correspond to the two sensual appetites: the “irascible appetite” (from the Latin, ira, “anger”)—which drives a man to avoid or reject what his senses perceive to be inimical to his well-being—and the “concupiscible appetite” (from concupiscere, “to desire”)—which drives a person to want (and go after) what is perceived to be necessary or beneficial to him. Fortitude is the cardinal human virtue that regulates the irascible appetite; Temperance, the concupiscible appetite.

Incidentally, Christian philosophy wisely points out that our “passions” (synonymous with “feelings” and “emotions”) are the “acts” (operations) of our sensual appetites. They belong to our pre-rational dimension (animals, too, have feelings); hence, should not be allowed to direct our human conduct. Our feelings should be subordinated to our higher faculties, the intelligence and free will.

The moral virtues make it easier to do what is morally right (in accordance with the objective norms of the natural moral law and the judgment of one’s conscience) in every situation. On the other hand, virtuous acts involve the exercise of even greater human freedom (i.e., intelligent and voluntary) than isolated, “spontaneous” or emotions-driven good deeds, because acquiring the virtue assumes prior, deliberate, and constant repetition (“practice”) of the good acts involved. Further, virtues are what define a person’s character: one may act honestly in a given instance but dishonestly in nine other instances; but a person is truthful or possesses the virtue of “honesty” because he is habitually disposed to stick to the truth in every situation. He is an “honest man” even while asleep. It is character—our virtuousness or viciousness, the “condition or disposition of the heart”— which, at the end of our earthly lives, will be decisive of our eternal happiness or misery.

In practice, a person’s struggle to live a morally upright life, i.e., a life that is truly human (neither animal-like nor disembodied or out-of-the-world), in accord with man’s “authentic” nature (as designed by God, and as opposed to the disordered tendencies of our “wounded” human nature), will consist in growing in the virtues, i.e., increasing in the firmness of the inclination to do what is right in every situation.

Even more directly related to our eternal happiness are the so-called “theological” virtues (because God is the direct goal) of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Faith is the virtue which disposes us “to believe all that God has revealed because it is God revealing them, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived”. Hope inclines us to trust in God, that He will bring us to His eternal happiness, which this virtue also inclines us to desire. Charity disposes us “to love God above all else for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God”.

Faith, Hope and Charity are “supernatural” virtues, i.e., beyond our natural capacity, acquired as gifts with “sanctifying grace” which we first received through Baptism. Sanctifying grace—and these supernatural virtues—may be lost through mortal sin but may be recovered through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). These supernatural virtues increase with our cooperation, i.e., by our constant, deliberate effort to make acts of Faith, Hope and Charity; nor should we allow them to remain at the (seminal) level which we received at Baptism, most probably as infants.

We need to struggle to acquire all the virtues and to grow in them (as we mature humanly), i.e., to increase in the firmness of our inclination towards the good, so that at death, the moment we are to be judged, our interior dispositions shall be firmly oriented towards God, the fullness of Good, without any attachment to whatever is incompatible with God.

The vocation to holiness—union with God, sanctity, beatitude, eternal happiness—is also a call to perfection: “You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). This is not attainable by human effort alone; but “with God, nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37).


Sunday, November 25, 2007


Today is the thirty-fourth Sunday, the last Sunday, in Ordinary Time, and it is the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus as the King of the Universe. The Preface of today’s Mass raises certain points we can consider as central to the theme of the celebration:

“Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks./ You anointed Jesus Christ, your only Son, with the oil of gladness, as the eternal priest and universal king./ As priest he offered his life on the altar of the cross and redeemed the human race by this one perfect sacrifice of peace./ As king he claims dominion over all creation, that he may present to you, his almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom:/ a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace./ And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise: Holy, holy, holy Lord…” (Preface of Christ the King)

Today’s feast looks forward to the Parousia (Second Coming); but that fullness would be, for us, the culmination of a journey that began and progresses in time. Nor are we its passive subjects: As man was called to be God’s collaborator in the work of creation—“to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28), “to cultivate” the garden (Gen 2:15), to continue to perfect the material universe (since the original perfection did not preclude its increase)—so are we called to be Christ’s co-workers in the new work of redemption (applying the benefits of the Sacrifice of our Lord on Calvary). By our Baptism, we were incorporated into Christ and made sharers in His priestly, prophetic and royal ministry—the three-fold ministry of Christ (tria munera Christi)—to sanctify, to teach and to govern, to bring about that kingdom of holiness, of truth, of justice, love and peace.

