I spoke in the last reflection about the reality of grace communicated to the human person through faith and Baptism, this grace which is none other than the very life of God present and active within us, a life which in its essence is loving relationship, the communion of the divine Persons. I sought to frame the entire reality of grace in the context of the person and of personal communion, since this is always primary, the reality which enfolds and gives meaning to all else. But God’s grace is not only an establishing of the bonds of relationship in the sphere of the “heart,” in the inner spirit of man and woman, but is also—as I indicated—a “re-creation” of our nature by God’s touch, including our bodiliness. It is a rehabilitation of our wounded humanity such that it is restored to what was lost in the Garden of Eden in original sin, even if this gift, given in seed in faith and Baptism, comes to fulfillment only through a dynamic process that unfolds throughout time and reaches its conclusion in eternity.
I tried to explain how grace is not a static state or a kind of impersonal force given to us, but rather a dynamic and living relation between God and the human person—and thus also between human nature and the divine nature. As Saint Peter wrote, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). Grace is the re-establishment of communication between divine and human, on every level of our being, and, the more we accept grace and surrender to it, the more it rehabilitates us and renews our humanity to be what it was always meant to be, and what it has become (even beyond the gift experienced by Adam and Eve before sin) in the Redemption brought by Christ in his Passion and Resurrection. In other words, we come to live—as we will see more deeply in the following reflection—according to the innermost nature of the Risen Life of Jesus Christ, the life of the new humanity restored by God and brought to its fulfillment in the dimension of gift, in the dimension of love and intimacy, that awaits its definitive fulfillment at the end of time.
This is how grace, already in this life, can be called “the hope of glory.” Indeed, the life of faith, hope, and love is identical with the life of glory that awaits us in heaven. The only difference is that, in the shadows of this life, we experience it veiled and in darkness (or rather as a light shining in the darkness but not entirely dispelling the obscurity proper to this temporal life), whereas in eternity every veil will be removed, and faith will become pure vision, hope will pass into the pure communion of perfect fruition in intimacy with God, and love will be the consummated reciprocal surrender of God and the person come to full flower. Thus faith, as trust in the unseen mystery, and hope, as longing for what is not directly experienced, will be absorbed, in that final encounter, into the single reality of perfect love. As Saint Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:12-13).
Thus these three dimension of the single and indivisible life of God poured into us as grace—as “the love of God poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5)—begin to make whole our humanity in its entirety, and to prepare it for the life of glory in heaven that awaits us. This is the path of healing and sanctification, the path of the rehabilitation of our humanity such that it is made capable—in its every part and in its wholeness—of living the very life of God, both in relation to God himself in the ecstasy of unmediated encounter, as well as in relation to the entire created universe. This renews not only our living of our bodiliness, but also pervades and permeates the innermost experience of our subjective consciousness, in mind, will, affectivity, emotion, and sensation. It is truly a kind of re-creation, and yet one that lies in perfect continuity with, and brings to fulfillment, all that went before. As John Paul expresses it:
In [Christ] has been revealed in a new and more wonderful way the fundamental truth concerning creation to which the Book of Genesis gives witness when it repeats several times: “God saw that it was good” (Gen 1). The good has its source in Wisdom and Love. In Jesus Christ the visible world which God created for man—the world that, when sin entered, “was subjected to futility” (Rom 8:20, cf. 8:19-22)—recovers again its original link with the divine source of Wisdom and Love. Indeed, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). As this link was broken in the man Adam, so in the Man Christ it was reforged … In this dimension [of Redemption] man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly “expressed” and, in a way, is newly created. He is newly created!” (Redemptor Hominis, 8, 10).
Indeed, he expresses this even more clearly in his Meditation on Givenness, a short and yet rich reflection—in a way condensing and summarizing his entire teaching—that I would highly recommend. He writes:
It is by dint of our Redemption that the other person— the woman for the man or the man for the woman—is such a great and inestimable gift. Redemption is rightly understood to be the settlement of the great debt that fell to mankind due to sin. Nevertheless, it is also, and perhaps mostly, a re-giving to man and to the whole of creation of that goodness and beauty which had first been given in the mystery of Creation. In Redemption, all becomes new (Rev 21:5). Man, as it were, is given his humanity anew in the Paschal Mystery, through Christ Crucified and Risen. Man receives anew his own maleness, femaleness, his capacity to be for the other, his capacity to be in mutual communion. This throws a new light on the words: “God gave you to me.” God gives man to man in a new way through Christ, in whom the full value of the human person, that value which he had in the beginning, which he received in the mystery of Creation, is made manifest and present once more.
