What do five Phds (from Notre Dame, Franciscan University of Stubenville, Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC, Providence College, & Benedictine College in Atchinson Kansas) and one slow deacon have in common? Though not really a joke there were times when my presence a workshop at the Liturgical Institute his past Friday made me think I was the punch line; but by the end of the workshop, friends were made and knowledge did sink in, I think. I would like to give special thanks up front to Fr. Andrew Hofer, OP from Dominican House of Studies for his talk.
There is a prayer during the Mass said by the deacon, or priest if there is no deacon; that, if said in accordance with the rubics, is not heard by the congregation. It is a prayer that if heard by the congregation might broaden the horizons of their understanding of the Mass and even the idea of why God came among us. Behind it is a theology that is more understood by the Eastern Churches who are well versed, studied and comfortable with its idea but is embraced totally by our church as well.
While adding a little water to the wine in the celebrant’s chalice the deacon prays:‘By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.’
What this prayer to our heavenly father is asking for is nothing less than that we share in His divinity: divinization is the term, or deification. As St. Athanasius said: God became man … not for his own sake, but that he might make us gods through grace. ‘ut nos per gratiam faceret deos’ there is no apostrophe in gods – we are to be made god. Not in the sense of Mormon belief, where we each get a planet. The word ‘gods’ is a small ‘g’: as Fr. Andrew Hofer, OP said in the seminar this past weekend, divinization doesn’t mean ‘Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Andrew’. No, we share, in the most intimate way in the divinity of our Triune God by gift. And though the word adoption has been used for this nexus it tends to fall short, it is too juridical therefore too limited. What God is naturally we become through grace!
But we have heard said ‘grace builds upon nature’ – rarely does God come and slam a holy 2×4 across someone’s head and bam! the fullness of His gift is attained. St. Thomas Aquinas states in De Veritate ‘only the rational creature is capax Dei, because it alone can know him and love him’. ‘Capax Dei’ Capable of God, or Fit for God. We have the capacity for God’s revelation and His graces, God has made sure of this; but it is up to us to give this gift a large enough home to reside. If we were to hold the graces given to us by God in a bowl – it is through knowledge and love that we can make this bowl bigger, be able to retain more of the grace.
So how do we stretch our limitations on the reception of grace, so that we can be more Capax Dei, capable of God? How do we make ourselves ready for this knowledge and love that expands our capacity. I would offer three helps,
Our earthly desires interfere with the desire of our soul. We are made in the image of God, within us is our soul that though never separate, until death, and never superior to our body is most closely linked with our Father. Its desire is divinization, is to be as close to God as God will allow. We need to work to suppress our earthly desires, or better, change our earthly desires to be one with the desire of our soul. True happiness follows when these are in union.
Our ability to reprioritize and modify our desires is strengthened by our proper reception of the Eucharist. Fr. Andrew quoted St. John of Damascus, from St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae in this regard ‘The fire of that desire which is within us, being kindled by the burning coal’ i.e. this sacrament, ‘will consume our sins, and enlighten our hearts, so that we shall be inflamed and be deified.’ He went on to discuss St. Thomas Aquinas use of St. Greogry of Nazianzus statement ‘God’s love is never idle; for wherever it is it does great works.’ The Eucharist is a participation in the greatest act of love, we share in Christ’s act at Mass and we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of He who is love. We are strengthened and cured of things within us that prevent us in sharing God’s life.
The keynote speaker Dr. David Fagerberg from Notre Dame commented that divinization is participation in the energies not the essence of God. And to me these energies must be used, they must be transmitted forward. This energy, which is a participation in the energy of the Holy Trinity, is energy of self-giving love, and by its nature must be given out. In a talk to catechists in 2000, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said “How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness? To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living.” This is our conduit for the grace of sharing in the energies of God. Our gift becomes our cause for living, because it not only helps others, self-giving also brings the happiness to us as well because it teaches us the art of living along with those we are evangelizing.
Three helps that enlarge our bowl, allow us to attain more of the grace offered to us, and ultimately bring us more deeply into God’s own life – to be deified, divinized. To bring us closer to the reading we just heard from the Letter to the Hebrews.
You have drawn near to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to myriads of angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel. (Heb 12:22-24)