How is it possible that we could have religious people dedicating their entire lives to God… They are the professionals in the things of God. Yet, their lives at times leave a lot to be desired? Many of them are good people. And yet, we are not very much impressed by the way they live.
I must admit that as a boy, I never felt attracted to the priesthood. I did not have any bad experience with any priest. And yet, I never felt attracted to imitate any of the priests I knew. None of them seemed to me particularly exceptional.
We tend to expect much more. So we tend to conclude that one of two alternatives is the case: Either we have not done a good job in allowing God to work in us or God does not have the power to transform us. Furthermore, if what we covered in our last insight about grace is true… If grace is this divine quality in our souls divinizing our being and elevating it to participate in the divine nature, it follows that we should be a bit more godly than what we appear.
The problem is that even when we may be living in a state of grace and friendship with God, that divine influence in our lives may still be underdeveloped. It is called to grow and eventually bear fruit in abundance. This is no easy task. It requires the development of what we call infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Right from the start I must admit that we have a communication problem. Today, people do not talk about virtues. Our culture has come to reject the notion that we can develop virtues. In the classical sense, a virtue is “habit”, an internal disposition that makes it easier for someone to behave well. We get it when we talk about the development of habits like cleanliness, industriousness, etc. However, beyond these habits, we can talk about moral habits that have to do with high moral standards: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. These are habits that are not easy to develop. As Christians we have come to believe that even though these habits require our human effort, they would be impossible to develop fully without God infusing them in a supernatural way. This is what we mean by the mature development of grace in our lives.
Of course that God could act directly through us! However, it is not God’s plan to direct us as if we were machines that he would be controlling and operating. That would imply God taking over and doing violence to our will. Instead, as we cooperate with his grace, he infuses in us these habits, these virtues, so that we could act in a godly way. He does it in a smooth way, in line with our nature and will.
And so, we talk about different types of infused virtues. First we have the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. They have God as their object. God himself infuses in us the habit to believe in him, to trust him and love him, who is the end of our lives. Growth in these virtues requires our participation and our effort.
Next, we have the moral virtues of prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. All other virtues are sister virtues of these four main ones. They deal with the proper use of the world and everything it contains. We ought to consider everything, all creatures as means to grow in the love of God. The proper use of creatures is the object of these virtues. To use them with a free heart requires a great attachment to God and a detachment from creatures. As St. Ignatius wrote at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises,
God created human beings to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save their souls.
God created all other things on the face of the earth to help fulfill this purpose.
From this it follows that we are to use the things of this world only to the extent that they help us to this end, and we ought to rid ourselves of the things of this world to the extent that they get in the way of this end.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things as much as we are able, so that we do not necessarily want health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long rather than a short life, and so in all the rest, so that we ultimately desire and choose only what is most conducive for us to the end for which God created us.
God’s work in us goes still further… He also infuses in us some virtues that prepare our soul to easily receive the motions of the Holy Spirit in a divine way. These virtues are called “gifts” of the Holy Spirit. Their difference with the infused virtues we were talking about is the following: Just like God infuses in us some virtues or habits so that we may direct our behavior according to the dictates of reason enlightened by faith, so does he infuses in us other virtues or gifts so that we may direct our behavior according to the motions of the Holy Spirit. Imagine what it would be like if we could be so well disposed in our hearts to smoothly listen and follow the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and his head in a constant way. We would more readily become instruments of God in this world. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. They are found in chapter 11 of the book of Isaiah.
These infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit spring from the grace that we receive in Baptism. Sadly, they can remain underdeveloped. However, when they blossom in the life of an individual, that person can really reflect the wisdom of the Lord, a degree of fortitude and justice in remarkable ways. This is our goal. We will continue describing the path towards spiritual growth in the next insight.
Questions for pondering:
- Do you aspire to be a better instrument of God in this world? Do you desire to achieve that interior peace and freedom that will allow you to discern what He wants through you?
- Am I attached to things in this world, to creatures, to a degree that they may stand on the way and become an obstacle to follow God?
- Do I really believe that I could develop these virtues with the help of God and that they can be incorporated into my being so that may easily act prudently, with justice and fortitude?
More about Fr Lino Otero, LC: Originally from Nicaragua, my family moved to Miami, Florida when I was a teenager. Soon afterwards I experienced the call to serve God without reservations. Since then, I have had experience in hospital ministry, working as a middle school teacher, leading a parish school, organizing soccer tournaments for kids, starting a radio station, training priests in leadership formation, organizing a parish community from maintenance to mission, and much more. I love spiritual direction and preaching. Years of philosophy, psychology and theological training have enriched my personal life and have shaped my message of hope. Go to linootero.me