Human Virtues | A Homily by St. Josemaria Escriva
In the seventh chapter of his gospel, St Luke writes: ‘One of the Pharisees invited him to a meal; so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.’ At this point a woman, who is known publicly in the city as a sinner, arrives and comes up to wash the feet of Jesus who, in keeping with the customs of the time, is eating in a reclined position. The woman’s tears are the water for this washing of feet which is so moving; her hair, the towel for drying them. With ointment poured from a fine alabaster jar, she anoints the Master’s feet, and she kisses them.
The Pharisee thinks badly of this. He cannot imagine that Jesus could have so much mercy in his heart. ‘If this man were a prophet,’ he thinks to himself, ‘he would know who and what manner of woman this is.’ Jesus reads his thoughts and explains to him: ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house and you gave me no water for my feet; she has washed my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting; she, from the moment she entered, has never ceased to kiss my feet. You did not pour oil on my head; she has anointed my feet, and with ointment. And so I tell you, great sins have been forgiven her, for she has greatly loved.’
We cannot pause now to consider the divine marvels of Our Lord’s most merciful Heart. Instead let us turn our attention to another aspect of the scene, to the way Jesus notices the omission of the expression of human courtesy and refinement which the Pharisee failed to show him. Christ is perfectus Deus, perfectus homo. He is perfect God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and perfect man. He comes to save, not to destroy nature. It is from him that we learn that it is unchristian to treat our fellow men badly, for they are creatures of God, made to his image and likeness.
There is a certain type of secularist outlook that one comes across, and also another approach which one might call ‘pietistic’, both of which share the view that Christians somehow are not fully and entirely human. According to the former, the demands of the Gospel are such as to stifle our human qualities; whereas for the latter, human nature is so fallen that it threatens and endangers the purity of the faith. The result, either way, is the same. They both fail to grasp the full significance of Christ’s Incarnation, they do not see that ‘the Word was made flesh’, became man, ‘and dwelt amongst us’.
My experience as a man, as a Christian and as a priest, teaches me just the opposite. There is no human heart, no matter how deeply immersed in sin, which does not conceal, like embers among the ashes, a flicker of nobility. Whenever I have sounded out such hearts, talking to them individually with the words of Christ, they have always responded.
In this world of ours there are many people who neglect God. It may be that they have not had an opportunity to listen to his words, or that they have forgotten them. Yet their human dispositions are honest, loyal, compassionate and sincere. I would go so far as to say that anyone possessing such qualities is ready to be generous with God, because human virtues constitute the foundation for the supernatural virtues.
It is true that in themselves such personal qualities are not enough, for no one is saved without the grace of Christ. But if a man fosters and cultivates the seeds of virtue within him, God will smooth out his path, and such a person will be able to become holy because he has known how to live as a man of good will.
You may perhaps have noticed other cases which are in a certain sense just the opposite; so many people who call themselves Christians because they have been baptized and have received other sacraments, but then prove to be disloyal and deceitful, insincere and proud, and… they fail to achieve anything. They are like shooting stars, lighting up the sky for an instant and then falling away to nothing.
If we accept the responsibility of being children of God, we will realize that God wants us to be very human. Our heads should indeed be touching heaven, but our feet should be firmly on the ground. The price of living as Christians is not that of ceasing to be human or of abandoning the effort to acquire those virtues which some have even without knowing Christ. The price paid for each Christian is the redeeming Blood of Our Lord and he, I insist, wants us to be both very human and very divine, struggling each day to imitate him who is perfectus Deus, perfectus homo.
“Human Virtues” is an excerpt from the homily given by St. Josemaria Escriva on September 6th, 1941. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book “Friends of God”. Reproduced by the St. Josemaria Institute courtesy of the © Studium Foundation.