On Restoring Our Divinity
(Gen.12:1-4a; 2Tim.1:8b-10; Mt.17:1-9)
In last week’s Gospel, Jesus revealed his humanity by being tired, hungry and tempted in the desert. Today we see another side of him, as God’s light shines through Jesus while he’s praying on Mount Tabor. We see him as he truly is: The Son of God.
Together, these two stories show us that Jesus has two natures: he’s both human and divine. He’s true God and true man. We acknowledge this truth every time we say the Creed. But what does this mean for us?
On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome is Michelangelo’s painting of two hands reaching out to each other. It depicts the moment when God created Adam in his own image and likeness (Gen.1:27). But as we know, Adam tarnished that divine image at the Fall, when he and Eve chose to turn away from God in the Garden of Eden (Gen.3). Mankind has been struggling with sin and suffering ever since.
God has not abandoned us, however. He’s still determined to share his divine life with us. That’s why he sent his Son to live among us, and that’s why his Holy Spirit is still with us (Jn.3:16; Jn.14:16). As St Athanasius put it, ‘God became human, so that humans might become like God’. [i]
So, there’s another way to read Michelangelo’s famous painting. It represents God the Father continually reaching out to Adam (and to us) as he tries to restore the divinity embedded in our all-too-human selves. Through Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father is constantly trying to draw us back into his divine life (2Pet.1:3-4).
St Paul says that we are called to be imitators of God, as his beloved children (Eph.5:1). We all came from God, and by the grace of baptism we have been formally received into God’s family as his adopted daughters and sons. This means that we really are God’s children, for we have been deified and made holy.
Now, this is important, because it means that this is where we begin our journey of faith. We don’t have to do anything to make ourselves worthy, for we already are worthy. God has already accepted us.
Our challenge as Christians, then, is simply to reflect our holiness, our inherent divinity, in our daily lives. But how can we do this? Today, I’d like to suggest three ways.
Firstly, there are as many approaches to holiness as there are saints. But as Bishop Robert Barron points out, one particular approach is represented by the design of rose windows in medieval Gothic cathedrals. These windows are symbols of the well-ordered soul.
At the centre of every rose window is an image of Christ, and all around him in harmonious patterns are hundreds of medallions, each depicting a saint or a scene from scripture.
The message from these windows is that when your life is centred on Christ, all the energies, aspirations and powers of the soul fall into a beautiful and satisfying pattern. And by implication, whenever something other than Christ, (such as money, sex, success or adulation) fills the centre, then the soul falls into disharmony (cf.Mt.6:33).
So, when we consciously acknowledge Jesus as the centre of our lives, something like wholeness or holiness will follow. [ii]
Another way to restore our divine dignity, our holiness, is through the Holy Eucharist. We become what we consume. In the Eucharist, just before the bread and wine are consecrated, the priest or deacon pours a little water into the wine and he quietly 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’.
The water symbolises our humanity and the wine symbolises God’s divinity. When the water and wine are combined, they transform each other. They become inseparable. In the same way, whenever we receive Communion, we receive Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. When we take him into ourselves, our human nature becomes mixed with his divine nature and another transformation takes place.
And finally, did you notice that Jesus’ transfiguration occurs while he’s praying? He starts radiating the glory of God. Something very similar happened to Moses when he prayed on Mt Sinai (Ex.34:29-35). The point is that if we pray well, then we too can expect a profound transformation, both inside and out.
We can never actually become God, of course. We can never be God’s ontological equal, for his essence will always be infinitely greater than anything we could ever aspire to. But God does want us to become godly, taking on his values, his attitudes and his character. [iii] He wants us to ‘partake of his divine nature’, as St Peter says (2Pet.1:4).
This process is known as divinisation or theosis, and far too many of us ignore it. God is constantly calling us to share in his divine life. [iv]
He’s calling us to be better people.
[i] St Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54, 3: p.25, 192B
[ii] Robert Barron, You’re Holier Than You Know. https://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/youre-holier-you-know
[iii] Rick Warren, https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/32-great-christian-quotes-about-holiness/
[iv] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1.