Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The call to holiness, to union with God, which is addressed to everyone (“You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mt 5:48]), is a vocation to live the new law of Charity: love of God above all creatures and love of neighbor in and for God, i.e., the unity of contemplation and action, of prayer and work, of interior life and apostolate, of building a personal relationship with God and building the kingdom of God.

All honest human work (which excludes immoral acts, precisely because those are not proper to authentic human nature) can be sanctified and sanctifying, i.e., a means for growing in union with God. Work done with human and supernatural perfection, i.e., to the best of our ability and out of love for God, becomes prayer, an acceptable offering to God, and an opportunity in which to live the human and supernatural virtues.

Indeed, from the beginning, i.e., even before the Fall of Adam and Eve, man was called to work, “to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28), “to cultivate and care for [the garden]” (Gen 2:15), to participate in the work of creation, in continuing to perfect the material universe (perfection does not preclude its increase). Thus, work pertains to our original, authentic human nature; it is not a consequence of sin (it is the wearisome attribute we associate with work that sin introduced). Of course, even better, this vocation to cooperate in the work of creation is carried over into the “new” creation, the work of Redemption, of seeing to it that the fruits of the objective accomplishment of Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary are applied and availed of by each individual human person as subject down the centuries. We are all called to be co-redeemers with Christ.

In the case of laypeople which we the vast majority of Christians are, building the kingdom of God—placing Christ at the summit of all reality—means doing our ordinary (secular) work well and for love of God.

The Second Vatican Council teaches:

“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 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; emphasis ours)

Politics—the work of government—is an authentic human reality that can and must be sanctified and sanctifying. It pertains to our true human nature (as distinguished from the bundle of disordered tendencies that reflect our wounded nature) as social beings. Thus: “Those who are suited or can become suited should prepare themselves for the difficult, but at the same time, the very noble art of politics, and should seek to practice this art without regard for their own interests or for material advantages.” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 75). Thus, in connection with the coming 2010 elections, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines found it fit to proclaim expressly: “We call upon those who are competent, persons of integrity, and committed to change, to get involved directly in principled partisan politics, and become candidates for political election, aware that the common good is above the good of vested interests” (CBCP, “Pastoral Statement on Lay Participation in Politics”, 12 July 2009).

In his most recent Encyclical Letter, Pope Benedict XVI writes:

“Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us. For this reason, even in the most difficult and complex times, besides recognizing what is happening, we must above all else turn to God's love. Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace…Christians long for the entire human family to call upon God as ‘Our Father!’ In union with the only-begotten Son, may all people learn to pray to the Father and to ask him, in the words that Jesus himself taught us, for the grace to glorify him by living according to his will, to receive the daily bread that we need, to be understanding and generous towards our debtors, not to be tempted beyond our limits, and to be delivered from evil. (Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, No. 79)


Monday, August 31, 2009


In the Gospel-story of the rich young man, we read: “And behold, a certain man came to him and said, ‘Good Master, what good work shall I do to have eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘Why dost thou ask me about what is good? One there is who is good, and he is God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which?’ And Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and mother, and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept; what is yet wanting to me?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he had great possessions.” (Mt 19:16-22).

At the outset, it should be good to note that the demand of selling everything to give to the poor is specific to this young man. “Actual renunciation of riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the ‘rich’ Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (Mt 27:57). But only the ‘poor in spirit’ (Mt 5:3) can enter the kingdom and, as here, such poverty may entail the sacrifice of one’s possessions.” (New American Bible, note at Mt. 19:16-30). Also: “This story does not set up a ‘two-tier’ morality, that of those who seek (only) eternal life (v.16) and that of those who wish to be perfect (v.21). It speaks rather of the obstacle that riches constitute for the following of Jesus and of the impossibility, humanly speaking, for one who has many possessions (v.22) to enter the kingdom (v.24). (Id.)

The rich young man in this episode “went away sad”—abiit tristis—because he could not let go of his many possessions to follow our Lord. He refused his vocation from God.

“Sad” does not only describe the subjective state of this rich young man: it is also objectively a sad scene, viewed from outside that character, even from our standpoint, and down the centuries. Turning away from God—which is of the essence of all sin—always involves a breakdown, a tearing apart, a failure, a wounding inside the person, since he would then be acting contrary to his authentic nature, which is to tend towards God. Sadder still would it be when this turning away from God of the human individual were made in reference to his “vocation”, to a call from God towards a lifelong “path” or lifetime project, God’s plan for each person, by which that individual were to attain his ultimate good. It is sadder because this refusal of a vocation from God is more far-reaching in its consequences.

