Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Venerating Saints and Saints as Exemplars

Begun on March 27.

Last month I was at St. Joe's for the visit of the relics of St. Mary Magdalene.

There were several nuns there; they wore a grey habit, black scapular and veil, and one of them was recording the visit on video. To what order do they belong? I don't think they are locals.

St. Thomas teaches that one of the virtues allied to justice is the dulia, the respect shown to another because of his excellence. Dulia is not just an acknowledgment or assent or judgment that someone is better in some respect, but paying hommage or honor to that person on account of that excellence. The highest form of dulia is given to those noted for their (great) sanctity and love of God. Veneration is owed to the saints.

But what can a female saint offer as an example to man? Just the other day a woman (an Orthodox Christian) posted on FB that there is only one way to God for men and women. I would disagree -- there are many ways to God, but they are all unified (or informed) by charity. Or, there are many different ways to love God, and as the roles of men and women in society generally differ, so do their paths to holiness. Charity binds us to God and motivates our actions, but nature and reason tell us how to live our love of Him. Perhaps as wage slaves we have become accustomed to empty talk about motivation. As Catholics we have to regain the understanding of what it means that the object of charity is God, who motivates our actions, not only as First Mover but in the act of charity itself, through which our moral agency is raised to a supernatural level.  By sharing in God's love we seek to spread it to others. Thus we can talk about charity as a "divine energy" or a  divine "engine" of human action, what makes "holy agency" possible.

Fr. Cessario used to talk about how imitatio Christi was a useful but limited way of understanding Christian spirituality. What was a better way might be termed participatio in Christi, though I won't reproduce what he teaches here -- you can probably find it in his books on the virtues and on moral theology. This is my take on Thomistic moral/spiritual theology, as applied to this issue. Women cannot be Christ in so far as He was a man, but they can nevertheless be transformed by Him, and become images of Him, as they are united to Him  in charity and confirmed in holiness. Moreover, while the roles that men and women have in this world differ, their roles nonetheless involve the love of neighbor. Thus, female saints remind us all that charity is central to sanctity.

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