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THE KIND OF PERSON BEING FORMED  

 

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny ― to work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls "working out salvation" is a labor which requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. ―Thomas Merton

(God) said that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him — for we can prevent Him if we choose — He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. ―C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

What did we hope would happen to people as a result of being part of a parish church? What does it mean to grow into the fullness of your baptism, to be an apostolic Christian, to "be renewed in the spirit of your minds...to put on the new nature?"

The parish is in the business of formation. The formation of people is an aspect of everything that happens in a parish — liturgy, social life, spiritual guidance, education and Christian action. A related leadership task is to help people accept responsibility for their own spiritual life…We do that best by establishing the climate, structures and processes that make up an environment in which people can grow in the Christian life.

Here are a few possibilities for describing what we are seeking.

One Baptized into the Body of Christ 

A new person in Christ; becoming salt, light and leaven; growing up in Christ. "Buried with Christ in his death...share in his resurrection...reborn by the Holy Spirit." "An inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works." A believer in God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; called to "persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return … proclaim by word and example the Good News … seek and serve Christ in all persons … strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

The Full Stature of Christ 
There is, of course, Paul's understanding of what God is doing in our lives, e.g. in Ephesians that we are to grow into the full stature of Christ; that the graces and practices necessary for that growth are humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance born of love, eagerness to maintain unity in the bond of peace, truthfulness mediated in love, mutual kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness; and in Galatians that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

 

Seven Deadly Sins

A definition of sin offered by Richard Holloway (one-time Presiding Bishop of Scotland) is "a wrongly directed effort; a good drive that fails to find the right object; a good thing in itself that is done to excess." (Seven to Flee, Seven to Follow, 1986). This fits Newman's understanding that, "Evil has no substance of its own, but is only the defect, excess, perversion, or corruption of that which has substance." Martin Smith, in his book on reconciliation, urges, "Fix your mind on the positive virtues, of which sins are the shadow." In a related understanding, Martin Thornton viewed the purpose of self-examination as aiming at "tranquillitas; not the suppression of desire, not apatheia, but harmony between the elements of personality." So, in all this we are dealing with health and wholeness rather than simply avoidance and self- protection.

Some of the material below draws on Bishop Holloway's work.

Pride. Self esteem raised to an inordinate level, so that all sense of proportion is lost

Envy (jealousy). "Sorrow for another's good." "Satisfaction at the misfortunes of our friends." A characteristic of envy is that it offers no real pleasure, it is without fun; other sins offer some gratification. Symptoms include malice, being good at noticing the defects in others, hypocrisy, dejection. Envy may lead into the third sin.

Covetousness (avarice). "Itching hunger for the good things of life" (success, possessions, 

popularity). It shows itself in conspicuous consumption of things or people, fear of aging. [Note: pride and envy are rooted in a sense of inadequacy. There is in us a "deep longing to be accepted and appreciated; the need is to know that we are loved as we are."]

Anger. A disproportionate response to danger; phases that are destructive — impatience, retaliation, lack of control, resentment. The antidotes are to give ourselves to systematically willing another person's good and to act quickly as anger breaks out to minimize the damage.

Lust. A distorted instinct that is good in itself. It is rooted in a pursuit of pleasure that gives permission for exploitation, even if mutually agreed upon. There is a danger of moving into an addictive cycle and diminishing ones capacity for committed, joyful relationships. C. S. Lewis saw this as the least significant of the sins.

Gluttony. Much the same as the above in its dynamics. The person is driven to a pursuit of satisfying appetites — too much drink, food, smoking, talk; compulsive behavior. They are natural instincts that are allowed to play a disproportionate role and can end up dominating the personality. An approach to lust and gluttony is learning self discipline and redirect the instincts toward "the good."

Sloth. "The instinct for rest and creative idling taken and distorted into an unattractive passivity," "everything is too much trouble." It is a disease of the will, it numbs the will. Instead of taking our life in our own hand we drift along, not really being bad people (we don't have the energy for it). Sloth does create the conditions under which evil takes hold in society. It may be related to why people seem to resist "giving themselves" to another, to their work, and to civic life.

 

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Fear (awe). I'd understand it as fear that you will not have the life you could have; the life God wants for you. It is as opposed to a life that is not for "the good" or that is trivial. This is the "fear that establishes proportions and recognizes consequences" and may lead "to a realistic, rueful … almost humorous awareness of our true state."

Piety (affection). "A kind of fondness or love, a recognition of what you owe the land that bred you," gratitude for the love, forgiveness and understanding one receives.

Knowledge. A capacity to accept paradox, to hold things in balance, to see more completely. It is the knowledge of God and the dynamics of awe and affection.

Courage (fortitude). Closing the gap between belief and action "by reaching beyond themselves to Christ," rather than "by pulling Christ towards them and adapting him to their own uses." Standing fast even though you want to run. Especially needed in moral life, the world of ideas, and in personal relations.

Counsel (guidance). An openness to the Holy Spirit; openness to an energy for good that comes from beyond ourselves. It is related to developing a capacity for listening and an inner silence.

Understanding. The gift of balance, an awareness of the situation. It is "knowing when to celebrate and when to lament." This is self knowledge. It is seeing the world rightly ― that the creation is good, that God is encountered through it.

Wisdom. The coming together of the other six gifts; wholeness. Most contemporary books on the spiritual life speak of spiritual maturity.

Four Cardinal Virtues

The four are interdependent; if you don't adequately possess one of them, the others are distorted in some fashion.

Prudence. In the most down-to-earth meaning we are speaking of having good sense; the capacity for practical judgment. The virtue of it is in being grounded in reality and directed toward what is good. It assumes openness to reality. This is not the same thing as excess caution and a withholding spirit.

Justice. The virtue is rooted in the assumption that we live with one another. That then presents us with several issues to address, including ― what we as individuals owe society; what we own other individuals; what society owns individuals.

Fortitude. This is about removing barriers to justice. A central element is perseverance. Justice is only possible when we stay with the work before us. It is not the same as stubbornness.

Temperance. Self-awareness and self-control are needed if we are to enjoy life and at the same time be good people. The work that has been done in recent decades on emotional and social intelligence is a resource.

 

Used by permission from Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church, Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008.