For us, the vast majority of Christians who are lay people in the middle of the world, the task of sanctifying earthly realities means fulfilling our duties and bearing our crosses with human and supernatural perfection; i.e., doing them as well as we humanly can, with the supernatural motive of pleasing God, as a sacrificial offering. We discharge the prophetic ministry by living our faith and transmitting its truths to those whom we deal with in the ordinary course of our days. We discharge the governing ministry by putting things in their proper order--first of all, our own lives--and placing Christ at the summit of everything.

The Second Vatican Council teaches:

“The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.

“What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. It is true that those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession. But they are by reason of their particular vocation especially and professedly ordained to the sacred ministry. Similarly, by their state in life, religious give splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transformed and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes. But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. (Lumen Gentium, No. 31; italics ours)

If the Sacrament of Baptism made us “children of God”, the Sacrament of Confirmation made us “soldiers of Christ”, making clearer our duty to contribute to building up His kingdom.

Jesus Christ our King is “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29), “a bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Mt 12:19; Is 42:3). He is Shepherd; one who “came not to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28). His throne, “a manger in Bethlehem and the Cross on Calvary” (F. Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 5, 91.3); his ride, the colt of an ass, “the foal of a beast of burden” (Mt 21:5; Zec 9:9). May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen because she is the mother of the King, raise us, members of Christ, to become more like her Son, and to grow in our desire to place Christ at the summit of all things.

Regnare Christum volumus! We want Christ to reign!” (The Way, No. 11) ––in the world, in our country, but first in our souls, in our homes, in our work…


Monday, November 12, 2007


November begins with the Solemnity (Great Feast) of All Saints (Nov. 1), and the Commemoration of All Souls (Nov. 2). The liturgical year is about to end; it is a good time to remember our beloved dead with special attention, and to meditate on the afterlife.

Death does not sever the bonds of love among men (except with the damned in hell, who have, by their final choices, separated themselves forever from Love). We who constitute the “Church Militant” or “Pilgrim Church” are capable of benefiting from the intercession of the saints in heaven (“Church Triumphant”). We could also add to their “accidental happiness”—as distinguished from the “essential” happiness of being in heaven, i.e., that of contemplating God as He Is, the “beatific vision”—as they note our progress on earth. Similarly, we could help the souls in Purgatory (“Church Suffering”) by offering our “suffrages”—prayers, penances and almsgiving or other good works—to hasten their entrance into heaven. We could also benefit from their intercession, when they reach heaven, and even while still in purgatory, since there is no reason why their prayers for us would not be heard.

Catholic doctrine on Purgatory is based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (from the Latin, traditio, “delivery” or “handing down” from the beginning of the Church). Our Lord said: “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt 12:32). “From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: ‘Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin’ [2 Macc 12:46].” (CCC No. 1031-1032)

“Grave sin deprives us of communion with God, and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the ‘eternal punishment’ of sin. On the other hand, every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.” (CCC, No. 1472)

Sin is essentially a “turning away from God and turning towards creatures”, dispositions which prevent a soul from entering into that definitive union with God in heaven. While on earth, these dispositions, our choices, are changeable. Now is the time for meriting and repentance. After death, our crossing-over into eternity, we can no longer by ourselves, alter our dispositions. But since it is realistic to suppose that many people die loving God (in the state of grace) yet with some “unhealthy attachment to creatures”, it is eminently reasonable that there is a stage after death in which the soul is passively subjected to God’s “purifying fire”, helped by the suffrages and indulgences of the living. An act of charity we may do daily is to gain “indulgences” and offer them for the speedy entrance into heaven of our relatives, friends, benefactors, those we have injured and who may have injured us, who might still be in purgatory.

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”. (CCC, No. 1471) Our Lord said: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:18-19) An indulgence is plenary or partial depending on whether it removes all or part of the temporal punishment, and can be gained for oneself or for the souls in purgatory.

A plenary indulgence can be gained daily by any of the prescribed works (e.g., praying for at least 30 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Rosary with our family or before the Blessed Sacrament), and fulfilling the so-called “usual conditions”: a) Intention (a general intention to gain all indulgences we can for the day is sufficient); b) Abhorrence of all sin, including venial sin; c) Prayer for the Pope (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be); and d) Confession and Communion some days before or after (within the Octave, one reason why regular, weekly confession, is highly recommended). If we are not able to fulfill all the conditions, there would still be, at least, a partial indulgence for the specific souls we had in mind, or, in default, to those who may need it most.

