Have you ever met someone who does all the “Catholic things” right, but who just doesn’t seem happy? You know—the person who prays constantly, fasts regularly, is involved in various ministries, and is meticulous about “practicing virtue”, but whose life seems absent of joy? It seems there’s a failure to reach the true goal of virtuous living—which, to use the words of the Catechism, is “to become like God” (1803, emphasis added).
I don’t feel like I’m becoming “like God” – I’m missing the mark too. From personal experience, it seems this comes from a tendency to see the moral responsibility to live virtuously in a vacuum, focusing almost exclusively on the obligation, and thereby becoming blinded to the broader context and the true purpose of growing in virtue. The irony here is that this approach is very self-referential, whereas growth in virtue is largely the opposite, in that it re-orients our unhealthy focus on ourselves toward God and neighbor.
You know the basics: “A virtue,” says the Catechism, “is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good” (1803). But, let’s look a bit closer:
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
This description of virtue sheds light on what the Catechism means when it speaks of the goal of virtue as “to become like God.” “[V]irtue”, it says, “allows the person…to give the best of himself.” Is this not like what takes place ceaselessly in the eternal exchange of love between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity? Furthermore, does not the “virtuous person,” when he “tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers,” resemble our God, who tends by His very nature only to the Good, which is to say, to Himself?
This might seem like “heady” theology with no bearing on practical life. The Church is clear though: “the goal of a virtuous life is to become like God” (Catechism, 1803). We can’t do that by just gritting our teeth and trying hard. Our fearful striving to fulfill our duty is not what our Father desires for us: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Rather, our Father desires that we be swept up into that “eternal exchange of love” and mutual self-giving—that we ourselves be brought into “communion with divine love” (CCC, 1804). That is the only way that we as men will ever “become like God.” And it all starts with the God who became man.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine!