Everyone loves life, but what is true life? Living does not mean growing as plants do or leading an existence similar to that of animals, which eat, drink, move, grow, reproduce, have certain external senses (sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing) and internal senses (memory, imagination ...) and then die dissolving into nothing.
Natural and Supernatural Order
Man also has a spiritual soul, endowed with an intelligence to know the truth and with a will to love good, but in addition to natural human life there is also a supernatural life, a free gift from God, which perfects natural life and makes it participate through sanctifying grace, in a finite and limited way, in the very life of God, so that "this [earthly] life is not true life", it is a preparation for the true life that is eternal life and that awaits us in the hereafter.
If we believe in divine Revelation not only is this something obtained for us, but we have the obligation not to waste God's gift, but rather to make it bear fruit and increase it with a living faith and the practice of good works, in short with Christian life, or a supernaturally spiritual life. "Vita est res severa", the ancient Romans used to say. So, especially if we are Christians, let us try to live our true life seriously and not waste it by letting it drift, wasting time and risking losing our souls.
Let us try to be men who live their natural and supernatural lives entirely because "grace does not destroy nature, but presupposes and perfects it" (St. Thomas Aquinas). We must willingly and joyfully be all for God, without half-measures, without compromises, without halfway Christianity and mediocre lives.
Sanctifying Grace is the Seed of Eternal Glory
Our Christian or spiritual life is the only true life because it tends towards infinity, presupposing in us the "seed of glory" ("gratia est semen gloriae", Saint Thomas Aquinas). Therefore, it potentially identifies with eternal life and is its imperfect beginning here below.
The acorn becomes an oak because it potentially contains it, being of the same species, and the child becomes man because he has the same nature even if in an imperfect state. In the same way the Christian on this earth can become a saint in Heaven because he has in himself divine life through grace which is the seed of eternal glory. Yes, grace is an embryo of the life of Heaven.
The Importance Principles
For this to happen it is necessary to start from firm, certain, absolute principles (the first principles evident in themselves, and dogmas) and reach rigorous conclusions with an iron logic, which lead us to live a natural life and an integral Christianity in the absolute fullness of the natural and supernatural truth possessed and lived.
Our intelligence and our will are open to infinity. In fact they have as their object the true and the good that in themselves have no limits. It is us who [are limited and] can know and love them only to a limited extent in accordance with our created and finite nature.
They [these absolute principles] are everything and cannot be compromised even by a single "iota", even if their application to particular cases must be done with great supernatural prudence, with common sense and with logic. Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange said that the true Christian is strict in principle because he has faith, and generous in practice because he has the supernatural virtue of charity, while the liberal is narrow in practice because he does not love supernaturally, being devoid of charity, and loose in principle because he does not have faith.
Prudent Application of the Principles to Practical Life
St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises teaches us to apply strict (ascetic and mystical) principles in a way that is very adaptable to the way of living them better, in other words, the principle remains unchangeable in itself, but I live it and I use it "as much as it helps me to grasp the end, no more and no less". We must not become slaves to details, trifles and futilities, but we must be faithful servants of the principles and free masters of practices, walking along our only path (natural life perfected by Christian life) towards our only goal (God and Heaven), without deviating either by excess or by default. Every excess is a defect and every defect is a deficiency.
God exists: right reason - not hindered by passions, bad will and a bad life - proves His existence with certainty. Revelation confirms it. But do we really believe in God? Perhaps deep inside, we are content only with beautiful words about Our Lord, but we do not put them into practice and, therefore, we lie to ourselves and to others. Unfortunately, it is very common for us men to live with vain words and to seek above all our own changeable and selfish interests, especially with regard to the ultimate end of our lives.
Instead it is necessary to put into practice the principles even if they do not suit our nature wounded by original sin and eager in search of self-love, vain and worldly honors, forbidden and disordered pleasures, and an excessive attachment to creatures. Often we turn the means into the end, the creature into the Creator, and this is the great mistake that makes us lead a false and equivocal life. Normally if you have a principle you have to get to grips with it, you have to get to the conclusion, the things you have started need to be completed and not left halfway done, but we, especially in the spiritual life, are champions of leaving things halfway done. It takes an enlightened intelligence and a fortified will to live the natural life as true men and the supernatural life as true Christians: a strong will that is not enlightened by the intellect errs and wanders aimlessly, while a refined intelligence without a strong will leads us to the worst mental aberrations and into the gravest errors.
God exists, He created us for Himself and for Himself only as the ultimate end; all other creatures are means that must and can help us achieve our ultimate goal.
