Often we talk about how we’re called to holiness. But how does this happen? What happens to the soul to make it holy? I’ve been studying a module in prayer and spirituality. The spiritual theology behind the transformation of the soul is fascinating: How often do we throw terms around like the ‘growing in holiness’? This is something we need to understand – for ourselves and others.
Grace – the new life of the soul
In the parish, we always teach that grace is participation in the life of God. Even the First Communion children can tell you that grace is God’s life in their soul. But, as adults, I think it’s good for us to understand this more deeply. After all, we understand other things – like house prices, and mortgages, and political policies – on an adult level, so why shouldn’t we understand the life of grace too?
Here’s just a few thoughts (and be warned, I am no spiritual theologian – but here are some thoughts from what I have learnt):
- Just as living things are animated by a principle of life on the natural level, on the supernatural level, the soul’s principle of life is sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is what gives us participation in the very nature and life of God. It is an “analogous” participation in God’s life – since it is adoptive and by grace, not by nature. But just as the Son is begotten eternally of the Father, so the soul in a state of grace constantly receives this life from God – this is why sanctifying grace is also called habitual grace. So in a life lived in prayer and sacraments and love, man grows deeper into the life of God – transformed in the “inner man”.
- When God loves something, this love creates the goodness in it. This is also true of the soul. Love finds or makes things similar to itself. So God’s love of the soul, communicated to it through sanctifying grace, transforms it into the divine image. At St Leo explained it: “the divine goodness shines in us as in a resplendent mirror.” We’re not transformed into God – we are still human, still finite, and still have our integrity as a human being – but we are resplendent with God’s holiness.
- John Paul II wrote in Dominum et Vivificantem: “man, living a divine life, is the glory of God”.
- This can only be a reality in one who prays – it is by means of prayer (a living relationship with God) that one participates in this divine life – we can lay claim to our inheritance! (Ephesians 1:13) Who said prayer is a duty?!?
“In Him you … were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance, until we acquire possession of it.”Ephesians 1:13