How are we transformed in Christ?

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.

The soul is like a cavern which Christ purifies and enlarges as He pours his light within it in prayer

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?!?

Catechesis and grace
What is the link to catechesis? Well, this transformation of the soul is surely the goal of all human life. Catechesis needs to teach grace, the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the principles of the spiritual life, so that people can truly be ‘transformed in Christ’. It doesn’t just magically ‘happen’; we need to understand so that we can make informed decisions about how we will grow spiritually.
My sister is studying to be a nurse, and the more she learns about the body, the more she understands symptoms and illnesses and problems. I think the same is true of the soul. We need to know what sanctifying grace is, and how we get it, and how we keep it. We need to know what mortal sin is, and how it kills sanctifying grace – leaving the soul absent of charity and therefore in a helpless state unless God inspires contrition. Adults need to understand the spiritual life.

Who needs a spiritual workout?!

I go to the gym a few times a week. After work, it is packed with sweaty young professional Londoners – they are all investing time and money into being fit, healthy and looking good. We need to care for our souls in the same way. If I wanted to achieve a particular goal at the gym, my instructor will tell me what exercise to do, how long for, and how often. We need the same direction for our souls – yes, in Confession and spiritual direction – but also the basics need to be taught in catechesis: grace, virtues, divine filiation.
Only then can we lead people towards laying claim to the great promise we have in Christ, as children of God:
“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

About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

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