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.