Nature and Grace
I was having a conversation the other day with someone about the fact that Christian spirituality does not equate holiness with personality types. Naturally generous and gentle spirits do not acquire instant sanctity status, just as natural narcissists and contrarian souls do not simply remain sunk in the category of holy-wannabes.
Gratia supponit naturam, ‘Grace builds on nature,’ as Aquinas says succinctly — grace builds on who we are as we are, and though God does most certainly transform us into something wonderfully new as we grow in grace, he works within the fragile confines of who we are and does not do violence as he heals and elevates and transforms us from within.
Incidentally, the Bennetts did a nice job playing with this idea, and I highly recommend their work on it.
Bitter is Better?
This conversation on natural character and virtue and its relationship to growth in graced holiness also reminded me of a quote from St. Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God (a Catholic must-read):
…if two persons, one of whom is loving and gentle, the other naturally fretful and bitter, have an equal charity, they will doubtless love God equally, but not similarly. The heart that is naturally gentle will love more easily, amiably, sweetly, but not more solidly, or more perfectly. Thus the love which will arise among the thorns and repugnances of a harsh and cold nature, will be braver and more glorious, as the other will be more delightful and charming.
My take-away from this passage is twofold.
First, the unanimous consensus of the saints is that the soul of holiness is not found in one’s given personality/temperament but in charity (i.e. the form of love with which God loved us in Christ Crucified) and charity’s 9-fold fruits.
Second, those whose natural temperament, character or personality type offer substantial resistance to the practice and fruition of Christ-charity are afforded a greater opportunity to exercise heroic virtue than those whose nature more easily conforms to charity’s demands, i.e. love is in the will.
As one friend and mentor of mine, who had a wildly acerbic personality, commented in this regard — “Tom, for me to hold my tongue out of charity even once costs me what a thousand years of silence would cost most others.” “But,” he would add, “those moments of pause are for me gifts pure grace.”
Indeed, my friend, but manifestations of God’s sanctifying grace are at work only in a willing heart, for though God created us without our consent He will not redeem us without our willing consent.
When I would see this salty soul choose patience in suffering fools, it was far more edifying than a thousand smiles spilling from a sweet soul.
In Weakness, Greatness
It’s utterly true as an axiom that God’s saving grace hones in precisely on our weakness as the locus of the via magnorum sanctorum, ‘the way of the great saints’ — so discern your God-permitted Achilles’ heel and wage the war of Crucified love.