A dog glorifies God just by being... a dog. CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters

How we live being fully ourselves

  • February 23, 2023

Almost a decade ago, I visited a close Catholic friend and his wife and family in one of the charming bedroom communities outside Boston. The highlight of the evening was a dinner that my friend hosted replete with fine food, delightful wines from a well-stocked cellar and rich conversation. Sitting next to me on that occasion was my friend and American Catholic man of letters Thomas Howard. 

Dressed in the finest bib ’n tucker of a New England gentleman, Tom was charming those around him with his fine wit. During a lull in the conversation, I saw Tom watching Finbarr, a very well behaved hound owned by a priest friend, as he meandered around those sitting at the table looking for a morsel of proffered steak or a scratch behind the ears. As he watched Finbarr, Tom remarked, “Isn’t it amazing, he has no original sin.” I remember being struck at the time not by the subtle humour of the remark but by its clarity. Finbarr was doing what dogs do. He was being fully himself as God made him. Tom saw this and at the same time offered an implicit comment on our own nature. 

A dog sniffing about a dinner table, a cow munching on grass, a trout swimming in a stream or a spruce tree reaching towards the sky all glorify God by being a dog, a cow, a trout and a spruce. Yet, here we are in our humanity dealing with this sin business, our nasty and brutish thoughts and our misguided actions. 

So how then do we glorify God given the struggles of this life? Well, it comes down to who we truly are.

One of the central elements of the Catholic moral tradition, and the theology and anthropology that inform it, is belief in the dignity of the human person. It is the belief that there is something about us that makes us unique among animals, and different from Finbarr. If we try to put our finger on what this dignity rests on, we might think about our intellectual capacity, our ability to create or our desire to love and be loved. Yet, all these aspects of our humanity flow from the ultimate source of our human dignity: the image and likeness of God imprinted upon us. 

This image and likeness and its ultimate redemption is revealed to us in the Incarnate One, Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. He came into this world to save us and in so doing to restore us to our truest dignity, which had been marred by the effects of the Fall: death, corruption and sin, including those nasty and brutish thoughts. Yet this supreme act of God’s saving love for us did not just overcome the power of death. It reunited us with God in true worship of Him. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us how to pray. He gave us His own body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. He directed us back to union with God and participation in the life of the Holy Trinity by revealing the Father to us and calling upon Him to send down the Holy Spirit. Unlike Finbarr, we are most fully ourselves when we live out our ultimate vocation, which is offering worship and our prayer back to God for all that He has given to us. 

When we are in prayer, when we are actively responding to God’s call, when we are liturgical, that image and likeness of God redeemed in Christ shines with the light of the Resurrection. The Greek word leitourgia originally meant a public act or a public service. The early Church baptized this understanding of liturgy and so turned it into that most supreme of public acts by the people of God: Christian worship and its most supreme form the Eucharistic liturgy. 

In the sacred liturgy, we are joined as Christ’s Mystical Body with the heavenly liturgy. This is what is happening when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and Earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest!” Those are the same words the Prophet Isaiah heard the powers of Heaven singing around the throne of the Lamb. We join with them in united praise of God as the Risen Lord then becomes fully present to us in the holy mysteries of the altar. And there, in front of that altar, we are fully ourselves.

(Rev. Andrew Bennett is a deacon of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada.)

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