So if we do a serious examination of conscience, without pretending, we can ask ourselves whether God is truly everything for us, the only ultimate goal, because "pose duos fines haereticum est". You cannot serve two masters in the same way and at the same time. Either you serve one and neglect the other or vice versa. It is the Gospel that tells us so!
God, therefore, is our only end, our everything, our eternal peace. St. Augustine teaches us that "our heart is unstable and restless until it rests in Him".
Faith makes us adhere supernaturally to all that God has revealed about Himself. Now we have faith, but do we put it into practice? Do we live it seriously? St. James tells us that "faith without good works is dead", it serves no purpose. We must, therefore, show in our concrete and daily life our faith, its principles not only affirmed, but lived.
We are made for God, we must know Him, love Him and serve Him. This is the purpose of our life, which only when lived like this will be true, instead of wasted. Scripture tells us: "Love God and observe His Commandments, because this is the whole man" and right reason "does good and avoids evil". These are the principles that must regulate our conduct day after day until our death, when the trials of this life will end, and which is a kind of "apprenticeship" to enter into the true life that is eternal and that will be either always happy (if we have lived consistently with the principles of right reason and faith) or always unhappy (if we have lived inconsistently and badly).
God created us for eternal happiness, it is only we who with our own bad will can thwart His plan and not reach our end by plunging forever into hell.
The Danger of Half-Truths
Will we be faithful to God? The principle from which we come? Or will we lie to ourselves, to God and to our neighbor and live contrary to the plan of the Creator and that of nature? It depends only on ourselves and above all on our good will, because "it is not a good intelligence that makes man good, but a good will," says St. Thomas Aquinas, even though he highly valued the human intellect.
To be "great" in God's design, we must try not to become sneaky in our own designs. God created us for the infinite, for Him, for Heaven, but do we want to fall back on ourselves, on our whims, our pleasures, our honors, our riches? Unfortunately, we often do so. But when you are destined for infinity, why take a train that instead leads us to the misery of the finiteness and the narrowness of our created and limited nature? It is the mystery of the human heart. The Prophet says that it is perverse and unsearchable1 and only God scrutinizes it to the full; for us it is too deep a mystery.
Let us think of Judas who was created for Heaven and called by Jesus to become one of the Twelve Apostles, but who preferred himself to Christ and who after he sinned did not repent with a remorseful and firm purpose (as did St. Peter), but who in despair hanged himself. A tremendous mystery of iniquity. We too can do as Peter or Judas, we are not predestined to hell (as Luther wanted), but God leaves us free to desire good or evil, Him or ourselves.
God has given us the life of the body, the purely natural life. Now the body lives through the soul which is the principle of life. "To live is to move oneself, eating, growing, reproducing, perceiving sensitively and knowing freely" (Aristotle). This is the natural order that is perfected by the supernatural order, as we will see later.
The operations of the soul are rational knowledge, the free love of the will and the impulse it gives to the locomotive faculties (feet, hands...). Each of us experiences cognitive (external, internal and intellectual senses), volitional (movements of will and sensitivity) and operational (the body limbs) faculties and forces. Therefore, the natural life of man consists in knowing, wanting or loving and acting accordingly. We therefore need to develop our minds, our will and our members, without neglecting anything. Then we will be complete men, able to know the truth and refute error, to love good and hate evil, to act to gain the truth to be known and the good to be loved, or to oppose the error we can fall into and reject the evil we must despise.
God willed by His own free choice, without being obliged to do so, to elevate us to the supernatural order, infusing sanctifying grace into our souls, and thus allowing us to participate in a limited and finite way in His own divine life. In fact, supernatural grace "divinizes" the essence of the soul in a limited and finite way; virtues make the intellect and the will capable of knowing God as He is in His hidden and supernatural life (through faith) and of loving Him as He loves Himself (through charity). Moreover, it gives us a help or a push (actual grace) to act or to move towards an act by concretely performing virtuous acts. In short, after entering our souls, God takes possession of our faculties and raises them up, giving them supernatural abilities that allow them to act supernaturally or "divinely" (by participation and never by essence). As we can see, if natural life is due to the union of the soul with the body that is enlivened by it, supernatural or Christian life is the union of God (sub ratione Deitatis) with the soul, which is raised to the supernatural order and made capable of acting "divinely" (by participation, never by essence).
We must therefore be united to God as our body is united to the soul, otherwise we would die supernaturally (i.e. we would be in a state of mortal sin).
It is an extremely important work to educate the body to live according to reason (natural life) and the soul to live according to God (supernatural life). In these pages we will see the principles that govern supernatural education by making continuous references to natural life to be clearer and, therefore, better understood.