St. Josemaria writes: “The holy souls in purgatory. Out of charity, out of justice, and out of an excusable selfishness (they have such power with God!) remember them often in your sacrifices and your prayers. Whenever you speak of them, may you be able to say, ‘My good friends, the souls in purgatory’”. (The Way, No. 571)


Thursday, October 25, 2007


“Morality” comes from the Latin, mos (plural, mores), for “custom”. It is synonymous with “Ethics” (Greek, ethos), the science of the goodness of human acts (i.e., actions that involve our intelligence and free will).

There are two bases for judging the goodness (or badness) of human acts: the objective (from the Latin, ob-, “in front of”, and –jectum, “thrown”) and the subjective (sub-, “under”). The objective basis is the “natural moral law”. The subjective basis is the “conscience” of the individual actor or agent.

The natural moral law is the set of “norms” or rules that derive from our “authentic” human nature, discernible by human reason. These norms are “objective”; i.e., they have an existence outside the individual human person, originating from God’s governance of the universe. Whether one agrees or not, murder, adultery, and theft, are immoral as they run counter to our true nature. Because of original sin, however, and the resulting “darkened” intellect of our “wounded” human nature, it is often difficult to figure out what these norms are. Fortunately for us, out of His goodness, God revealed these norms by way of a summary in the Ten Commandments.

While the norms of the natural moral law constitute the objective aspect of morality, the individual’s “conscience”—the judgment of the intellect concerning the goodness or evil of one’s action in the particular, concrete, situation—constitutes its subjective aspect. Thus, the moral blameworthiness of the individual for a particular act (and his legal liability also in many cases) depends not only on his violation of the natural moral law but also on whether he acted voluntarily and knowingly, i.e., against his good conscience. Thus, the insane or feeble-minded are exempt from moral and legal culpability.

A person must indeed act conformably with his conscience or else be “divided against himself” (diminishing his “integrity”). Still, a person’s conscience may be in error; in which case, while he might not be morally culpable for following his conscience, he would still suffer from the consequences of his objectively wrongful act. Thus, an insane person who ingests a lethal dose of poison would die despite the absence of moral culpability; and one who thought nothing wrong of drunken driving may wreck his car and injure himself or others. Accordingly, man also has a duty to educate his conscience, to have a “right” conscience. Ignorance of the objective wrongness of one’s particular act does not erase moral culpability if “he should have known”; i.e., if it was a contrived ignorance or one that he could have overcome (vincible ignorance).

Often, immoral acts result not so much from ignorance as from a refusal to accept the existence of objective norms; an assertion of “freedom” to define right and wrong, as Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation to become “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Pope John Paul II teaches:

“In the book of Genesis we read: 'The Lord God commanded man, saying, "You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."' (Gen 2:16-17)….With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat 'of every tree of the garden.' But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil', for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments….God's law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom.” (Veritatis Splendor, No. 35; italics in the original)

To reach our end, union with God in His eternal happiness, we must live morally good lives. Our interior dispositions must be firmly oriented towards truth and goodness; otherwise, we cannot be united with God, Truth and Goodness Himself. “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48)—like Christ, Who is “perfect man” as well as “perfect God” (Athanasian Creed). We must behave according to our authentic human nature, neither as animals nor as disembodied spirits neglectful of the demands of our corporeality. On the other hand, because of the “weakened” will of our wounded nature, it is not easy to choose the good always. St. Paul attests: “The good that I want to do, I do not do; the evil that I do not want to do, that is what I do” (Rom 7:19). We are a bundle of “disordered tendencies”; hence, we need to struggle and we need grace (God’s help). We must use our freedom to “correspond” with the graces that we receive.

The norms of the natural moral law are not arbitrary, burdensome impositions from a tyrannical lawgiver; on the contrary, they are a guide to happiness from our loving Father. May we never give up in the struggle to be good, in all the events and circumstances of daily life.


Thursday, October 11, 2007


Rosarium means “garden of roses” or, better, “bouquet of roses”. When we pray the Holy Rosary, we are offering our Lady a bouquet, each “Hail Mary” a fragrant rose that pleases her and our Lord, because we are praising His mother, our mother. October is especially dedicated to promoting the Rosary.

The Rosary combines vocal prayers with mental prayer or contemplation. The vocal prayers principally consist of the sets of ten Hail Marys (decades) beginning with the Our Father and ending with the Trinitarian doxology (Glory Be). The mental prayer consists in contemplating the mysteries assigned to each decade. St. Josemaria Escriva has written an excellent meditation, booklet length, on the mysteries of the Rosary. His meditation is a model for combining “the piety of children” with “the doctrine of theologians”.