On the surface, the turning away of the rich young man may not rank as “sin”: his choice was not patently “immoral”, since wealth is not an evil in itself. On the other hand, since it is of our authentic human nature to obey God in everything, there is in the turning away of this rich young man a radical deviation from his good. Had he known that it was God Who was telling him, in no uncertain terms, to sell everything, give to the poor, and to follow Christ, this refusal to obey would have constituted a most grievous sin. Indeed, it may be precisely the lack of “certainty” of the “vocation”—whether it is what God wants—which diminishes, in many cases, the malice and sinfulness of a vocation that is “lost” or refused.

With regard to “conventional” or common “sins”, which are obvious transgressions of the natural moral law (especially summarized in the Decalogue), the turning-away from God—the lawgiver—is clear. On the other hand, refusal of a “vocation” may not necessarily involve an obvious moral choice: to marry a specific person or not, to dedicate oneself to a specific way of life; to be lay, cleric, or religious; etc.; do not involve choosing between right and wrong, between good and evil in se. The evil would lie in picking an option other than what God wants; and since the vocation from God would not be expressed in a compelling manner nor as clearly coming from Him—God values human freedom so much! one could not be one hundred percent sure!—the refusal of a vocation could arguably be morally neutral. Still, since God’s plan for each one of us would always be the best, even assuming that there was a sincere effort to discern God’s Will, our refusal would result, at least, in losing a priceless opportunity. The rich young man of the Gospels could have become one of the Twelve; and his refusal amounted to losing that great honor forever.

St. Josemaria writes:

“Ask yourself now (I too am examining my conscience) whether you are holding firmly and unshakeably to your choice of Life. When you hear the most lovable voice of God urging you on to holiness, do you freely answer 'Yes'? Let us turn our gaze once more to Jesus, as he speaks to the people in the towns and countryside of Palestine. He doesn't want to force himself upon us. 'If you have a mind to be perfect...', he says to the rich young man. The young man refused to take the hint, and the Gospel goes on to say: abiit tristis, he went away forlorn. That is why I have sometimes called him the 'sad lad'. He lost his happiness because he refused to hand over his freedom to God.” (Friends of God, No. 24)


Sunday, August 9, 2009


Edith Stein “saw” with her intellect (after having read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila) and converted from Judaism to Christianity. As “Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce” (Teresa Blessed of the Cross), a Discalced Carmelite nun, she died a martyr in a gas chamber of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz (Poland) on 9 August 1942. She is still remembered as the brilliant writer and teacher of philosophy who had been an assistant and collaborator of Edmund Husserl (the “father” of Phenomenology). Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on 1 May 1987, and canonized her on 11 October 1998.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross evokes the importance of the human intellect, of reason, in bringing the person to his last end, union with God. This is the theme of the Encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998) of Pope John Paul II:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).” (FeR, Preamble)

X x x x

“‘All human beings desire to know’, and truth is the proper object of this desire. Everyday life shows how concerned each of us is to discover for ourselves, beyond mere opinions, how things really are. Within visible creation, man is the only creature who not only is capable of knowing but who knows that he knows, and is therefore interested in the real truth of what he perceives. People cannot be genuinely indifferent to the question of whether what they know is true or not. If they discover that it is false, they reject it; but if they can establish its truth, they feel themselves rewarded. It is this that Saint Augustine teaches when he writes: ‘I have met many who wanted to deceive, but none who wanted to be deceived’. It is rightly claimed that persons have reached adulthood when they can distinguish independently between truth and falsehood, making up their own minds about the objective reality of things. This is what has driven so many enquiries, especially in the scientific field, which in recent centuries have produced important results, leading to genuine progress for all humanity.” (No. 25)

X x x x

“Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfilment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason. Illumined by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God. Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice.” (No. 43)

X x x x

“Deprived of what Revelation offers, reason has taken side-tracks which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal. Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so run the risk of no longer being a universal proposition. It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition. By the same token, reason which is unrelated to an adult faith is not prompted to turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being.” (FeR, No. 48)

It cannot be by “faith alone” that man would reach his eternal happiness. Apart from the issue of the protestant dichotomy of “faith and works”, Faith seeks “understanding”. We are, after all, men, not angels, and it is of our human nature (even our “authentic” nature, not only our “wounded” nature) to “understand” the “truth” with our human intelligence, just as it is of our authentic human nature to “love” the “good” with our human freedom.

“Faith”, the supernatural virtue of believing God’s revelation, is “infused” by grace; but the truths contained by that Faith call for an understanding that is dynamic--that is, increasing in the degree of apprehension--if they are to penetrate more and more into our human personality. The disciples would ask our Lord, “Explain to us the parable,” Dissere nobis parabolam (Mt 13:36).

