The Catholic Church has a very exalted view of human nature. The creation narrative in the book of Genesis reveals the powerful Word with which God created the first man: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26, RSVCE).
There are several things we can learn from this passage. First of all, we are intentionally created. Regardless of what natural processes were involved in the beginning of the first man and woman, God acted directly and intentionally to create them. This intentionality extends to every human person who has existed since and will ever exist. In the Catechism, “the Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not ‘produced’ by the parents…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 366). We are not accidental products of impersonal randomness; rather, every single one of us is specifically intended from all eternity, created by God to be loved by Him and to love Him in return.
Another lesson we learn from God’s words in creating our first parents is that we have been created in a very specific way, namely, in His own image and likeness. This image and likeness to God distinguishes us from every other created material thing. Unlike other material creations, we possess intellects. We, like God, have the ability to understand what things are in a profound way, and not merely to dwell in the world of sense perceptions. St. Thomas Aquinas notes that “the image of God, in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. Hence after the words, ‘to the image of God He created him,’ it is added, ‘male and female He created them’” (Summa Theologica, I.93.iv).
This unparalleled gift carries with it a responsibility. Aquinas also notes that “since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature” (Summa Theologica, I.93.iv). We do this by understanding and loving God, which includes understanding what it means to be human truly—as perfectly modeled by Jesus’ human life—and choosing at each moment to live accordingly. Every aspect of our being, such as our minds, talents, and sexuality, is more properly fulfilled the more it is conformed to Him of whom we are an image. We, moreover, have been entrusted with free will. We have the ability to choose whether or not we conform ourselves to God like a building to its blueprint. Christ’s words to us—“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, RSVCE)—are not an arbitrary law imposed by God simply for His own pleasure, but the instructions for how to experience the fullness for which we are made, namely our ability to experience Him in all His infinite beatitude.
This Lent, let us pray for the grace to achieve this impossible task, for with God, all things are possible.
Br. Antony Augustine Cherian, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE