Perfecting nature

by | Apr 28, 2021 | Presence

 “St. Peregrine Laziosi [feast day historically May 1] involved himself in the political anti-papal activity in his native city of Forli. When St. Philip Benizi, a Servite, came to the city on behalf of the Pope, St. Peregrine was among those who mistreated him. St. Peregrine punched St. Philip in the face; when St. Philip offered his other cheek, St. Peregrine repented and devoted himself to kneeling for hours in Our Lady’s chapel.”

 

On the path to sanctity, even the saints butt heads. That’s our path too. However, the biggest bumps and potholes are typically our own weaknesses. How often we want God to change us completely or take our nature away from us? Whether it is a competitive spirit or being overly-agreeable, we only see the problems it causes and become frustrated with ourselves. Yet our faith teaches that God perfects us as we are, as He has created us. So this nature in itself isn’t necessarily ‘bad’, it simply needs perfecting.

“Furthermore, sanctifying grace does not physically change a human being into a wholly different creature. Human nature receives the life of God as a secondary reality, a second nature. This means that grace builds up and perfects humanity but does not replace it. This also means that as we accept the gift of grace, our frailty and inadequacy do not magically disappear. Instead, through grace we discover in our weaknesses that the power of God is brought to perfection (see 2 Cor. 12:9) …. Grace does not make us God by nature. If it did, we would cease to be human; we would cease to be at all.” (Dr. Anthony Lilles) [i]

To use myself as an example, anyone who spends a short time with me knows I have a directive nature. 😊 I could endlessly pray for God to take that away. It would be futile as His intent isn’t to take me apart like a Mr. Potato head doll and toss away the parts that don’t belong. Rather, His desire is to perfect this nature He has intentionally created in me. Now, recalling how important desire is, I could pray for Him to give me a surrendered directive nature. In human terms might sound like an oxymoron but in a faith perspective it makes sense. It is a nature retaining its pure qualities as God intended but surrendered to Him so as to not be misused or overdone. (This also brings to mind how our weaknesses are usually overdone strengths).

“Has not each one of us found by experience that He has been Wonderful in the conversion and change of our wills? For is it not the beginning of salvation when we loathe what we formerly loved, grieve over what we once delighted in, embrace what we had feared, follow after that which we had fled from, desire what we had condemned? He that has wrought such wonders in us is assuredly Wonderful.”  (St. Bernard of Clairvaux ) [ii]

And this is again where the examen is important. If I am examining my day for God’s presence, and recognizing when I’m not availing myself of Him, I then should be asking myself the ‘why’ questions. In no short time I’ll see the pattern of my directive nature being overused, and with a little more reflection on what that experience felt like, in the future I’ll recognize when I’ve wandered into that ‘space’. I can make a resolution to stop myself in those times. It is a bonus to ask God for the desire to want to stop myself when I’ve crossed over to that space, because we all know how comfortable we are with these habits even if they drive us nuts. Then during the day, He will raise my awareness of these moments and it is my job to change gears and step out of that state of mind. This is where taking account of oneself during the day is important, which Ignatius calls the particular examen.

If God permits something to happen, it is only because He can bring greater glory out of it later, as long as we cooperate with Him and His Grace. As we begin to enter into May, this month of Mary, let us consider like St. Peregrine devoting ourselves to Our Lady’s chapel, the chapel which already exists in our heart.

“If your conscience tells you that you have committed a fault — even though it does not appear to be serious or if you are in doubt — go to the sacrament of penance. Go to the priest who looks after you, who knows how to demand of you a steady faith, refinement of soul and true Christian fortitude. The Church allows the greatest freedom for confessing to any priest, provided he has the proper faculties; but a conscientious Christian will go — with complete freedom — to the priest he knows is a good shepherd, who can help him to look up again and see once more, on high, the Lord’s star.” (St. Josemaria Escriva) [iii]

All the more reason to pray for Pope Francis, all clergy and those on the path, and the worldwide church.

Heavenly Father, your glory is in your saints. We praise your glory in the life of the admirable St. Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor of the Church. Her whole life was a noble sacrifice inspired by an ardent love of Jesus, your unblemished Lamb. In troubled times she strenuously upheld the rights of His beloved spouse, the Church. Father, honor her merits and hear her prayers for each of us, and for our whole family. Help us to pass unscathed through the corruption of this world, and to remain unshakably faithful to the Church in word, deed, and example. Help us always to see in the Vicar of Christ an anchor in the storms of life, and a beacon of light to the harbor of your Love, in the dark night of your times and men’s souls. Grant also to each of us our special petition (pause to pray for your own intentions). We ask this through Jesus, your Son, in the bond of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

 

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

 

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam 😊

 

Photo by Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevadas, CA from Smithsonian Institute CCO

 

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[i] Dr. Anthony Lilles explains sanctifying Grace from his book Fire from Above.  http://www.spiritualdirection.com/2017/04/26/how-sanctifying-grace-makes-us-like-god

[ii] Sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux https://archive.org/stream/sermonsofstberna00bernuoft/sermonsofstberna00bernuoft_djvu.txt

[iii] St. Josemaria Escriva http://www.josemariaescriva.info/opus_dei/epiphany.pdf

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