St. Josemaria writes: “'Follow me, and I will make you into fishers of men'. Not without reason does our Lord use these words: men — like fish — have to be caught by the head. What evangelical depth there is in the 'intellectual apostolate'!” (The Way, No. 978)


Sunday, July 26, 2009


July 25 is the Feast of St. James, Apostle—“the Greater”, to distinguish him from “James the son of Alpheus” (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15) also referred to as “James the Less” (Mk 15:40). St. James the Greater is the brother of John, “he whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; and 21:7); and these two sons of Zebedee were named Boanerges, "sons of thunder", by our Lord (Mk 3:17) perhaps because of a certain impetuousness of character, as when they spoke of calling down fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan town that would not welcome our Lord:

“Now it came to pass, when the days had come for him to be taken up, that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before him. And they went and entered a Samaritan town to make ready for him, and they did not receive him, because his face was set for Jerusalem. But when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire come down from heaven and consume them? But he turned and rebuked them, saying, ‘You do not know of what manner of spirit you are; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’ And they went to another village.” (Lk 9:51-56)

On another occasion, out of zeal, it was John who spoke about forbidding one who was not of their company from casting out devils in the name of the Lord:

“John said to him, ‘Master, we saw a man who was not one of our followers casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him…For he who is not against you is for you.” (Mk 9:37-40; Lk 9:49-50)

The “mother of the sons of Zebedee”—Salome—was present at the Crucifixion of our Lord. She is mentioned along with Mary Magdalene and “Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joseph” (Mk 15:40). This last Mary, “the mother of James and Joseph” (Mt 27:56), is identifiable with “Mary of Cleophas”, Cleophas being the other name of Alpheus, the father of James the Less (cf. Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15). Salome, the mother of James and John, was probably a sister or close relative of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Now there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (Jn 19:25). This closeness to our Lady would partly explain why Salome herself had the “temerity” to ask our Lord for the “right hand” and “left hand” seats for her sons in the kingdom:

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons; and worshipping, she made a request of him. He said to her, ‘What dost thou want?’ She said to him, ‘Command that these my two sons may sit, one at thy right hand and one at thy left hand, in thy kingdom.’ But Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink of the cup which I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can.’ He said to them, ‘Of my cup you shall indeed drink; but as for sitting at my right hand and at my left, that is not mine to give you, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’” (Mt 20:20-23)

The ambitious zeal of the Boanerges and their mother is an invitation for us to foster the desire for holiness, to reach our end. Nor is that an impossible dream. Our human freedom is precisely the capacity to direct ourselves—intelligently and voluntarily—towards union with God. We will only reach heaven if we want to, with an operative desire. Possumus, “we can”, in spite of our wretchedness, with “God and daring”, Diós y audacia:

“Will-power. Energy. Example. What has to be done is done…without wavering….Otherwise, Cisneros would not have been Cisneros; nor Teresa of Ahumada, St. Teresa; nor Iñigo of Loyola, St. Ignatius. God and daring! ‘Regnare Christum volumus!’—‘We want Christ to reign!’” (The Way, No. 11)

St. Josemaria further writes:

“Allow your soul to be consumed by desires—desires for loving, for forgetting yourself, for sanctity, for Heaven. Do not stop to wonder whether the time will come to see them accomplished, as some pseudo-adviser might suggest. Make them more fervent everyday, for the Holy Spirit says that he is pleased with men of desires. Let your desires be operative and put them into practice in your daily tasks.” (Furrow, No. 628)

The hero of the Book of Daniel was a “man of desires”, vir desideriorum (Dn 10:11, 19; although some translations render this as “beloved”).

James and John, perhaps because of their predisposition, together with Peter (because of his primacy), were the three whom our Lord brought to witness his Transfiguration (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2: Lk 9:28) and agony (in the Garden [Mt 26:37; Mk 14:33]). St. James was beheaded on orders of Herod Agrippa, and was the first apostle to have the honor of being martyred.


Saturday, June 27, 2009


“Holiness” or “sanctity” (Latin, sanctus, “holy”) can be defined or explained in various ways. It is “union with God”. It is also our “perfection” as human persons, which our Lord meant when He said, “You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48); and this means acquiring all the “virtues” (habits or stable dispositions of doing good).

To be holy also means fulfilling the New Law of Love, to live “the fullness of charity” (loving God above all else for His own sake and our neighbor as oneself for the love of God); to be Christ-like. It is also “to see God face to face”, to share in God’s intimate life of Love, in God’s eternal happiness, to be happy or “blessed”; to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is the final cause, the end, the ultimate purpose, the meaning, of human existence.