To facilitate contemplation, one could pause for a few seconds of quiet at the start of each decade, directing his attention to the particular scene as described in sacred scripture, situating oneself in it as a co-participant, or to a specific verse relating to the episode, and thus enter into the mystery.

There are four sets of mysteries: the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous; the last one (Mysteria Lucis, Mysteries of Light) added by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (October 16, 2002). The Joyful Mysteries are the “main part” of the Rosary for meditation on Mondays and, since 2002, on Saturdays. The Sorrowful Mysteries are assigned to Tuesdays and Fridays; the Glorious Mysteries, to Sundays and Wednesdays; and the Mysteries of Light or Luminous Mysteries, to Thursdays.

In the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation of the Birth of our Lord, we could make our own Mary’s momentous Yes to the divine will: Ecce ancilla Domini, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord,” fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, “be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38); and in the Second, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, Mary’s Canticle, the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as she acknowledged the praise of her cousin, Elizabeth (Lk 1:46). In the Third, the Nativity of our Lord, we can join the chorus of angels bringing the news to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will!” (Lk 2:14); and in the Fourth, the Presentation of our Lord, think over the words of Simeon, Nunc dimittis, “Now dismiss your servant, Lord, according to your word, in peace” (Lk 2:29). In the Fifth, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, we could ponder the response of our Lord to Mary and Joseph: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49).

In the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden, we join our Lord saying, “Not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). In the Second, the Scourging at the Pillar, we recall the prophecy of Isaiah: “He was bruised for our iniquities” (Is 53:5). In the Third, the Crowning with Thorns, we take up the soldiers’ mockery as our own earnest adoration, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mt 27:29, Mk 15:18, Jn 19:3); and in the Fourth, the Carrying of the Cross, another verse from Isaiah: “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4). In the Fifth, the Crucifixion and Death of our Lord, we consider seriously: “(Christ) became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philip 2:8).

In the First Glorious Mystery, the Resurrection, we ponder the announcement of the angel, “He has risen as he said” (Mt 28:6); and in the Second, the Ascension, our Lord’s bidding: “Go, make disciples of all nations… I am with you always, until the end of time” (Mt 28: 19-20). In the Third, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, we savor the words of the Psalmist, “Send forth your spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). In the Fourth, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, we gaze at Mary, the Ark of the Covenant: “Then God’s temple was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple” (Rev 11:19); and in the Fifth, the Coronation of our Lady, we watch with wonderment: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Rev 12:1).

In the First Luminous Mystery, the Baptism of our Lord, we can hear the Voice saying, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). In the Second, the Self-Manifestation of our Lord at the Wedding Feast in Cana, we can take up Mary’s advice: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5); and in the Third, the Proclamation of the Kingdom, the words of our Lord, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). In the Fourth, the Transfiguration, we join Peter in his daze: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” (Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36); and in the Fifth, the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, we can reflect on our Lord’s command, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).

Pope John Paul II describes the Rosary as “a compendium of the Gospel” and “a method of contemplation” that is “based on repetition”—not the pharisaical repetition of “empty phrases” eschewed by our Lord (Mt 6:7), but one “nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely to Christ”—because God respects “our human nature and its vital rhythms”. Indeed, “the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life” (RVM, Nos. 18, 25-27).


Saturday, September 29, 2007


Today, September 29, is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

St. Michael is the leader of the angels who fought with the devil: “And there was a battle in heaven; Michael and his angels battled with the dragon… the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, who leads astray the whole world; and he was cast down to the earth and with him his angels were cast down.” (Rev 12:7-9) St. Gabriel announced to Zachary the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1:5-25); and to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the birth of our Lord (Lk 1:26-38). St. Raphael accompanied and assisted the youth, Tobias, on his journey, culminating in the marriage of Tobias to Sarah, her healing from diabolical oppression, and the recovery of Tobit’s sight and of his wealth (Book of Tobit).

We know about the angels through Divine Revelation; but it also stands to reason (why not?) that there should be creatures who are pure spirit. Devotion to the Holy Angels is an antidote to the materialist tendencies of our time.

The doctrine concerning the angels also helps explain the “existence” of evil: It was the serpent who induced Eve to disobey God, out of envy at man’s friendship with God and the happiness it brought. “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world” (Wis 2:24). God did not create “evil”, which is simply the absence of a good that should be there; evil entered the universe through the choice of free creatures to turn away from God. The primordial “turning away” from God came from spiritual creatures—the devil and his angels—having greater freedom than man.