Each person carries within himself an inestimable value. He receives this worth from God, who himself became man and revealed the divine life that he confided, as it were, to man. Thus, he created a new order of interpersonal relationships. In this new order, man is even more so “the only creature on earth which God willed for itself” (Gaudium et spes, 24) and a personal being revealing a likeness to God, a being who can only fully find himself through a “sincere gift of self” (ibid.). Redemption, therefore, is the opening of human eyes to the whole order of the world that is founded upon sincere, disinterested gift. It is an order that is deeply personal, and also sacramental. Redemption affirms the sacredness of the whole of creation. It affirms the sacredness of man created as man and woman. The source of this sacredness is in the holiness of God himself who became man. As the sacrament of God present in the world, Christ transforms this world into a sacrament for God. (n. 4)
“Man, as it were, is given his humanity anew in the Paschal Mystery, through Christ Crucified and Risen.” Yes, the gift of Redemption lies in perfect continuity with the gift of creation, as its “re-giving” and ultimate confirmation, by the healing grace and presence of Christ in the midst of our humanity, and by the Spirit poured out in and through him. And this giving truly does correspond with our deepest aspirations and desires—even those desires we have perhaps given up on as impossible of fulfillment—insofar as they are authentically human, authentically conformed to beauty, goodness, and truth in the light of God. As John Paul expresses, in this gift we are given anew our our maleness and femaleness—the mystery of gender in its God-ordained beauty and meaning—and our capacity to be in true relation with one another on the basis of authentic love, of the true reciprocal gift of self. And yet this capacity is experienced also in our relation to the whole created universe, which is discovered anew, not as an obstacle to union with God, not as a fractured and opaque canvas of unintelligible brokenness, but rather as a sacrament, a visible sign and manifestation of the invisible mystery of love. In a word, in Redemption God gives back all that was lost or fractured in sin, and does all that he can, while respecting human freedom, to set the world right once again. And this gift is truly freely given, completely given, as a gratuitous gift. It only seeks human receptivity and cooperation so that it may permeate, heal, and transfigure our humanity in its entirety and in its every movement, and may also spread out to touch and heal the whole network of relationships that constitutes human society and the universe itself.
As this process occurs, the heart experiences the fact that, indeed, Redemption is “the opening of human eyes to the whole order of the world that is founded upon sincere, disinterested gift. It is an order that is deeply personal, and also sacramental.” And it is so because it is a recognition of the Trinitarian order of the entire universe. It is a recognition that the whole universe in its every part, culminating in the human person and in the communion of persons, is fashioned upon, and manifests—and indeed lives unceasingly in—the circulation of love that is ever occurring between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in the gratuity of their joyous intimacy.
An essential dimension of this process—or better, the essential dimension—is the harmonization of our being and life with the being and life of the Trinity. In a word, it is the full flowering of the movement of reciprocal surrender between God and the human person—a surrender born of the mutual gaze of contemplative love and delight—such that they become one in the most profound way, not only in the sharing of ontological being, but also in their very subjectivity and in their activity. This mystery of intimacy between God and the human person is a profound fulfillment—again, the fulfillment—of all the capacities of our nature, and the full liberation of our person in the freedom of love and communion. It is a deep synergy, or co-operation (in the deepest meaning of the term), between God and the created person, such that, as John Paul said, the person is “wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart” (Novo Millenio Ineunte, 33). Here the human person truly acts in and through the Holy Spirit, breathing him in union with the Father and the Son, as he or she is espoused to Christ the Bridegroom and, further, filially conformed to him as the beloved Son of God, reposing, thus, with him and in him, in the bosom of the Father.
No words can adequately express this amazing mystery of the transfiguration of the human person in the embrace of the Trinity. All I can do is try to gesture to the mystery, to open up avenues of contemplation, to point to its ineffable beauty, so as to awaken longing and confidence in the heart to open itself to receive and respond to this awesome gift. But the beautiful thing is that God does the rest. Indeed, even this is from God. We cannot open ourselves by ourselves to receive grace, as even our acceptance of grace is itself God’s grace, the gift of his gift active within us making us capable of opening ourselves to welcome his gift. For truly, in the end, everything is gift. Everything is God’s gift, from the first slightest stirring of desire, to the very smallest acceptance of the gift of grace, to the full flowering of grace in the consummated union of heaven. All that he seeks is our “yes,” a “yes” spoken perhaps weakly at first, in the midst of a nature fractured by sin, and yet growing ever deeper as grace pervades our being and sweeps us up more and more deeply and totally into the utter security and peace, and the undimmed joy, of the innermost life of the Trinity.