Of course, one of the best ways of putting it is the way our Lord did in the Eight Beatitudes (Latin, beatus, “blessed”):

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3-10)

Though, like the virtues, the Eight Beatitudes are all ordained to holiness (“the kingdom of heaven”, to “see God”, to be “called children of God”, etc.), the virtues refer to specific acts while the Eight Beatitudes are broader categories of interior dispositions that can perhaps be called “attitudes” or “orientations”.

Spiritual writers (cf. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life) see in their enumeration in the Gospel an “ascending” order in the Eight Beatitudes:

The first three, “the poor in spirit”, “the meek”, and “they who mourn” would highlight the “purgative way” of a “beginner” who has undergone his “first conversion” and has made the decision to turn his life’s trajectory towards God. One might say that “poverty” here would mean "detachment" vis-à-vis creatures. To a great extent, “meekness” here would consist in “humility”, a growing awareness of one’s littleness before God. “Mourning” would refer to "sorrow for sin".

The next two beatitudes, “they who hunger and thirst for justice” and “the merciful”, are said to highlight the “illuminative way” of a “proficient” who has undergone his “second conversion” and the “passive purification” or “dark night” of the “senses”, thenceforth to be carried more by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit rather than his own virtues. Those who “hunger and thirst for justice” would refer to those who seek holiness, i.e., with an effective (operative) desire, to want with deeds. To be “merciful” would mean “forgiving”, the height of loving our neighbors.

The last three, “the clean of heart”, “the peacemakers”, and “they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake”, belong to the “transforming way” of one who has undergone his “third conversion” and the passive purification or dark night of the “spirit”; in short, the height of sanctity possible on earth.

The “clean of heart” would be those whose intentions are “pure” or have been purified, for whom it could be said that everything they think, say, do, suffer, desire, etc., were all for the glory of God. The “peacemakers” would be those who have interior peace—“tranquility in order”—resulting from victory over their former disordered tendencies; and being at peace, they bring peace to others as well. The eighth category, “they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake”, could be understood as an “entitative” category that captures all of the preceding beatitudes: those who suffer martyrdom (in various ways and degrees), who are dead to self, dead to sin and to the world.

The call to holiness is a call to live and grow in the Eight Beatitudes. This is where true happiness—beatitude—can be found.

Our life on earth must be a struggle for sanctification. While the work, its progress and completion would be God’s, we must put in everything that we can, applying the means available to us: frequenting the sacraments, prayer, study, the effort to keep presence of God, doing everything with human and supernatural perfection, i.e., doing everything well and out of love for God. We must tend, with our human freedom, towards this end, our sanctification, which is really “the one thing necessary”.

St. Josemaria writes: “A secret, an open secret: these world crises are crises of saints. God wants a handful of men 'of his own' in every human activity. And then... 'pax Christi in regno Christi — the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ’” (The Way, No. 301).


Thursday, May 28, 2009


Growing in one’s knowledge of God (really inseparable from loving God) means knowing God as God wants to be known, and not as reduced to the standards of some minimalist, nor as embellished according to the baroque leanings of some weaver of fantasies. Knowing God as God wants to be known happens to be beyond our natural human capacity, and is made possible only by a gift from God—the supernatural Virtue of Faith infused in the soul at Baptism. This is the Faith that allows us to affirm: “We worship one God in the Trinity…we distinguish among the Persons, but we do not divide the Substance” (Athanasian Creed). So also, growth in knowing God means growth in knowing each of the Divine Persons.

Perhaps, we can say that since the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity is precisely “spirit”—which term, in itself, defies analogy with matter—and because the human person normally perceives reality through the senses of his material body, there is understandably greater difficulty in dealing with the Holy Spirit. One way of getting to know the Holy Spirit better is through considering His Gifts, Fruits and Charisms.

The Church teaches that there are Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord (CCC, No. 1831). This is the order of their enumeration in Sacred Scripture (Is 11:1-2).

“Wisdom” disposes the intellect to be easily moved to the contemplation of divine truths, to have a “supernatural outlook” that views reality as God does, and to take delight in the things of God. “Understanding” disposes the intellect to penetrate more deeply the truths of the Faith. “Counsel” disposes the intellect to make right decisions on the specific acts to be done. “Fortitude” inclines one to do, actually, God’s will inspite of difficulties. “Knowledge” disposes the intellect to see the value of created things in relation to God. “Piety” corresponds to the virtue of "religion" (giving God "due" worship, under the cardinal virtue of Justice) and inclines one’s will to revere God as Father and to love one’s fellowmen as children of God. “Fear of the Lord” inclines one’s will to show a “filial” fear—as distinguished from “servile” fear—of offending God, and therefore to abhor sin out of love for God.

