Sunday, September 21, 2008


Human life is holy because from its beginning up to its end—from conception to resurrection and eternity (the expression, “from womb to tomb”, implies that communion ends with the grave; pro tanto, it is not of the Catholic faith)—every human life belongs to God in a direct way.

Human life belongs to God from its beginning because every human person is directly created by God, Who “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7)—the human spiritual soul—at the moment of conception. While the parents cooperate with God through the marital act (and subsequently, in the rearing and education of the child), the spiritual soul—precisely because it is “spiritual”, i.e., transcending material reality—comes directly from God; it cannot come from mere matter or only from the biological process. Thus, the “efficient cause” of every human existence is the direct, creative action of God, with the cooperation of the parents. Theories of Evolution would not explain man’s spiritual soul, since what is spiritual (the nobler or greater) could not possibly evolve from matter (the lesser).

Human life is ordained to “union with God”—holiness, sanctity—as its “final cause” or ultimate end, because the human soul, being spiritual, has an eternal destiny (unlike material substances which ineluctably tend towards disintegration or decay); and because the principal powers of the human spiritual soul—the intelligence and free will—are ordained by nature to understand the truth and to choose (to love) the good, respectively, and can only be satisfied by union with the fullness of Truth and fullness of Good—the fullness of Being—God. Thus, St. Augustine writes: “(Lord,) You have made us for Yourself; and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” (Confessions, 1,1)

Still, while man’s orientation towards God as ultimate end is natural, its fulfillment (union with God in eternity) is beyond human nature as such, and made possible only by a supernatural gift of empowerment—sanctifying grace—which Adam and Eve initially enjoyed but subsequently lost by their sin of disobedience (the “original sin” of man). This capacity was won back by our Lord Jesus Christ, and each of us has it by our incorporation (by Baptism) in the Son of God become Man. But while the Redemption has been accomplished once and for all in its objective dimension, its benefits have to be applied individually to each human person, including those to be born down the centuries until the end of time, who have to freely want it; hence, its subjective dimension, which makes redemption a continuing work.

Also, while we live in this world, seeing God only by Faith, our freedom makes us “changeable”. Our “temporality”—being in time—precisely implies changeability, because time is a measure of change. Thus, while on earth, we can lose sanctifying grace by our choices, i.e., of turning away from God knowingly and voluntarily in a serious matter.

Happily, sanctifying grace lost after Baptism may be recovered (through the Sacrament of Reconciliation). But the challenge for each one is not so much to maintain this state of grace, this incorporation in Christ, as to grow in it; or, better, to allow Christ to “increase”. As with John the Baptist, “He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease,” Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui (Jn 3:30). Towards the end of our lives, as its culmination on earth, we should be able to say, with St. Paul, “It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me,” Vivo autem iam non ego, sed Christus vivit in me vero (Gal 2:20). The capacity to become friends of God—or better, to grow as children of God in Christ—should be realized more and more as we advance on our earthly pilgrimage (towards the Promised Land of Heaven). What was planted as a seed at Baptism (most probably while we were infants) should grow as we mature humanly. St. Josemaria writes: “Conversion is a matter of a moment. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime” (The Way, No. 285).

Sacred Scripture proclaims this call for each of us to grow in holiness, in union with God: “You must therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44-45). “This is the will of God, your sanctification,” Haec est voluntas Dei, sanctificatio vestra (1 Th 4:3). “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). This was a truth known and lived by the first Christians. Yet, after the fall of the Roman Empire and the onset of the Dark Ages, obviously because of the collapse of law and order, the near eradication of classical culture in favor of the customs of barbarian tribes, and what may have been the near-impossibility of living the human and Christian virtues in the world, “sanctity” came to be seen as attainable only by renouncing the world; as something not for everyone, much less for the ordinary lay Christian.

From 1928 onwards, St. Josemaria taught that all men are called to be holy; and that, for the ordinary lay Christian, the path to holiness lies in fulfilling his ordinary duties “with human and supernatural perfection”, i.e., doing his everyday tasks as well as he can and for love of God and men. The doctrine of the “universal call to holiness” became the “centerpiece” of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. In a homily on the occasion of the canonization of the Founder of Opus Dei in October 2002, Pope John Paul II dubbed St. Josemaria “the saint of the ordinary”.