Memorial of St. Irenaeus at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Gen 18:16-33; Mt 8:18-22
St. Irenaeus is best remembered for saying that “the glory of God is the human fully alive.” It is the vision of God that gives life.
Glory is goodness shown and known. When God’s goodness is shown to humans and they perceive it, then life is given and received. In short, to see His goodness is to participate in His life.
A thing is said to have life insofar as it moves itself rather than being moved by something else. A bowling pin is moved by a bowling ball; the ball is moved by the bowler and so neither is said to be alive. The bowler moves herself and so is alive.
God is indwelling in each of us. If we pay attention to Him, we move ourselves rather than being moved by objects and events in the world around us. And so, we are “fully alive.” Love is the starting point of self-movement and so it is the principle of life.
Appreciating what Irenaeus is saying is helped by the experience of contrast. The glory of God, His goodness and love or care for us, is what determines the kind of person we are, the way we experience our lives. This is quite different from being determined by life events. Certainly, relationships strongly influence us; that is why God comes to us- as-a-people. Apart from God relationships can hint at death through our fears of disappointment. It is hardly an experience of being “fully alive.” What will determine us is perhaps our most important use of free choice.
Jesus Christ gave us the ‘secret or key to the self-determination that makes us fully alive. It is a short law so all people can know it and no one can be excused from it due to ignorance. It is the law of divine love. It is the standard for all human actions.
Aquinas said that “what is loved is in the one who loves.” So, whoever loves God possesses God Himself. The soul is the life of the body and God is the life of the soul. As St. John wrote, “Whoever does not love remains in death” (1John 3:14). The fully alive, self-determined person shows that love by keeping the commandments.
This charity, then, is protection against adversity that might otherwise determine us. As St. Paul wrote, “All things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28). As anyone who has ever been in love knows, misfortunes and difficulties strengthen the love. They do not determine the person.
So, the fully alive person lives in charity. She lives in happiness. This is the glory of God; it is His goodness shown and known.