The Seven Gifts serve to complete or to perfect the Virtues. While both categories of interior dispositions facilitate the same good human actions, in the exercise of the Virtues, the actor is the human person through his will (aided by grace); with the Gifts, the mover is the Holy Spirit. Spiritual writers have compared the Virtues to the oars of a boat, and the Gifts to the sail, by which the boat could move faster with lesser effort, as long as the wind is blowing.

Somewhat in consequence of the Gifts, “the fruits of the spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them” (CCC, No. 1832; cf. Gal 5:22-23 [Vulgate]). These external manifestations of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the person are “Charity” (love of God above all else for His own sake and of neighbor as oneself for the love of God), “Joy” (rooted in the sense of one’s divine filiation, compatible with suffering), “Peace” (tranquility in order), “Patience” or "Longanimity", “Kindness”, “Goodness”, “Generosity” or "Magnanimity", “Gentleness” or "Mildness" (“a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench” [Is 42:3]), “Faithfulness” (Fidelity), “Modesty”, “Self-Control” (Continence), and “Chastity”.

While the Gifts are received by all at Baptism, and the Fruits are yielded by all who are in the state of grace (albeit in varying degrees of abundance, depending on one’s correspondence), Sacred Scripture also speaks of special “gifts”, perhaps better called Charisms (from the Greek, kharis, “favor” or “gift”). Thus:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all…To one through the Spirit is given the utterance of wisdom; and to another the utterance of knowledge… faith… healing…the working of miracles… prophecy… the distinguishing of spirits…various kinds of tongues… interpretation of tongues. But all these things are the work of one and the same Spirit, who allots to everyone according as he will” (1 Cor 12:4-11). Parenthetically, the quoted passage is an early form of “appropriation”: “works” are ascribed to God (the Father), i.e., of creation and providence; “ministries” (service) to the “Lord” (God the Son); and “gifts” (charismata) to the Holy Spirit. The gifts here are “special” in the sense that not everyone receives them, and these are mainly, primarily, for the good of others or the Church, rather than the individual receiving the particular charism.

St. Josemaria writes: “Get to know the Holy Spirit, the Great Unknown, the one who has to sanctify you. Don’t forget that you are a temple of God. The Paraclete is in the center of your soul: listen to him and follow his inspirations with docility” (The Way, No. 57).


Thursday, April 2, 2009


The season of Lent is supposed to be one in which we intensify our struggle for sanctification, in accordance with the will of God: Haec est voluntas Dei, sanctificatio vestra, “This is the will of God, your sanctification. (1 Thes 4:3). This is also the Will of God at its most encompassing, at least from our standpoint. It is our highest “vocation”.

“Vocation” comes from the Latin, vocare, “to call”, related to voca, for “mouth”, and vox, for “voice”. The word is used, generally, in reference to God’s calling us to make those decisions or choices that have a radical, lifelong, or better, eternal, impact on our existence.

All men are called to holiness (sanctity), meaning, “union with God”—to live morally upright lives, to acquire all the virtues, to be perfect (Mt 5:48), which is possible because of God’s grace—and so to share in His eternal happiness (beatitude). This is the doctrine of the “universal call to holiness” which can be considered the “centerpiece” of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It is also the doctrine preached by St. Josemaria since 1928, when (and for which) he founded Opus Dei. An important corollary of this message is that, for the vast majority of ordinary people living in the middle of the world, the path to sanctity lies in the fulfillment of one’s ordinary duties, in the home, at work, in social life, by doing them well and out of love for God; that is, with human and supernatural perfection.

The call to holiness becomes more and more specific as one narrows the field: in the case of catholics, one could be part of the “clergy”, or of an order of “religious”, or of the “laity” (those who are neither clergy nor religious). In the case of lay people, which many of us are, the path to holiness consists in “engaging in temporal realities and ordering them according to God’s plan” (Lumen Gentium, No. 31). Many lay people are “called” to the “married state”, while some are not. Marriage is also a vocation. Our professional work is also a “vocation” not only in a general sense but also regarding one’s particular job, to the extent that it may involve a radical, life-determining choice.

Sanctification also means growing in the supernatural virtue of charity—loving God above all else for His own sake and our neighbor as ourself for love of God—which, in turn, translates into loving the will of God.

Loving the will of God consists, actively, in fulfilling “the duty of each moment” (The Way, No. 815) and, passively, in “abandonment”: “The wholehearted acceptance of the will of God is the sure way of finding joy and peace: happiness in the cross. It’s then we realize that Christ’s yoke is sweet and his burden is not heavy” (The Way, No. 758). “’Gaudium cum pace’—‘joy with peace’—the unfailing and savory fruit of abandonment" (The Way, No. 768).

