WHAT DOES “BEING A GOOD CHRISTIAN” ENTAIL?
“[B]eing a good Christian doesn’t simply mean knowing – at a level appropriate to one’s situation in the Church and in society – the Church’s teaching on the sacraments or on prayer, or on general and professional moral norms. The goal is much higher: immersing ourselves in the mystery of Christ so as to grasp it in all its breadth and depth (cf. Eph 3:18), letting his Life enter into ours, and being able to say with St Paul, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). Thus it means being “alter Christus, ipse Christus,”[Saint Josemaria, Christ is Passing By, 96.] allowing grace to transform us gradually so as to configure us to Him.
Letting grace act is not something merely passive; it doesn’t mean simply not placing obstacles in the way, since the Holy Spirit doesn’t transform us into Christ without our free, voluntary cooperation. But neither is that enough. To give ourselves to our Lord, to give Him our life, is not simply to give Him our decisions, our actions; it is also to give Him our heart, our feelings, our spontaneity. To do so, we need to have a good intellectual and doctrinal formation that shapes our mind and influences our decisions, but this doctrine also has to sink in deeply and reach our heart. And this requires struggle, it requires time. In other words, it requires acquiring virtues, which is precisely what formation consists in.
It is not uncommon to meet people who fear that insisting on the virtues may end up leading to “voluntarism,” to giving primacy to a person’s will-power. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps at the root of that confusion is an erroneous idea of virtue, which is seen as simply a supplement to will-power, enabling the person who possesses it to fulfil the moral law even when it goes against their own inclination. This is quite a widespread idea, and does in fact stem from voluntarism. Virtue is thus regarded as the capacity to go against the flow of one’s own inclinations when the moral law so requires.
There is of course some truth in this. But it is an incomplete vision, in which virtues are turned into cold qualities that would lead to rejecting in practice one’s own inclinations, interests and affections, and that would inevitably result in turning indifference into an ideal: as though the interior life and self-giving consisted in reaching the point where one doesn’t feel attracted by anything that might impede one’s own future decisions.
To regard formation in that way would make it impossible to reach the person in his or her integrity. The intellect, will and emotions would not be growing together, helping one another to advance. Rather one of these faculties would dominate and stifle the others.
The correct development of the interior life, in contrast, requires integration, and certainly doesn’t lead to a diminishing or loss of our interests and emotions. Its aim is not that we aren’t affected by what happens, that we shouldn’t care about what is important, that we shouldn’t be hurt by what is hurtful, that we shouldn’t be concerned about what is concerning, that we shouldn’t be attracted by what is attractive. Quite the opposite. The interior life expands the heart and fills it with a great love, enabling us to view our emotions in a broader context that provides the means for tackling feelings that give rise to difficulties, and helps capture the positive and transcendent meaning of those that are pleasant.
The Gospels show us our Lord’s sincere concern for his disciples’ rest. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (Mk 6:31). We also see how his heart reacts before the suffering of his friends, like Martha and Mary (cf. Jn 11:1-44). We cannot suppose that in those moments Jesus was simply “acting,” as though deep down, because of his union with his Father, whatever happened around him was a matter of indifference to him. Saint Josemaría often spoke about loving the world passionately. He encouraged people to place their heart in God and, through Him, in others, in the work we are engaged in, in our efforts in the apostolate. “Our Lord does not want us to be dry and rigid, like inert matter.”[Saint Josemaria, Friends of God, 183.]”
Excerpt from J. Dieguez, “Reaching the Entire Person: Role of the Emotions (I)”. Read more here
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Thanks for making more awareness of “voluntarism” as an issue being wrestled with in the Church. 👍
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