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Class 8

Spiritual Mission

Last time we were discussing the new theme in theology of the vocation of man and of woman. There is not very much theology here, and so the subject is very alive. The fundamental reason God created woman is the spiritual mission the woman has toward the man. Saint Monica’s is an example of a spiritual mission in the Church to which women are more disposed than men. Adam and Eve are equal in the Old Testament, though they have a difference in vocation. They perfect themselves in the gift of self. Original sin ruined that original gift of self. After the sin, God says that "your yearning shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you." John Paul II says that after this there is a tendency in woman to allow herself to be used by man, and a certain submissiveness which is a consequence of original sin. The liberation from such relationships where the women are subjugated is something we must all strive for. Woman as well as man must understand her dignity and vocation according to the richness of her femininity received on the day of creation. The inheritance of sin suggested by the words of the Bible can be conquered only by following one’s vocation.[18] The Pope stresses that there must be mutual respect for the gift and value of each sex,as well as a complementarity.

New Testament insights on the vocation of women

How does the New Testament revelation develop the Old Testament insights on the vocation of women? Does it bring us anything new? If it is true that the fundamental vocation of woman is the overcoming of the spiritual solitude of men, then the New Testament vocation is the overcoming of the spiritual solitude of Jesus, who has awakened this vocation in women. The women follow him, anoint his head and feet, kiss his feet, anoint his body, and await for him by the tomb. The men are called by Jesus and they leave their fishing nets, but it takes time for them to leave behind their own aspirations and projects to follow Jesus where he leads. Men when they enter religious life have their aspirations. Jesus says to leave the fishing net and not to look back from the plough. The women in the New Testament, moreover, are not called. They come on their own. There is a movement from within, an inner attraction or fascination with Jesus, flowing from love and faith in him. The love for Jesus is more spontaneous for a women, whereas men have to learn it. No woman asks about what she’s getting out of this life. The women in the Gospels follow according to the magnitude of their faith, not about what’s in it for them. Jesus never refuses a woman, with the exception of Mrs. Zebedee, pushed by her sons (but Mrs. Zebedee is standing beneath the Cross). The women stand beneath the Cross, while the men (except for Saint John) fled. Mary is given to Saint John. Women participate in the priesthood of Christ, like all creatures, by drawing grace from the heart of Christ. We can say that the female spirit is more receptive to the grace of Christ.

So the vocation of women in the Church consists in bringing home to men that the Church is more than structures; the Church can survive when the structures fail. Women point out that power is not primary in the Church, even sacramental power. What is primary is the grace of the Holy Spirit flowing from the wounded side of Jesus, which can be received in faith and lived out in Charity. The Church is more Marian than Petrine, the Marian dimension expresses the Church much more than men do. If women in the Church strive for power, they are trying to follow the vocation of men.

The Vocation of Men

The Pope has less to say about man than woman. In Genesis, God’s instruction was to work in the Garden. Man’s vocation was to work, to cultivate the garden. Man has been created with a mission to transform the world, to use his creative mind in the transformation of the world. After the Fall, he would have to work with the sweat of his brow (labor). He would now transform the world in a way in which all his creative capacities are used; in transforming the world, he is transforming himself. This is only possible if there’s love, if his work is done for others. After the Fall, men have a tendency to fall into mechanical work, to become a clog in production. Work can become an idol for man; when a man becomes a workaholic, he moves away from growth and loses himself in work. Saint Peter says he’s going to fish. Work can be an escape from God, when that work doesn’t develop man. In the Communist world, work did not develop man — it was useless. There was no satisfaction. Work can be an escape from God, for man is afraid of God, afraid of letting go of their proud securities. Men often look for salvation in a small project. Saint Joseph was afraid of his unique vocation, willing to leave Mary. Saint Peter says to Christ to leave him alone because he’s a sinner. If work is an escape from God or from love, it is never truly productive or healing. Man grows when he uses the work for the benefit of another.