Perhaps, since we are all really very little, we shall be called to passive abandonment more often than to the bustle of activity. Indeed, God does not ask much from each of us (just everything we have); and that is why the Decalogue is couched, for the most part, in “negative” terms (“thou shalt not”): the minimum of doing good is not doing wrong. Still, avoiding evil and doing good, passive abandonment and active involvement in God’s plans, both call up “deeds” (the action of our free will) without which there is no love. “There is a story of a soul who, on saying to our Lord in prayer, 'Jesus, I love you’, heard this reply from heaven: ‘Deeds are love—not sweet words.’” (The Way, No. 933). Our Lord Himself said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15). “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21).

We should be sensitive and docile to the Will of God. Like St. Paul, let us ask our Lord often, Domine, quid me vis facere?, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Acts 9:6 [Confraternity Version]) or Quid faciam, Domine?, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10). And, as soon as we ascertain what God wants, let us be like the Blessed Virgin in promptly making it our own: Ecce ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38).

Mary’s fiat is the most momentous “yes” of a creature to the Will of God: the Redemption depended on it. And when Mary figured out that God wanted her to visit and assist her cousin Elizabeth—several days’ journey away—who was about to give birth, the Blessed Virgin went cum festinatione, “with haste” (Lk 1:39).

Most important, the Redemption was accomplished through the obedience of the God-man—Christ was “obedient to death, even to death on a cross” (Phil 2:8)—to the Will of the Father: “For just as by the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one (Christ) the many will be constituted just” (Rom 5:19).

St. Josemaria writes: “Many great things depend—don’t forget it—on whether you and I live our lives as God wants.” (The Way, No. 755)


Wednesday, March 18, 2009


The most popular or familiar scriptural reference to St. Joseph could be that found in the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which the husband of Mary is described as vir justus, “a just man” (Mt 1:19), meaning he had all the virtues. But there is a line in the Old Testament referring to the Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, and who became ruler of Egypt (second to the Pharaoh), which can be taken as an invitation to have recourse to Joseph of Nazareth: Ite ad Joseph, “Go to Joseph”.

Ite ad Joseph et, quidquid vobis dixerit, facite, “Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do” (Gen 41:55). These are the words spoken by Pharaoh to the people who cried for food when famine gripped Egypt and the neighboring lands.

Like the Old Testament patriarch, the husband of Mary also had a “Jacob” for his father: “And Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, and of her was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Mt 1:16). Like Joseph who took care of the nation of Israel during the years of famine, Joseph of Nazareth is Patron of the Universal Church, the people of God. We would do well indeed always to “go to Joseph”, who is “the Master of the interior life” (The Forge, No. 554)—he worked facing God, his life spent contemplating Jesus in an intimate personal relationship—but even more in times of trouble or of our own spiritual dryness or darkness and crises.

Joseph of Nazareth is an example of grace building on nature or, conversely, human freedom corresponding with grace:

“The Holy Family remained in Egypt until Herod’s death (cf. Mt 2:14). But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead’ (Mt 2:19). This is what Joseph did. In the different circumstances of his life, Saint Joseph never refuses to think, never neglects his responsibilities. On the contrary, he puts his human experience at the service of the faith. When he returns from Egypt, ‘learning that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea, he was afraid to go there’ (Mt 2:22). In other words, he had learned to work within the divine plan.” (F. Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 6, No. 24.2; quoting St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is passing by, No. 42)

“What is crucially important here is the sanctification of daily life, a sanctification which each person must acquire according to his or her own state, and one which can be promoted according to a model accessible to all people:

“‘Saint Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies…he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things—it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic’ [Paul VI, Address, 19 March 1969]” (F. Fernandez, op. cit., Vol. 6, No. 21.3; quoting John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Redemptoris custos, 15 August 1989, No. 24).

“There are many good reasons to honor St. Joseph and to learn from his life. He was a man of strong faith. He earned a living for his family—Jesus and Mary—with his own hard work. He guarded the purity of the Blessed Virgin, who was his Spouse. And he respected—he loved!—God’s freedom, when God made his choice: not only his choice of Our Lady the Virgin as his Mother, but also his choice of St. Joseph as the Husband of Holy Mary” (The Forge, No. 552).

“Painters have traditonally depicted Joseph as an elderly man in order to emphasize the perpetual virginity of Mary. Yet it is more likely that Joseph was not much older than his wife. You don’t have to wait to be old or lifeless to practise the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love; and the strength and joy of youth are no obstacle to a noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company respecting the integrity God wished to give the world as one more sign that he had come to share the life of his creatures.” (F. Fernandez, op. cit., Vol. 6, No. 22.2; quoting St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is passing by, No. 40).