“For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands, they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Ps 91:11-12) The devil quotes this line in the temptation of our Lord in the desert (Lk 4:1-13; Mt 4:1-11)—yes, even the devil can quote scripture—to highlight, perhaps, the reason for the fall of his angels: they would not serve mere man. The Holy Angels are those who remained loyal to God; angels who, as speculation goes, in a “preview” of the Incarnation, chose to obey God and to serve the lower creature, man.

It is also of the Faith that each one of us has a Guardian Angel. Our Lord Himself said: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 18:10)

It is no accident that St. Josemaria founded Opus Dei, by divine inspiration, on the feast of the Holy (Guardian) Angels (October 2, 1928). The mission of St. Josemaria and Opus Dei—essentially, to propagate the universal call to holiness, and the truth that all the normal circumstances of ordinary life can be a path to sanctity—is anchored on the fact that we are children of God by grace. And one very consoling “proof” of our divine filiation—of God’s fatherly love towards each of us—is that He gave us our Guardian Angel to help us on our journey towards sanctity. God, in His parental care, gave us our betters to serve us. The holy angels are with us in all the circumstances of daily life.

St. Josemaria writes: “Whenever you are in need of anything, or are facing difficulties, whether great or small, invoke your Guardian Angel, asking him to sort the matter out with Jesus, or to carry out a particular service you may require.” (The Forge, No. 931) Also:

“The Guardian Angel always accompanies us as our principal witness. It is he who, at your particular judgment, will remember the kind deeds you performed for Our Lord throughout your life. Furthermore, when you feel lost, before the terrible accusations of the enemy, your Angel will present those intimations of your heart—which perhaps you yourself might have forgotten—those proofs of love which you might have had for God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.” (Furrow, No. 693)

May we come to appreciate more and more each day the love God has for each of us, his children, by keeping in touch with our Guardian Angel, and with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Angels, our mother.


Saturday, September 15, 2007


A friend of mine once observed that there is much poetry in Catholicism. He was referring to the wealth of imagery in the Catholic Faith. This could be said also of Judaism and other Christian groups, but perhaps it is more pronounced in the Roman Catholic Church. The observation comes to mind because yesterday, September 14, was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, logically followed today, September 15, by the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows: “standing by the cross of Jesus, his mother” (Jn 19:25). The cross is probably the most utilized image in catholic liturgy.

Even before the Crucifixion of our Lord, the cross must have already been a metaphor for suffering, at least within the Roman Empire, where crucifixion was precisely the gravest penalty for crime. From the time of our Lord, however, to us, Christians, the cross has meant not just suffering, but “redemptive suffering”.

Suffering is integral to human nature, not only to our “wounded” human nature but also to our plain human nature, not least because man is spiritual soul and material body. The human body, like all matter, is destined to disintegration; hence the inexorable march towards the wrenching agony of the separation of body and soul which is death.

While Adam and Eve enjoyed freedom from suffering before the original sin, it was by way of a “preternatural gift”, i.e., a good beyond the nature of the human creature, although not beyond the nature of the totality of creation (in the same way that “immortality” is beyond human nature but “natural” to purely spiritual creatures like the angels). When they turned away from God, Adam and Eve lost all their “gifts” and could only transmit to us, their descendants, what was their “nature”, a damaged or wounded human nature at that.

The Redemption accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ brings humanity into “intimacy with God”, actualized individually by grace with the free cooperation of man. But while we now enjoy this “supernatural gift” (beyond the nature of all creatures), its definitive fulfillment for each of us, including liberation from suffering and death, would take place in eternity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not remove suffering from the life of man on earth. Rather, He made it the very means of salvation, of our sanctification. We must learn to unite our own sufferings with that of our Lord.

It is of course good, nay, laudable, to alleviate or remove suffering, our own and others’, in so far as suffering consists in the absence or privation of a good, as long as our action does not constitute a turning away from our ultimate good. But it is best, for the sake of that highest good, to embrace suffering. Thus, we can face with Christian cheerfulness the unavoidable setbacks and difficulties of each day. We can also actively seek opportunities for self-denial, for love of God and neighbor, in many little things that do not really harm ourselves nor inconvenience others, and which could pass unnoticed.