Let us begin to understand how important it is to be a Christian, how beautiful, how true, how authentic, how serious it is to be and become a Christian ever more perfectly or in an ever more united manner, ever closer to God. Living a life not only rational, but divine (by participation) this is our task and we will explain how it is the purpose of these writings.
Until we rise to the heights of "divine" life we will miss something that is then the most important or the unicum necessarium of our existence. Only in this way can we know, love, serve God supernaturally and then enjoy Him "face to face" in the afterlife through lumen gloriae in the beatific vision of His Essence. Here is the whole purpose of our poor life (enriched by God): to possess God and be eternally happy: God and eternal happiness or bliss!
Order and Disorder
In order to achieve this, we need to act in an orderly and methodical manner. God, being the Creator, must be the first in everything. His glory must come before our own bliss, happiness and salvation of the soul, which is a consequence of the glory we give to God. The intellect, the will and our actions must concern themselves more with His glory than with our own supernatural and eternal happiness. Creatures must be means ordained first of all to the glory of God and then to our own happiness. That is the order of the means, an order that we must never violate.
However man is weak and can fall into disorder, and take the means as the end. The anthropocentrism of the modern era, which began with Humanism and the Renaissance, is the result of this disorder. For what in the life of the individual is called disorder, is in the life of society called revolution or subversion. Disorder is the reversal of the natural and divine order: man puts himself in the place of God, theocentrism gives way to anthropocentrism, in which man lives for himself, is his ultimate goal. but this is the definition of sin: "to adhere to creatures and to distance oneself from God" (St. Thomas Aquinas). This elevated egoism is a philosophical and theological system, or rather becomes a "religion", and it is the effect of disorder.
Mortal sin is this disorder, which makes one prefer one's own pleasure to the glory of God, which results in the death of the supernatural life (sanctifying grace) of the soul and can lead to hell if one dies in this state.
Venial sin does not kill grace in our souls, but weakens it. However, we must not think that it is something negligible or unimportant. In fact, even if it does not take away habitual grace, it is still an offense to God, a lack of respect for the Creator who wanted the Son to become man and die on the cross for us. It is comparable to a child who beats his mother, but is careful not to kill her. As you can see it is something very disreputable. We must therefore do everything possible not to commit venial sins on a deliberate basis. Especially in a habitual way, because they would lead us to lukewarmness and this in turn [would lead] to live in the habitual state of mortal sin.
From this we can see that we run the risk, without fully realizing it, of living Christianity in a disordered way, that is, not for the glory of God, but for our own spiritual pleasure: it is what the saints call "spiritual gluttony", they seek "the consolations of God rather than the God of consolations" (St. Francis de Sales). If we are used to saying or thinking "I have made a beautiful communion, I have attended a beautiful mass, I have said a beautiful rosary" we must examine whether in these pious practices, which are a most noble means of uniting ourselves to God, we do not seek rather our own pleasure than divine glory. We must not say: "If I save myself I give glory to God, but rather, if I give glory to God then I save myself". This attitude helps us to free ourselves from our "ego", wounded by original sin, en ego which always tries to take first place and take away, even if unconsciously, from God. These are the "occult sins" of which we do not fully realize, but which spoil all our good works if we do not succeed in freeing ourselves from them by returning to the right order of things: God first, then everything else.
The remedy for so much evil is called rectification, detachment. In fact if evil is disorder, good will be order, if evil is reversal, good will be rectification. By rectifying, we put God in the first place, by detaching, we give primacy to the end and not to the means.
To be true Christians we must love God more than our father, mother, brothers and sisters. This does not mean not caring or neglecting our loved ones, but rather we must love them as the Fourth Commandment reminds us, but no more than God. He is the end, everything else is a means.
If we could do this we would find true peace of soul, true freedom or liberation from all slavery of created things. Only God can make us truly happy, stable, at peace with ourselves. Creatures, even the most noble (father and mother) and holy (communions, masses and rosaries), if they are regarded as an end or for ourselves, become a true slavery, which tyrannizes us all the more strongly as the things we serve in God's place are nobler, all the while deluding ourselves of living spiritually but instead living in occult sin.
Without fully realizing it we are slaves and possessed more or less by every creature, perhaps by the noblest [of creatures], but still means and not an end. Let us stop being possessed slaves to become free masters, who serve with the hands of creatures and do not carry these in their hearts as their end (St. Augustine). We must have the habit of leaving behind everything, if the glory of God demands it of us, including leaving this pen with which I am writing if instead I have to speak to a person who comes to ask for advice. Unfortunately, we have a very bad habit of wanting to continue writing (use of creatures) while we speak to our neighbors (glory of God). So we displease both God and our neighbor. The true Christian uses everything but serves only God.