While it is from Mary that our Lord Jesus Christ takes the substance of His Sacred Humanity, much of the formal (and legal), and somehow, essential, aspect of Jesus’ identity comes from Joseph.

Our Lord was known as the son of Joseph: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55); “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mk 6:3); “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22). It is through Joseph, “because he was of the house and family of David” (Lk 2:4), that the promise of the Messiah as a descendant of King David is fulfilled.

Let us always go to Joseph: “St. Joseph, our father and lord: most chaste, most pure. You were found worthy to carry the Child Jesus in your arms, to wash him, to hug him. Teach us to get to know God, and to be pure, worthy of being other Christs.” (The Forge, No. 553)


Friday, February 20, 2009


The February 22 Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter is a celebration of the Church’s “unity”, and the “authority” that helps sustain it. Despite the so-called “Reformation” of the 16th century, which was essentially a rebellion against that authority (and precisely wounding that unity, resulting in the separation of many), the Church remains One, and the office of Peter is a sign (and instrument) of this unity.

The Church is human society elevated to the supernatural dimension; a reality that belongs to the order of grace and to the natural order, which are somehow parallel. Because it is human as well as God’s—in the world as well as transcending time and the material universe—whatever “goods” may be essential to the human community—“civil” society (from the Latin, civitas, “city”) or the State, the “political” community (from the Greek, polis)—would also be proper (even if, at times, only by analogy) to the Church.

Human society is, essentially, the “union of wills” (formal cause) of “individuals through their families” (material cause). It is directly brought into existence and sustained by the human drive towards association with one’s fellowmen—love—or, more properly, “solidarity” (efficient cause); and for the ultimate purpose of achieving the “common good” (final cause or “end” of society).

The “union of wills” which is the form of society can only find expression as a single will; hence, the need for a “political authority”. Parenthetically, the primary objective of the political authority—of government—is to ensure the reign of justice; and that is because “justice”, the minimum of love or solidarity, is what brings and maintains society in existence; hence, of primordial importance to the community. Justice (giving everyone his due) is the “manageable” aspect of the “efficient cause” of society; and as St. Augustine puts 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). Love cannot be a matter of compulsion; but its minimum, justice, can be imposed coercively, through none other than “law” (rule-making, execution and dispute-resolution), which is, in fact, how the political authority operates.

Just as human society naturally requires “authority” and “law”, so does the Church, the people of God; hence, the “hierarchy” (Greek, hieros, “sacred”, and archos, “ruler”). Indeed, “grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment” (Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 43; paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 1, 8 ad 2: “cum enim gratia non tollat naturam sed perficiat”), not the least because God assumed human nature— “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).

The institution of a “structure of government” (hierarchy) in the Church is evident from the call of the Twelve Apostles (despite their human defects), with the power and duty to appoint their successors (“succession” for “continuity”), our Bishops, as in the election of Matthias to replace Judas the Betrayer (Acts 1:15ff); and their appointment of Deacons (Acts 6:1-7). Among the Twelve, Peter (and his successor, the Pope) is clearly “first”.

Our Lord was clear about Peter’s primacy: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). Anti-catholic propaganda would insist that the Greek words used for Peter (Petrus, stone) and the Rock (Petra, rock) refer to different things. But the theory that “rock” does not refer to Peter would render the passage meaningless, especially in light of the succeeding verse: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Our Lord would have spoken not Greek but Aramaic which had only one word for rock: Kephas.

Before the Last Supper, our Lord also singled out Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:31). After the Resurrection, our Lord again singled out Peter with the thrice-repeated commission, “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-23).

Peter was aware of his primacy: he spoke for the Twelve whenever their collective stand was needed. When our Lord asked, “Who do you say I am,” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:13-16; Mk 8:27-29; Lk 9:18-20). After Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22ff), when many left because they could not accept that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you” [Jn 6:54], and our Lord asked, “Do you also wish to go away,” Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68ff).

Peter played a leading role in the primitive Church. He directed the election of Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:15ff); he spoke to the crowd on Pentecost (2:14ff), giving his audience the requirements for their salvation (2:38, “Repent and be baptized”); he performed the first miracles of the Apostles (3:1ff). Peter’s primacy is, of course, not so much as “master” but as servant—“servant of the servants of God,” servus servorum Dei.

