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.