What will we become?
Every great person was in the beginning a small, helpless baby in the arms of his or her mother. What that baby may be one day was a mystery except for the mother who knew her baby would always be special. God, like the very best of mothers, sees our potential, that is, what he has called us into life to be. God knows even when we do not.
Among the amazing facts of life is that we are always the same and different than we were before. A 65-year-old man is the same and different then when held in his mother's arms. What is the answer to this paradoxical riddle? Philosophers have come up with various theories about this strange reality. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor of the Church (c.1265 AD), and in turn by the Church, embraced a theory by the classical Greek philosopher Aristotle (c.330 BC). Aristotle explained this paradox by defining two primary characteristics of all living things: matter and form. Matter, for Aristotle, was the indistinguishable stuff or material of all things. Form is what we recognize and gives the matter sensible (available to the senses) characteristics. Aquinas used this concept to explain that the soul is the form of the body. The body is the physical stuff and the soul is what makes us what we are (human beings) and who we are (Deb, Greg, Brian, Alissa, Jen, etc.)
The most interesting part of the matter and form philosophy is that it fits well with Holy Scripture. St. Thomas drew on the idea that matter, physicality, has within it two states of being; potency and actuality. Potency is what the thing has the potential to be or become. Actuality is what we perceive it to be right now. Every living thing has within it, potency, or the potential to grow, mature, and die. It is actualized in a particular time by size, shape, and age with certain attributes. The acorn is actualized as small, compact, and bursting with potential. Its potency is that it could be a mighty oak tree one day. Its natural path of life is to achieve the potential for which it was created.
Aquinas used Aristotle’s explanation of being to explain God’s intent for the creation of men and women. Human beings are created matter and form, body and soul, to achieve our natural full potential. We understand our natural full potential as attaining the gifts of Adam and Eve before the Fall. They had one supernatural gift (sanctifying grace and lack of original sin). And three preternatural gifts, infused knowledge (lacking ignorance), immortality (lacking mortality, sickness, death), and integrity of passions (passions are aligned with the will, lacking struggle between what is right to do versus what I want to do).
Because of their Fall from grace, we suffer from the four wounds. Original Sin (lack of sanctifying grace, and thus righteousness), ignorance (lack of knowledge), concupiscence (passions no longer integrated under reason, the war within us between what is right and what we want), mortality and sickness (the body no longer strengthened). Yet, within us is the potential to rise above these wounds. Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and rose again so that we may achieve our highest potential as true sons and daughters of God. We are only able to do this by the grace of God.
Aquinas wrote extensively about the effect of grace upon us. We experience our progression from potential to actuality. A mother carries a fetus within her, we hold an infant, help a toddler to stand and walk, play with a child, guide an adolescent, tolerate young adults, encourage mature adults, and help and care for elderly adults. These stages of life actualize the potential in each person. St. Thomas held that the actualization we experience of our bodies, our physicality, is not experienced in our souls. Our souls are spiritual, not physical, and so do not have potency or potential to change which is associated with matter. Our souls are fully actualized but they are injured by original sin and the wounds of the Fall. Unlike other living things, who progress from potential to actuality in their natural lives, like the acorn to oak tree, we humans cannot. The Fall injured us body and soul.
Our medicine must address both aspects of our humanness. Jesus Christ came to heal both. The Church continues Jesus’ mission for salvation by offering the sacramental life. The sanctifying grace of baptism heals our soul. The sacramental grace we receive in the life of the Church engages us physically and nourishes our souls.
What will we be become? It is natural and proper for us to become sons and daughters of God who created us and loves us. We cannot do it on our own. We need God’s grace. Jesus Christ redeemed us by his sacrifice. His Church offers us the sacramental life of grace that aids our natural potential.
"The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, to give divine life.” (CCC 1131)