I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… Lead me along the path of everlasting life (from Psalm 139:13).
To praise and thank God for our being as we should, we have to “look to the end.” We need to consider, not only the depth and breadth of what we are, and the height of the One who made us, but also the length of what we are called and created to do.
Every structure, to be one, has to be designed for something, to do something. It has to have an “end,” a purpose. Everything we “name” as a being, we define by its end: by what it is designed, structured, shaped to do.
It is the end that determines a “nature.” A “spade” is a tool for digging. If we leave out digging, we can’t define it as a spade. We don’t understand human life on earth unless we know what we are meant to achieve by acting. So we ask God to guide us toward our end: “Lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
We are asking for wisdom.
“Wisdom” is “the habit of seeing all things in the light of their ultimate end.” To live intelligently on earth is to direct everything we do and desire, choose and use, to the end for which we exist. The motto of the wise is, Respice finem, “Look to the end.”
That is the difference between technology and philosophy, between “physics” and “metaphysics.” Technology asks only how things work. Philosophy (philo sophia, “love of wisdom”) asks what things are.
To answer that question, we have to ask what they are for. It is the “end” that identifies a nature. To know things as “beings,” we have to identify the four “ingredients” which metaphysics calls the “four causes” of beings: material, formal, efficient and final cause. It is the “final cause” that determines the structure or “form” that gives a being its identity.
The “final cause” or “end” that determines a nature is always a particular way of operating or functioning. So to really understand our nature as human beings, we need to know how God designed us to act. (By grace, of course, which is the favor of sharing in God’s own divine life, we are empowered to live and act “supernaturally” on the level of God. This does not change our “end” or “nature,” because the operations of knowing and choosing are “analogously” the same – whether natural or supernatural – both in creatures and in God).
In “Step One” of The Mind’s Ascent to God, Bellarmine explains the dimensions of our being:
Height: If I seek my maker, I find God alone.
Depth: If I seek the material from which he made me I find absolutely nothing. From this I conclude that whatever is in me comes from God and belongs wholly to God.
Breadth: If I ask about my nature, I find I am the image of God.
Length: If I ask about my end, I find it is knowing and loving God himself, who is my supreme and total good.
Therefore I will recognize that I have a great bond with and need for God, as he alone is my creator, my maker, my father, my exemplar, my happiness, my all.
And if I understand this, what else will I do but seek him ardently, think of him, yearn for him, desire to see and embrace him?
I will praise and thank God for calling me out of nothingness and keeping me in existence. I will be “humble” – that is, “peaceful with the truth” that of myself I am nothing – but will have total confidence in God who both wills and fills my life.
Saint Robert ends Step One with an exhortation of pure logic, which echoes the “Principle and Foundation” of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits:
If you would be wise, recognize that you were created for God’s glory and your own eternal salvation [which is knowing and loving God forever]: that this is your end, the center of your soul, the treasure of your heart. I you reach this end, you will be happy. If you fall short of it, you will be miserable.
Judge therefore that your true good is that which leads to your end. True evil is that which makes you fall short of it. Wealth and poverty, abundance and shortage, health and sickness, honor and dishonor, life and death are not of themselves to be sought or avoided by a person who is wise. If they lead to God’s glory and your eternal happiness, they are good and desirable. If they hinder that, they are evil and must be avoided.
All this follows from knowing we are created in God’s image. But we also know by Christian revelation that by grace we are reborn as a “new creation,” having “become Christ” in Baptism. We know that our bodies are “a temple of the Holy Spirit within us, and that we are not our own,” having “presented our bodies as a living sacrifice to God” to continue the life and mission of Jesus on earth. Therefore we will strive, in every waking moment, to “glorify God in our bodies” (1Corinthians 6:19; Romans 12:1).
In practice, a good way to keep aware of this is to pray the WIT prayer before everything we do: all day, every day: “Lord, you are giving me my body. I give it back to you. Do this with me; do this in me; do this through me.” We can add: “Let me think with your thoughts, speak with your words, and act as your body on earth.”
This will keep us aware that we live to “glorify God in our bodies.”
 There is a mountain of controversy about the distinction between “nature” and “grace.” Most of it is based on a failure to apply the “analogy of being” to the objects of intellectual and volitional operation, and to distinguish between “end” and “destiny.”