St. Ignatius of Loyola calls it indifference of will (not sensitivity) so that when faced with "health or illness, honors or dishonors, wealth or poverty" we only choose what best helps us to grasp and achieve the end (God) and not what we like, which is practically speaking, ourselves.
Be careful though! This freedom of spirit is not stoicism, insensitivity or a lack of heart and love. The two principal commandments in which the entire Law of God resides are the love of God and of one's neighbor. We must not destroy our human side, our sensitivity, but we must bring it in order with wisdom and good measure.
We begin to understand how reductive, puerile and even dangerous it is to remain "half-Christian", "semi-Christian", "seeming-Christian". God created us for Himself, for the infinite, and we play like children in the finite, the narrow, the limited. If my tailor made me a half suit I wouldn't accept it, neither if the architect made me a roofless house, neither if my mechanic tuned only half a car and not the whole car. This is how it should be in the spiritual life: no half-measures, no excesses either. In fact, every excess is a defect. Too much is a defect.
Since we are too attached to ourselves and are not able to rectify ourselves completely, to detach ourselves completely, God intervenes and purifies us with aridity and desolation (St. Ignatius of Loyola) in the night of the senses and of the spirit (St. John of the Cross), in which we no longer feel any pleasure, no consolation in creatures nor in the practices of piety. Then we must know, love and act only for God, even if he seems to us absent, asleep (like Jesus in the boat during the storm on Lake Genezaret). It is in these moments that we divest ourselves, or rather we are stripped of complacency in ourselves, in our "holiness" or "spirituality" and learn to live in right order: first God and then everything else.
Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange said: "The young novices, full of sensitive fervor, seem holy, but they are not. Middle-aged priests, without the spiritual ardor of youth, no longer seem to be and are not. The old religious, who begin to lose their natural capacities and thus their self-satisfaction, become so [holy] under the powerful hand of God".
God begins to purify first the senses or our locomotive faculties that make it easy for us to act, then the will, which begins to no longer feel the sensitive fervor, and finally the intellect, which begins to retire and to realize that everything he has studied is straw, as St. Thomas Aquinas said shortly before he died (Father Francis Pollien). Certainly this work of purification hurts, it is like the drill of the dentist who digs out the tooth cavity, but the greater the purification, the greater will be the glory that we can give to God. So let us say with Saint Augustine: "Lord, cut, prune, cleanse me down here, as long as you give me mercy for the afterlife and I can give you glory for eternity".
If like a bad patient we flee at the sight of the drill of the dentist, then we will have to be purified in Purgatory, where we suffer without merit. Nothing imperfect can enter into heaven, which is the kingdom of God and therefore of Absolute and infinite Perfection.
If we can live in [right] order then we will enjoy a true, good and holy imperturbability, that is, we will see the will of God first served, being present in every event, even in what we improperly call unfortunate events. The appearance is adverse, but the substance always resolves to a spiritual good superior to the evil that we must endure. Doing God's will, even if we do not like it, is all the food of the soul. This will lead us to accept all events with the same serenity of mind because everything, even what does not appeal to us, will ultimately be for our own good.
The Christian, an Alter Christ
The Christian is another Christ or at least he should be. Now Jesus is true God and true man, but in him the divinity and humanity exist in a single divine Person (the Word), that is, Jesus presents himself as a model for us to imitate in losing our human personality, wounded by original sin, to live in His personality ("And I live, now not I: but Christ liveth in me.", St. Paul2). What does this mean practically for us in our spiritual life? It's simple. Like Christ, we must ensure that our human person is perfected and almost replaced with a kind of "transubstantiation" (by participation) by the divine personality of the Incarnate Word. Then our human nature, "too human", will be moved in a principal way by Jesus so that the determining impulse of human acts comes from the divine Person. So we can say with Saint Paul: "For to me, to live is Christ: and to die is gain"3. Only in this way will the Christian be a true image of Christ: having in him in a finite and shared way (1) divine life (sanctifying grace); (2) human life perfected by the human nature of Christ, who came to restore the disorder produced by original sin; (3) the union of the divine element (supernatural order) with the human element (natural order); (4) the annihilation of independence and the disordered insubordination of humanity before God. Only by renouncing our own love will we succeed in achieving this and in perfecting our human nature, our "divine" nature (infused gratuitously by God through sanctifying grace) and in fully subduing the human element to the divine element, thus giving glory to God and consequently saving our souls. Are we willing to let ourselves be led and handled by God as a pen is handled by a writer? It all depends on our good will. In fact "man is not good because he has a good intelligence, but because he has a good will" (St. Thomas Aquinas).
