Our Lord presents us with the scenario of a woman with ten silver coins. Each is so precious that if she loses just one she will turn over the whole house in search of it. The rediscovered coin is then the cause for a great celebration(Lk 15.8-10).
Coins are traditionally stamped with the image of a sovereign. As human beings, we too are inscribed with an image. In Genesis we see that when God created the human race He said “Let us make man in our own image” (Gen 1.26). Every human being, then, bears the image of the reigning Sovereign Who is Almighty God, imprinted indelibly on the soul. It is this divine image which makes each innocent human life sacred to God and inviolable, at every stage of its existence – from conception in the womb, when God infuses that soul into human flesh, until the moment when our souls and bodies are separated at the moment of death.
In Genesis we are told that God not only created Adam in His own image. God actually says: “Let us make man in our image and according to our likeness.” Reading this superficially, we might assume that image and likeness are the same thing. After all, God can afford to use as many words as He chooses to express the same reality. The Church’s theologians and saints, however, have seen a distinction between image and likeness. They tell us that while the image of God is natural to us because it lies in our mind and our will – in our capacity to discern the truth and to unite ourselves with what is good – the likeness to God is something supernatural. It is a participation by grace in the divine life of God Himself, whereby man in His nature is elevated to the state of Sanctifying Grace and lives in friendship with Almighty God.
It was this supernatural State of Grace that was lost for the human race when Adam and Eve chose to follow the counsel of the serpent rather than the word of God Who had blessed them with the gift of divine friendship. Hence the lesson of the woman with the silver coins. Because man has fallen from the State of Grace, God the Son takes on our human flesh and He comes to sweep out the house in search of us, to save us as individuals, because each of us is precious to Him. He comes to save us from the state of sin and separation from God, and to restore us to grace and friendship with God. The most profound token and celebration of this friendship is Holy Communion, which gift He purchased for us with His Blood on the Cross. His Living Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity are made present for us through the presentation of His Sacrifice on the Cross on the altar, every time Mass is celebrated. That is how precious we are to Him.
As Christians and Catholics it is so important that we always remember that this supernatural reality is the very essence of our Faith. When our religion is reduced to social activism it is diminished to the point of destruction. Our Lord has come into the world primarily to restore us to the supernatural reality of friendship with God. He tells us: “Though I gain the whole world, if I lose my own soul what does it profit me?” The answer, of course, is nothing. I might feed the whole world and clothe and house the whole world, and if I am not in a state of grace, these earthly achievements by themselves count for nothing in eternity. As a priest I might preach inspiring sermons of impeccable orthodoxy and celebrate the Sacraments with minute regard for the rubrics, and my observance of the Church’s fasts might be faultless, but if the immaculate façade conceals an unrepented mortal sin on my soul, then none of these works counts for anything as far as getting into Heaven is concerned. Indeed, while my administration of the Sacraments will have been efficacious to those who received them, it will have added to my own offenses the sin of sacrilege.
Once we are in a state of grace, however, then our good works take on an eternal value, because we are animated and enlivened with the very life of Christ Himself. United with God the Son in this way, our works of charity partake of the supernatural Charity that has been infused into our hearts in Baptism. Divine Charity and the State of Grace are distinct, but they are co-existent in the soul and co-extensive. Mortal sin does not immediately kill the Theological Virtues of Faith and Hope, but it does extinguish Charity. Once in a State of Grace, then the more we love and give, the more that supernatural life of grace expands within us and takes possession of our souls. The saints in Heaven are there because they loved while on earth, and the greatest saints are the ones who loved the most.
In this Year of Mercy, we should consider ways in which we can be merciful to others. First of all, though, we have to be merciful to ourselves, by asking God to forgive us our sins and embracing His Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. We have to be sure that the Kingdom of God is firmly established in our own hearts before we can start to build it in the world around us.
Fr Julian Large