What Does it Mean to be Fully Alive?

“Don’t let your life be sterile. Be useful. Blaze a trail. Shine forth with the light of your faith and your love.” -St. Josemaria Escriva


I am a Catholic psychologist and I love my job.  People often ask me how it is that I can sit around and listen to people complain all day long. I hear questions like “Isn’t it hard to listen to such messed up people?,” or “Aren’t people just so self-centered?”  I guess I see it a little differently.  I have the privilege of sitting with souls in the very midst of their search for God—people who are striving to be the best parent, spouse, friend and human being they can be. The people I work with are in fact quite “normal.” They sit next to you at mass and you set up play dates with their kids. I admire the people who come to our practice because they have the courage and authenticity to let someone else share the burden of their personal cross—just as Jesus did with Simon of Cyrene .


The tagline of our counseling practice (and the title of this blog), comes from St. Irenaeus:  “The Glory of God is man, fully alive.” This is what we are all longing for.  Neither holiness nor happiness comes easily in this world, and none of us fully possess either one.  We are all coauthoring the story of our lives along with the Lord, and the stories we write are all about our search for this fullness of life.

But what does it mean to be fully alive?  The full quote from St. Irenaeus is “the Glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.” We could say that to be fully alive is to be holy.  In another word, it is to become a saint.  But these words seem too distanced from our reality—holiness and sainthood seem beyond our reach.  And indeed, without God’s Grace, they are too far to attain.

To talk about what it means to be “fully alive,” it might be easier to begin with what it is not.  To become fully alive is not to give into the sin and illusion that we can will our own sanctity, success, and conquer sin all by ourselves. We cannot do these things. As the late Thomas Keating said, “The spiritual journey is not a career or a success story.  It is a series of humiliations of the false self that become more and more profound.”   The human condition is one of spiritual brokenness, and “to be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” one must enter into the school of imperfection.  Becoming fully alive is more like learning to treat and cope with a chronic illness like diabetes.  Sin, in its many layers and meanings, is our sickness.  Because we are fallen, we can’t be cured of it, and we can’t get rid of it.  We have it for life, and “managing our illness” will be a constant daily battle.


The path towards finding God inevitably leads through the most wounded parts of our soul.  We can build virtue, find our purpose, and learn more and more about our faith, but at some point the road to God will wind through the darkest and most uncomfortable parts of our soul. And yet the path also leads to a constant rediscovering of our essential goodness and dignity, as well as the realization that each and every one of us can reflect God’s love in a singular and powerful way that no other created thing can. Which is why God made the particular you that you find yourself to be with all of your imperfections and gifts.

To borrow from Thoreau, to be fully alive is to be awake—awake to God, awake to others, and awake to ourselves.  It is to be aware that the life God calls us to is absolutely dripping with meaning (even if it doesn’t always feel that way), and to work at living out that meaning in a deeper way every day.

When we hear that we need to make God the priority in our lives, it seems so obvious, right?  Yet, the application of this seems mysterious to many people.  Sin is a spiritual disease, and one of the symptoms of this disease is spiritual blindness. So in order to be able to live our Christianity in a way that is truly fully alive, we need to understand and begin to heal the underlying spiritual wound.

Our life’s journey often takes us down the difficult road that runs through the center of our own hearts. By reflecting on our thoughts and feelings, our experiences in the past, and those to come, our strengths and weaknesses, hopes, and fears, we sound the depths of our souls.  Pressing on to the core, we find at the center of our hearts, Christ, crucified.  This discovery should shake us to the core.  For, when we stand before the cross, our stories make sense.  Only in the Cross is the unity of strength and weakness, surrender and determination, suffering and joy, as well as struggle and peace that brings meaning to the experiences in our own lives.


We are sons of God and brides of Christ, and we should live up to our names, for we were not created to lead lives of mediocrity.  Imagine what He could do with you if only you let Him?! It is not a requirement to be popular, or eloquent to serve Him. In fact, the smaller you are the more you have to give.  At the end of your life do you want to be able to say “yes, I led quite a comfortable life” or “I did something worthwhile?” When you are dying you will not think about the luxuries you had, but only about the good that you did, the amount you loved, the mercy you gave. Or not. Faith in Him, love spent, and good works done for God are the only lasting investments.

“One of the goals of “Fully Alive” is to help make the Church’s beautiful vision for our lives more practical.”

St. Josemaria Escriva, said that we are to be contemplatives in action.  He also said that God desires us to be canonizable saints.  But for many Catholics, our spiritual education basically ends at confirmation, and we have the rest of our adult lives to puzzle it out for ourselves. One of the goals of Fully Alive is to help make the Church’s beautiful vision for our lives more practical.  Our Catholic faith offers a rich treasury of resources for our spiritual development.  There is something for every personality and every temperament in the Church.  But the amount of information we have to access is simply staggering and overwhelming, ranging from the Bible, the sacraments, canon law, the many forms of prayer, and the many, many, inspirational lives of the saints.  It is hard to know where to start.

We “know” that we start with God, but what does that look like? There is not one exact way to start your spiritual interior life with God. But this is an area that our blog wants to help offer some inspiration. Several times a month, one of us will be sharing insight we have gained both from our work as well as our own life in the trenches alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. But beyond just sharing insight, we want to help make sanctity more livable, whether it is through the expertise of one of the St. Raphael counselors, or through the humorous wisdom of my wife’s adventures with our five boys, the goal is to help you take one more step in the right direction in your journey to God. This blog is an extension of the St. Raphael Counseling mission to bring healing and growth to the members of the body of Christ.  I invite you to join in that mission by reading, sharing your comments, and passing on what you find useful to others. May the Lord guide us all on the journey!


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