One day a spiritual teacher asked his disciples why God made humans. One of them – an eager young man – answered almost immediately, “That, teacher, is easy. So we can pray.” After a brief silence, the teacher asked another question: “Why, then did God make angels?” The same young man tried again, “Perhaps so that they also could pray.” The teacher looked at him and smiled. “The angels,” he said, “are perfectly capable of offering prayer to God, but only humans can do what they are uniquely created to do.” “What is that?” the eager disciple asked. “What God wants from humans and what only humans can do is become fully human.”
St. Irenaeus, the second century Bishop of Lyons, understood this well. His famous declaration – Gloria Dei vivens homo – proclaimed that the glory of God is men and women who are fully alive, fully human. This was a high point in the Christian understanding of the importance of being human, a point so removed from the center of contemporary Christianity that it might almost sound heretical. Could it possibly be true that being human is a good thing, neither a sign of failure or weakness nor a lack of spirituality? Is it even conceivable that wholeness, not simply holiness, honors God? Is it possible that there could be an alternative to living carefully so as to avoid sin while pursuing the elusive goal of perfection? And could that alternative really be as simple as being and becoming deeply human and fully alive? It does sound too good to be true! It might even make one wonder how Irenaeus was ever declared a saint after making these assertions so central to his teaching.
There is no sense pretending that being religious – even Christian – automatically makes you a whole, vital, and growing human being. It simply does not. I believe that Christian spirituality can and should lead to all these things. In fact, I am convinced that becoming fully human and deeply alive is what Christian spirituality is all about. The point of this is not simply our fulfillment but that Life can then flow through us to others. This is the way in which we participate in God making all things new in Christ.