In the New Testament, the vocation of the man is to transform the world for Jesus, so that it will become more Christ-like. Men attain spiritual perfection when they experience spiritual paternity, as a brother of Christ. This needs man and woman to work together. Man will not become a father without the psychic and spiritual influence of a woman. Spiritual paternity is leading people to God. For a man to attain this capacity to reflect the father, he needs the influence of a woman. Man needs a woman to become a father, and to learn how to do this. In our lives of celibate priests, we need a feminine influence, of Mary and the female saints, and the influence of good holy women who may help us to grow in our spiritual relationship toward God. The essence of male love is found twice in the New Testament: Joseph took Mary chez soi; the disciple made a place for Mary in his home. This has three meanings for men:

1) To take a woman in has an economic meaning. He supports the house, and she brings the warmth.

2) To take her into himself, to discover what is most beautiful in her and make it part of him. Why is Saint John’s Gospel so beautiful? He had seen Mary’s beauty for such a long time. A woman is most happy when a man begins to think or to say what she has thought or said before.

3) To take into himself the woman’s intuitive judgments and to give them a rational grounding. All human beings have the intellect and the reason, but the intellect denotes a more feminine approach of the mind and the reason a more masculine approach. We grasp something by the hand and the head. The female hand is always more delicate, whereas the male hand is stronger. In the mind, the female has a greater intellectual dimension, to contemplate, whereas men have to work things out. If we compare Saint John of the Cross and Saint Thomas and compare them to Saint Teresa and Saint Therese, we can pick out which was written by a man and which by a woman. The feminine expression is more metaphorical. This third meaning of taking a woman in denotes that a man gives a support, a ground, to a woman’s ideas. A woman will go further than a man, but a man needs to be a support. A woman can be a spiritual director, opening a heart to the grace of God, but not a confessor, who has to draw clear demarcations. A confessor needs to sort things out.

These three meanings involved in the Biblical formula also refer to the spiritual paternity of men. He loves the woman he has taken, his parish, etc. He will express that love by caring for the material needs of the community. When he is capable of discerning what is most spiritually profound in his parish, who the holiest parishioners are, he will be transformed and enriched by them. He will grant them support to go further, by his strength and his confidence.

It is important to be aware of the differences that God has given us, and this is something that needs to be preached about today.

The Treatise on Acts

First we will discuss the nature of the will. In the prologue of the treatise, Saint Thomas says that we have to consider human acts so that we will know by which acts we will go toward beatitude. We have to consider acts which are strictly human, which are closer to beatitude than those common with the animals (like the emotions). Since God manifests himself in his image, the mature human person, we have to look on the divine fecundity within human choices. What are the specific characteristics of human action which are saturated from within by grace? Grace and the supreme happiness we receive are gifts of God, but they are not given to dead wooden blocks, but to men and women with a set structure which enable good, responsible action. So we’re not quietists merely waiting to be struck by grace, but the grace flows through our actions. Our talents must be invested, not buried. There is a call to responsible, competent, professional, risky action. Spiritual life entails the gift of self which is absolute. We give ourselves entirely to God by good action. God created man, with all his faculties, for action. The parable of the two sons shows that it’s not good enough to have good intentions.[19] Ontologically, human nature is good; morally, we begin by discovering how to learn to be responsible, how to give. As we grow spiritually, we discover more layers of our pride and sinfulness. God puts both the will and the action into us.[20] On the other hand, we painfully perceive that we cannot do the things we want to do, and do things we don’t want to do.[21] There is something mysterious in the way God leads us. Divine grace is always given with a concomitant feeling of weakness. True openness to grace only comes with an acceptance of our weakness. We must begin our reflection with a discussion on the human will, how it functions in human decisions, and how divine grace manifests itself within the human will.