Suffering is an indispensable condition for our entrance into eternal happiness. “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk 9:23ff; cf. Mt 16:24; Lk 14:27) Thus, the Church teaches: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.” (CCC, No. 2015)

True, our Lord raised several persons from the dead, healed many sick and fed the hungry multitudes; but these must be seen as manifestations of His mercy and proofs of His Divinity, not as the inauguration of a world liberated from suffering. In fact, after feeding the five thousand men, “when Jesus perceived that they would come to take him by force and make him king, he fled again to the mountain” (Jn 6:15). Our Lord did not come to bring political or economic liberation on earth. The “messianic declaration”—“to bring good news to the poor he has sent me” (Lk 4:18) — “is to be understood mainly in a spiritual, transcendental sense” (The Navarre Bible, Note at passage). It was precisely the Jews’ materialistic and earthbound reading of this quote from the prophet Isaiah (61:1ff) which blinded them from recognizing Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Let us not be misled by parties or movements that promise to eliminate poverty, injustice, suffering, from the life of man in the world.

St. Josemaria writes: “The happiness of us poor men, even when it has supernatural motives, always leaves a bitter aftertaste. What did you expect? Here on earth, suffering is the salt of our life.” (The Way, No. 203) On the other hand, “Is it not true that, as soon as you cease to be afraid of the Cross, of what people call the cross, when you set your will to accept the Will of God, then you find happiness, and all your worries, all your sufferings, physical or moral, pass away? Truly, the Cross of Jesus is gentle and lovable. There, sorrows cease to count; there is only the joy of knowing that we are co-redeemers with Him.” (The Way of the Cross, Second Station)


Saturday, September 8, 2007


Today, September 8, is the memorial of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a good time to consider why we need to show devotion to her. Within the context of the general motive of pleasing God, I can think of several specific reasons.

First, we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary to give due adoration to the Blessed Trinity. We venerate (dulla) the saints to honor God, their Creator; more so in the case of our veneration (hyperdulla) of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the most perfect of God’s creatures because she is God’s mother.

Jesus Christ, as “perfect God and perfect Man” (Athanasian Creed), derives His Sacred Humanity from the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Virgin Mary is very much a part of His unique identity as Person, the Word of God made flesh, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity Become Man. The Jesus we worship is the “Son of God and Son of Mary”, and not any other Jesus.

Second, we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary to comply with the fourth commandment of the Decalogue: “Honor your father and mother.” She is our mother because she is the Mother of Christ and, as baptized Christians, we are members of Christ—other Christs, Christ Himself, alter Christus, ipse Christus. If we are Christ Himself, Mary is surely our mother.

From the Cross, our Lord also commanded: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27). To behold Mary is to behold her perfections: She is “full of grace” (Lk 1:28), therefore, sinless and “conceived without original sin”, perpetual virgin, assumed into heaven in body and soul. Beholding her perfections, we cannot help but marvel.

St. Josemaria writes: “Almighty God, Omnipotent and Infinitely Wise, had to choose his Mother. What would you have done, if you had had to choose yours? I think that you and I would have chosen the mother we have, filling her with all graces. That is what God did: and that is why, after the Blessed Trinity, comes Mary. Theologians have given a rational explanation for her fullness of grace and why she cannot be subject to the devil: it was fitting that it should be so, God could do it, therefore he did it. That is the great proof: the clearest proof that God endowed his Mother with every privilege, from the very first moment.” (The Forge, No. 482)

At the Annunciation of the Birth of our Savior, the angel Gabriel saluted our Lady, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee.” (Lk 1:26-28). St. Thomas Aquinas observes that it was the angel, a creature superior to men, who deferred to Mary, not the other way around, which indicates Mary’s special blessedness. Thus, Mary herself also prophesied, “all generations shall call me blessed, because He who is mighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49). This is the greeting of Elizabeth to Mary at the Visitation, which we make our own in the “Hail Mary”: “Blessed art thou among women” (Lk 1:28).

Third, we invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary to benefit more from her intercession. She is the Mediatrix of All Graces, our most powerful intercessor with our Lord. The miracle at the marriage feast at Cana (Jn 2:1-12) happened even if Jesus’ “hour has not yet come”. And though her intercession does not require our asking (as in the wedding at Cana), all the more should her mediation be beneficial, more timely, more insistent, etc., for us by our asking.

God wants us to ask Him for good things, even if He wants even more to give them to us, because we are free. Our prayer of petition is a way of our freely uniting our will with God’s, thereby loving God; and to ask Him for, to want, the good of our fellowmen, is an excellent way of living fraternal charity.

