Saturday, July 5, 2014

99 Ways to Become a God

     Throughout the Internet there are many self-help manuals published by various religious groups. Some of these manuals start with “99 ways to”. I thought it would be appropriate to hijack this title from them, since a great deal of these religious groups hijack the terminology of my Church. I speak mainly in reference to the Catholic Church’s teaching on deification. When it comes to deification, the Catechism of the Catholic Church eloquently teaches: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God (CCC460)”. Unfortunately, for many Catholics, to use such terminology would make you a heretic. In fact, as someone often accused of this heresy, I have had to personally point out what it says in the CCC above to Catholics but even then they want to compromise the meaning. They would rather say it means that “we are one with God” or that “we become like Him” because they are uncomfortable with the truth. Of course, their apprehensiveness is understandable do to the fact that there are many religious groups that teach deification. In contrast, among those groups, that have hijacked our terminology, none of them teaches deification in the way the Catholic Church does.
     To some degree I understand the fear expressed by some Catholics when they hear about deification. Growing up without organized religion I was exposed to various religious ideas that included deification. In fact, there was an organization up the street from where I lived called the Church of Today. If you went to one of their services you would get the chance to sing hymns by the Beatles and hear preaching that proclaimed that we are all God. Consequently, upon becoming a Christian I had to make sharp distinctions between the false teachings that influenced my thinking before I knew Christ. However, what the Church teaches is easily distinguished compared to other religious groups. Most often when the terminology for deification is used by those outside of the Church it implies the natural state of humanity. For example, the Mormons who use the same terminology will teach that we become gods because that’s what we already are. Likewise, those who throw around the term in other religions groups use it in a way that makes divinity a natural state. On the other hand, the Catholic Church has always maintained that divinity is not something natural to humanity. Even though we “become God” it is always through participation in God and not something from our nature. As Christians, we are called to participate in the divine nature and at no point do we become the source of it (2peter 1:14).
     Looking back throughout Church history, many Fathers openly taught deification. For instance, it was St. Athanasius that gave us the phrase, “God became man so that man could become God”. Notice he did not say “becomes one with God” or “like God”. As an act of grace we actually become real children of the Father. This is something we receive through adoption and not something we are born with. Through the generosity of our Father we are given the chance to eternally become what God is, which always remains dependent on our participation and is not something that is natural to us. As far as what's natural is concerned we are no different than a rock in the sense that we are a creation. However, unlike a rock God has graced us with ability to participate eternally in everything that He is. Based on this, deification should be at the center of our Catholic faith and not something we fear.
     As a Catholic, I think it’s time to take back our terminology from the captors and start again to boldly proclaim it. Our teaching on deification is in many ways the heart of the Gospel! It’s so important that Saint John Paul II, proclaimed it to be "the deepest mystery of the Christian vocation" and "the culminating point of the mystery of our Christian life”. We should not be afraid of what is natural ours. The consequences for not embracing this teaching obviously would offer something less than what God wants for us. As I said, I can understand an apprehensiveness on the part of some Catholics but we are all obligated to conform our thinking to the truth.


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