Filled with All the Fullness of God: An Introduction to Catholic Spirituality
By Fr Thomas McDermott, OP, Dominican Priest and Regent of Studies of the Province of St Albert the Great, USA. His Discerning Hearts Catholic podcasts are free on itunes.
An invaluable resource for all involved in handing on the faith, Fr. Thomas McDermott’s slim volume, Filled with the Fullness of God: An Introduction to Catholic Spirituality unfolds the all too often overlooked purpose of baptism – our union with Christ or deification.
While most people think that the cleansing of original sin is the primary reason that we are baptised, McDermott points directly to the positive: the Good News! We are gifted with the Holy Spirit and united with Christ to share in his very life through the free gift of sanctifying grace or what the author prefers to call ‘deifying grace’.
McDermott’s scholarly work is clear and eminently readable yet well supported with a range of footnotes linking to Holy Scripture, the writings of the Early Church Fathers, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and mystics including St Catherine of Siena among others. With these references, Fr McDermott sets out to explain that doctrine is the foundation for a Catholic Spirituality but not in a purely academic sense. It is a ‘love-knowledge of the Beloved. Theology - thinking about God - should be done on our knees, that is, in a loving relationship with him.”
Rooting his thesis in an helpful explanation of what it means to be a human being, the author explains that, contrary to ‘New Age spirituality’, ‘it is the whole person - body and soul - that is made in the divine image and likeness’. While our image pertains to the faculties of will and intellect, our likeness relates to Christ’s deified humanity, which is lost or diminished by our wrong choices, our sins.
Turning to the reasons for Christ’s incarnation, McDermott notes the four reasons highlighted in the Catechism (457-60) and points out that ‘Many of us are familiar with the first three but ignorant of the fourth reason - which is the most important.” The ultimate reason for the Incarnation is to make human beings divine, God-like, not by nature but by our participation in the divinity of Jesus Christ. He goes on to explain that it is not something we have to wait until our death to experience. “The divine life that God communicates to us in the present life is known as grace. It restores our likeness to Christ and enables us to be ‘brilliant reflections of Christ’ who is ‘the light of the world’ (Mt 5:14)
McDermott writes “Deifying grace is one of the most exciting and interesting truths of Christianity and has been called the masterpiece of God handiwork in this world”.
It is through this lens that McDermott moves the reader through the second part of his work to joyfully unfold the gifts received at baptism – the Holy Spirit and his gifts and as well, the virtues, both theological and cardinal. Referencing an early Church Father, McDermott makes clear that the theological virtue of faith ‘is not an intellectual construct’ but it is by faith that ‘man freely commits his entire self to God’. ‘For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will.’ By continually underscoring our assimilation into Christ by means of deifying grace and the Holy Spirit, the author effectively roots the spiritual nature of faith - our Catholic Spirituality.
McDermott then turns to our human response to God’s gift of Himself. In doing so, he points out ‘a certain weakness in post-Conciliar catechesis has resulted in a wide-spread ignorance of the meaning of the Eucharist” and he suggests the need of ‘our re-discovery of the central action of offering ourselves to the Father in union with Christ and his Spirit every time we participate at Mass’. ‘United with the Son, the Father loves us in Christ.’
Concluding, McDermott writes about the workings of the Holy Spirit within each one of us – prompting us to pray in various ways. ‘We pray not so much to get something as to become someone – images of Christ. God answers every prayer with the gift of his deifying presence and friendship.’
Review by Margaret Wickware (Catechetical Co-ordinator, Church of Our Lady, St Johns Wood)