Intercession is an integral part of the “communion of saints”. Hence, the “us” in the Our Father, and the numerous miracles performed upon the intercession of others in the Gospel: the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mt 9:18-26; Mk 5:22-43; Lk 8:41-56), and of the centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10), the healing of a paralytic (Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26); and of the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Mt 15:21-28; Mk 7:24-30), etc.

We need to have devotion to our Lady, non multa sed multum, “not many but done well.” The most recommended, especially by saints and Popes, is praying the Holy Rosary daily with the family, and wearing the Brown Scapular of our Lady of Mount Carmel. St. Josemaria also recommends frequent, loving glances at pictures or images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as aspirations addressed to her many times during the day (e.g., “Holy Mary, our Hope, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!”). In the end, as St. Josemaria puts it, “Love of our Lady is proof of a good spirit, in works and in individuals. Don’t trust the undertaking that lacks this characteristic.” (The Way, No. 505)

Maligayang kaarawan, Mama Mary!


Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Today, August 28, is the feastday of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. It is a good time to call to mind what is perhaps the most famous line he wrote: “(Lord,) You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” (Confessions, 1, 1) It is a very beautiful way of expressing the meaning, the final cause, of human existence.

The ultimate purpose of human existence is, indeed, union with God—holiness, sanctity, wherein lies our perfection and happiness. We know this, even with the natural reason, because of the principal faculties of the human spirit: the intelligence and free will. The intelligence is ordained to understand the truth; the will is ordained to choose (to love) the good. Because of these powers, we know that: 1) man is spiritual soul (as well as material body), because the intellect and will are capable of “transcending” or “going beyond” material reality; 2) that man has an eternal destiny because only the material dimension of man can be destroyed; the spiritual soul, being non-matter (i.e., not composed of parts), is not covered by the law of entropy (all matter tends towards decay or disintegration); and 3) that, therefore, the ordination to, or hunger for, truth and goodness, which will subsist in eternity, can only be satisfied by the fullness of Truth and Goodness, God.

It can also be said, in connection with the above, that God created man in order to have at least one species in the material universe capable of knowing Him intelligently and of loving Him freely. Thus, another way of expressing the human vocation is: To know God with the intelligence enlightened by faith, to love God with our human freedom aided by grace, and to serve God with all our being, with all our strength, our passions, our possessions, with all our loves… To grow in the knowledge and love and service of God.

Sacred Scripture also reveals this human vocation to holiness. From our Lord’s lips: “You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). From St. Paul: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thes 4:3). It is also the teaching of the Church (Lumen Gentium, Nos. 39-42; CCC, No. 2013)

This call to holiness may also be understood as a demand to fulfill the New Law of Charity: Love of God above all things for His own sake, and love of others as oneself for the love of God (cf. Mt 22:37-40).

As the Decalogue of the Old Testament was written on two tablets of stone, so does the new law of charity have two dimensions: love of God, on one hand, and love of neighbor, on the other. These two dimensions of Christian charity are said to be personified by Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, of Bethany. Mary represents love of God—our life of prayer, of contemplation, of grace, our personal relationship with God, our interior life—Martha, love of others for God—our life of work, of action, of service, of building up the kingdom of God, of apostolate.

When our Lord came to their home, Mary seated herself at his feet and listened, while Martha was busy serving. At Martha’s complaint, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious about many things; yet only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:38-42)

Charity—sanctity—is the “one thing necessary,” but it has two dimensions, love of God above all and love of others for God. Our own “unity of life” as Christians demands that we live both. Thus, the vocation to sanctity is also a vocation to serve others; indeed, to apostolate, because, love of others means concern, above all, for their eternal happiness. Thus, in the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “Charity with everyone means, therefore, apostolate with everyone (Friends of God, 230).” Mary “has chosen the better part” because, as St. Josemaria Escriva also puts it, “Your apostolate must be the overflow of your life ‘within’.” (The Way, 961).

Precisely because we are free creatures, God will not “force” holiness on us. We have to want it “freely”. This means we have to orient our intelligence and will towards God, our ultimate end, as against our disordered tendencies caused by original sin to choose what is not compatible with union with God. We need to make conscious effort not to exchange the greater for the lesser good in every choice we make. We need to grow in the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity which, although received unmeritedly through grace, require our cooperation for their increase. We have to struggle towards holiness, which is the only worthwhile use of our freedom.