The Will

There is a marked difference in the thought of Saint Thomas and in modern thought on the will. According to Saint Thomas, the will is a spiritual appetitive faculty distinct from the emotions. The movement of the will flows from the will itself, which is spiritual, not from the emotions. The will tries to remain in the good proposed to it by reason. The good draws out of the will a spontaneous movement toward that good presented by reason. The reason may be in error, proposing only an apparent good. But the will will be inclined nonetheless. In the will, there is a natural attraction to that which is good, an attraction given to us by the creator. Without this spontaneous movement, we wouldn’t be able to attain anything. It doesn’t mean that the will is capable of defect and sin; but in the structure of the will there is an inclination toward goodness, an inclination wounded by sin, and hence in need of liberation of sinful slavery to the senses. We are born with reason and will, but not reason and free-will, because reason is born stupid and the will needs formation so that we can choose that which is really good. This is a process of formation so that our will can become more and more free. Saint Thomas is more optimistic toward the will than modern thought. Kant saw in the will an energy inclining toward duty. The will is not a form of pressure exerted on ourselves, others, or senses to force them into the execution of a demand; the will is a faculty which expresses a love toward the good. Any pressure is consequent to this primary drive toward the good. The will is not a tool of pressure, but a faculty that is impressed by good to which it is attracted.

The natural inclination of the way instinctively moves to that which corresponds to human nature. If something is in accord with our human nature, our will will be inclined. With happiness, our final end, our will is naturally inclined to it. The will will seek everything that belongs to the human faculties as their appropriate object (like food). Everything that can be included in the universal good is willed, because of our inclination toward happiness. But the will is not determined to will things outside of this general universal good. Concrete sensitive goods elicit sensitive appetition, but when reason recognizes something directed toward the universal good, the will is moved. We can be happy without beer. Only the final good can draw out an attraction without a preceding reason. This is supreme freedom, moving toward our final end. It is most itself. The will rejoices in the natural fulfillment of itself, attaining its appropriate object.

Paradoxically, the greatest liberty occurs with the determination of the final end. Then we are most free. The will is most free when there is no deliberation or choice. Only in this context does Saint Thomas use the term free-will (libera voluntas) and not liberum arbitrium, which implies a choice. The will is free-est, is most itself, when it can go toward its ultimate good unimpeded. Both the reason and the will move toward that which is good. We can sometimes have a false judgment in conscience, about an apparent good. This is a mistake, but not necessarily a sin. Reason misidentifies as a good something which is not a good. There is also the case when there’s a true good perceived by reason about which the reason will be attracted to a sensitive good (like adultery). The conscience was correct in identifying the true good, but the will can ignore the light of reason and the innate attraction toward the true good, and head toward the sensitive good. The attraction for other goods distinct from the universal good is dependent upon the reason. The reason discerns the good in concrete situations, like with food and eating. We must therefore, with our reason, perceive the good. Sometimes we are attracted to goods which are not good for us, but the will is attracted by one aspect which is good without reference to other bad aspects, which often leads to sin.

The movements of a free action

A voluntary human action has three movements: the objective movement of the reason toward the true good; the subjective movement of the will, which has within itself the principle moving it toward the good; and the immanent, transcendent movement of God himself, who is within the movements strengthening them to persevere in the choice of the good. Thus, we pray to God for conversion. In the will there is an attraction to the good implanted by the Creator, and this is free will. Free will doesn’t consist in indeterminism, like the Nominalists thought. The will has an attraction toward the good, which must be taken into consideration. Freedom is the attainment of that object which is most connatural. We are truly free when we have taken into consideration reason and persisted to the good. Just as truth is not a distortion of reason, but an appropriate setting for reason, so the good isn’t enslaving to the will, but allows it to be most free, resting in what is most natural to it. The action of the Creator who gifted the will with the inclination toward the good, and of the Redeemer giving the Spirit to strengthen us, means that God isn’t destroying our liberty but strengthening it. God respects freedom because he created it. Only God can move the will from within in a way that it is free. God can give extra pushes to our reason and to our will without denying the liberty of our will.

We should not have an idea of liberty which eliminates God or our nature.

The fact that we can reject the source of true happiness is interpreted by Saint Thomas as a symptom of the weakness, not the dignity, of our human freedom. Angels who cannot sin, because they are outside of time, are more free than we are, because they persist in choosing the good and are incapable of choosing evil. Their will is spontaneously directed toward God. Their will is confirmed in goodness by grace.


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