From the beginning, the Church was also aware of Peter’s primacy. While Peter was in prison (at Herod’s orders) in Jerusalem, “prayer was being made to God for him by the Church without ceasing” (Acts 12:1-5). St. Paul himself acknowledged Peter’s primacy by going to Jerusalem “to see Peter”, videre Petrum (Gal 1:18). Every listing of the Apostles has Peter as first (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:14-19: Lk 6:13-16; Acts 1:13).

It was Peter’s boat (also an image of the Church) that our Lord chose, from which he taught the crowds (Lk 5:3). Like Noah’s Ark, Peter’s boat, the Church, is the vessel in which we are saved and shall reach our final destination.

St. Josemaria writes: “Catholic, apostolic, Roman! I want you to be very Roman, ever anxious to make your ‘pilgrimage’ to Romevidere Petrum’—‘to see Peter’” (The Way, No. 520).


Thursday, February 5, 2009


“Detachment” is one of the more important virtues in our struggle for sanctification—not, perhaps, by itself, but because its opposite, “attachment”, lies at the very essence of sin. “Sin”, following a definition given by St. Augustine, is a “turning away from God”, aversio a Deo, and “turning towards creatures”, conversio ad creaturas (Belmonte, ed., Faith Seeking Understanding, Vol. 2, p. 67). Sin is our inordinate attachment towards creatures.

In terms of its ultimate causes, the “form” or “formal cause” of “sin” (what gives “sin” its “act of being” as such) is one’s “turning away from God”; while the “matter” or “material cause” (what gives it the potency or capacity to become what it is) is his “turning towards creatures”. Thus, the “essence” or “mode of being” of sin (always, the combination of “form” and “matter”) is our “turning away from God” and “turning towards creatures”. This also explains why “the end never justifies the means”: an act that is “intrinsically evil”, i.e., “incapable of being ordered to God” (cf. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, No. 80), would already, in itself, involve a turning away from God, the ultimate and highest good; hence, could not be justified by any intermediate intended good. On the other hand, every turning away from God involves placing a creature—the self, the world, or the devil—above the Creator. Every running away from God involves running into something infinitely less, a loss, an unworthy enslavement for man.

Even from a human perspective, detachment is a virtue that makes a person attractive. The manly traits listed in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”, can almost all be reduced to detachment: “…If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;/ If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;/ If you can meet with triumph and disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same;/…If you can make one heap of all your winnings/ And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,/ And lose and start again at your beginnings,/ And never breathe a word about your loss;/…If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue/ Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;/ If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;/ If all men count with you, but none too much…”

All this is not to say that creatures are not to be loved. All creation—all existence, all being—is good; and therefore, lovable. God created everything, and “God saw that all that he had made was very good” (Gen 1:31); and it is an internal contradiction—a logical absurdity—to think of God, Goodness Himself, as causing “evil” to come into existence. Indeed, evil must be non-being. Metaphysically, “evil” is simply the absence of a good that should be there. Thus, strictly speaking, there is no “evil” in the physical order: animals, plants and things follow the natural course which inexorably bring them to their proper end. Evil entered the universe through the choices of creatures endowed with “freedom”, the angels and man. Because we are free, we could turn away from our proper end, and trigger a chain of causation (more disorder). Of course, God created us free not so we could turn away from our end, but so that we could “direct ourselves” (freely) towards Him.

Because “sin” is materially-caused by our inordinate attachment towards creatures, we need to be detached from these (including ourselves)—loving them (in the proper order: some more than others), but also ready and willing to discard or let go of them when these become obstacles to reaching our union with God. We need to love the “world”—the term embraces all authentic natural, human and material reality—yes, even “passionately”, as St. Josemaria would put it, but with a supernatural outlook. Detachment means, for the ordinary Christian, being very much “in” the world but not “of” the world (Jn 17:14-18).

The very first beatitude—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:2)—demands detachment from material possessions. This does not necessarily mean having to do without things, but to treat them properly, as intermediate goods that are of relative value; secondary or, better, contributory, to attaining our ultimate good.

The same principle applies to other “goods”: power, fame, our job, and also our fellowmen. That is why “charity” should be understood as “loving God above all (his creatures) for his own sake, and loving our neighbor as ourself for the love of God”. We cannot “idolize” people, or even put too much importance to what they want, think or say. That is the defect of “human respect”, doing things to please men rather than God (cf. Acts 5:29).

The human heart was meant to love, but the proper end of that love is God alone. If we do not commit ourselves to loving God above all things, we will wind up enslaved by false, disordered attachments to all sorts of lesser things.

Beyond mere stoicism or a “self-emptying” mindlessnes, Christian detachment means placing our natural attraction to creatures at the service of a supernatural desire for God. Commonsensically, this means avoiding whatever may lead us away from God; and, conversely, drawing closer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to persons and things that lead us to God.