Human freedom is not absolute. It is limited by the need to bow to “objective” reality (outside of us); and to the natural consequences of our choices, because the exercise of freedom actually “binds” us. Freedom is meaningless until exercised in choice; hence, human freedom is inseparable from “commitment” and because of this, “responsibility”: we could be the cause of whatever happiness or misery resulting from our choices.

Authentic human freedom is the capacity of man “to direct himself towards his ultimate end”. True “liberation” (the increase or restoration of freedom) happens only when we freely commit, bind, ourselves to pursuing holiness. May we seek to live “in the freedom of the glory of children of God,” in libertatem gloriae filiorum Dei (Rom 8:21) by in all things making our own Mary’s Fiat, “Let it be done!” to the will of God.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007


St. Josemaria Escriva would insist that the foundation of our spirituality, indeed, the foundation of our sanctity, is our divine filiation, the fact that we are children of God.

“For whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Now you have not received a spirit of bondage so as to be again in fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by virtue of which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are sons of God. But if we are sons, we are heirs also: heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ, provided, however, we suffer with him that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:14-17)

Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were friends of God. After the Fall, they became “enemies” of God and slaves to sin—the “wounded” human nature inherited by all their descendants. With the redemption accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary 2000+ years ago, mankind, “in Christ”, became “children of God”. So now we are no longer slaves to sin, nor even just friends of God, but sons, entitled to call God “Abba, Father!” and to inherit the kingdom. That is why the Liturgy of the Easter Vigil (Exsultet) contains a line in which we exclaim, “O, happy fault,” Felix culpa!, in reference to the sin of Adam and Eve as the “cause” of the Incarnation, Redemption and our adoption as children of God. Indeed, this provides a partial explanation for the mystery of why God allows evil (He is never the author of evil but allows it): because He can make even greater good come out of it.

While the redemption has been accomplished in history by our Lord Jesus Christ, the application of its benefits is a continuing work: people continue to be born (and will continue until the end of time) who will receive its benefits individually. We receive the benefits of redemption by our “incorporation” into Christ, by becoming part of Him, members of His (mystical) Body (the Church), which is accomplished through “sanctifying grace” first received in the Sacrament of Baptism. Thus, we can say with St. Paul, “I live, now, not I, but Christ lives in me,” Vivo autem iam non ego sed Christus vivit in me vero (Gal 2:20). We are sons of God because God the Father sees in us His only-begotten Son. We venerate the saints because they are people like us who have permanently achieved this state: they are eternally in God the Son, united with God the Father in the love Who is God the Holy Spirit.

While we live on earth, we are in a position to freely increase (or diminish even to the point of disappearance) this life of God in us. The grace of being Christ-like given us at Baptism should grow as we grow humanly, in which we also need God’s grace but must also freely cooperate. God created us free to direct ourselves freely to our end; hence, as St. Augustine puts it, “God created us without us but will not save us without us.” We have to want to become saints.

The work of our own sanctification may be expressed as growing more and more like Christ, who is also the model for our behavior. Indeed, the task of spiritual directors, among others, is to help us “chisel-away” the “rough spots” (to use a metaphor of St. Josemaria), to become, eventually, alter Christus, ipse Christus, “another Christ, Christ Himself”. We should say of our lives, and mean it, like St. John the Baptist: “He must increase, I must decrease,” Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui (Jn 3:29). Thus, the struggle for sanctification may also be expressed as the “imitation of Christ”.

We become like Christ through sanctifying grace and grow in it by our efforts (also aided by grace) to model our interior dispositions and behavior on our Lord Jesus Christ, which presupposes an intimate personal relationship with Him (knowing and loving Him). But we become most Christlike in this life on earth in Holy Communion received worthily and with the proper dispositions: then (and for as long as the appearances of bread and wine remain in us), we are also physically, truly Him (we become His Body that we eat).

God initially created and called man to be His co-operator (co-worker) in the work of creation (of bringing the material universe to greater and greater perfection): “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 2:15). After the Fall of Adam and Eve, the main thrust of God’s work has been to prepare mankind for the redemption accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ. But this work of redemption is a continuing work. We are also called to be Christ’s co-operators in this work of redemption (God’s new creation, the heavenly city of Jerusalem). Thus, the vocation to sanctity is also a vocation to apostolate.

If sanctity means imitating our Lord in His Sacred Humanity, then closeness to the Blessed Virgin Mary is indispensable: she “formed” Him physically in her womb and spiritually as well in His infancy and childhood. If we are to become Christ Himself, we must also be sons of Mary.