The only true perfect personality is that of Jesus, which we are called to strive by imitation, with the help of supernatural grace and ascetic effort, which brings us out of our sick and by sin wounded self and makes us strive for God, the only true end of our lives (Father Reginaldo Garrigou-Lagrange). The confession of our sins (without hiding or disguising anything) accompanied by a spiritual direction, which is the exposing of our thoughts to a man of God, even those not necessarily sinful, our tendencies (good and bad), so that he knows our inner state, is the only real remedy to the evils of the spirit, because by doing so we throw these evils out and away from us. In this case the "frequentatio assidua cum amicis / the constant company of friends" (Saint Thomas Aquinas) helps greatly. For whoever closes in on himself, isolates himself, loses confidence in himself, in his neighbor and in God, and slides towards despair.
Every man, affected and wounded by original sin, has an imperfect, deficient personality. The perfect human personality does not exist and yet we can acquire it by fighting our negative sides (which we must expose through our examination of conscience, as well as the memories recorded in our memory of which we are no longer explicitly conscious) and asking God to make our old sick temperament die so that the personality of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, true God and true man, may live in us with all His perfections. This was the secret of the heroic life of the saints who conquered themselves and reproduced in their lives that of Jesus. There are no men who are psychologically perfect and absolutely normal (only the saints, to the extent that they have reproduced the likeness of the Incarnate Word by dying to themselves, are). There are people who are more or less normal according to the meaning and purpose they give to their lives and the work they do to improve themselves, taking away from themselves all disorder with God's help. They strive: to have a purpose in their every action, that makes them noble and that motivates them, so that nothing is impossible for them; to make good use of their freedom which is the faculty that chooses the most suitable means to grasp the end; to act immediately and courageously after having taken a well thought out resolution; to be constant, disciplined, with firm and virile will, without forgetting that "nihil violentum durat", you cannot have everything and immediately, but little by little you can buy something important and not superficial. "Grace presupposes nature, it does not destroy it but perfects it"; grace is "the seed and the beginning of eternal life" (St. Thomas). Now if our mentality is incomplete, not mature, not balanced, our entire spiritual life will suffer. Admiral Nelson said: "give me a gentleman and I will make of him an officer". That is, if the subject is healthy and balanced, complete and mature, he can become an "officer", a hero or a saint. Otherwise his spiritual life risks being compromised by an immature, incomplete mentality and personality, so that he can become neither an "officer" nor a saint, since he is not a gentleman, that is, a complete, healthy and upright man. Therefore, in order to advance spiritually it is necessary to know ourselves with all our faults and merits, to accept and overcome the former man and enrich the latter, but if we close our eyes to our distortions we will not be mature to live spiritually, indeed we may be victims of spiritual deviations (false mysticism), which are the most dangerous thing that can happen to us.
To be true men and true Christians it is not necessary to know much (even if that helps), but it is necessary to have faith and love God. If we truly believe in God and love the Lord we can speak to him "as a friend speaks to his friend" (St. Ignatius of Loyola).
We can supplicate God for someone or for ourselves. We ask a lot without hesitation since God has promised us: "Ask and it will be given to you". Let us speak to Him, then, with simplicity, the important thing that our speaking be a word of friendship, a word of a righteous heart. "May your speech be yes, yes, no, no," the gospel teaches us.
If we are proud, miserly, sensual, let us tell the Lord and ask him to free us from these evils, which are truly great evils.
We should not be ashamed of it, after original sin all have the three concupiscences (pride, avarice and sensuality), except the Immaculate Conception. The saints also had the same bad tendencies as us, but they triumphed by recommending themselves to the Lord and cooperating with Him and with His grace. "He who created you without you will not save you without you" (St. Augustine).
We can also pray and ask for bodily gifts provided that they are for the good of our soul and help our sanctification. David wanted to win the giant Goliath, he asked for it and he got it; Judith wanted the courage to win Holofernes, she asked for it and God granted it to her; the Apostles wanted to become truly such, they asked for the Holy Spirit and they got it. If we ask for bread, God will not give us a stone, if we ask for a fish He will not give us a snake. It is Jesus who taught us this in the Gospel. So let us ask and we will receive.
And let us not forget to give thanks. Everything we have obtained is a gift from God. Let us not do as the nine healed lepers who did not return to give thanks to Jesus. "He who gives thanks for a favor obtains that others are granted it." (St. Anthony Maria Claret)
Fr. Curzio Nitoglia