I believe God wants to bring us along for the ride. Redemption is not an outside job. God initiates and empowers our transformation, and God's saving grace heals us. Our areas of struggle have their roots in unhealed wounds. As we grow out of these areas of difficulty, God inspires and empowers us to engage in a healing process.
"If I tried harder, I could stop doing this." Have you ever thought something like this? I think this mindset is a trap. It sounds promising, but after attempting to rally our wills and push harder, how many times have we fallen again? These repeated struggles can leave us pondering why God is not helping. We might feel like we are doing everything we can, but it is still not enough.
"We are creatures of habit" is a commonly held idea. I think its more accurate to say we are creatures of virtue and vice. Habit is a simple pattern based on repetition. Virtues and vices are habits on the surface, but they have deeper roots in the order or disorder of the heart.
"Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1804
Virtue is ordering the whole person to God's design, and vice is a disordering of the person. In a virtue model, the action flows out from systemic order. As the Catechism states, a virtue is an attitude, a disposition, and perfection of intellect and will. From the attraction to a choice to the feelings afterward, virtue is harmony between the person and God's design.
Virtue is also present in the body. Behavior changes our brain through a process called neuroplasticity. Our choices influence the way our genes express themselves, and the collection of micro-organisms that take up residence with our bodies, called the microbiome, is continually adapting and reacting to our actions. In upcoming articles, I will explore these aspects of the human body. For now, it is crucial to understand that the body is also involved in virtue. Virtue is an ordering of the whole person: body, mind, and soul.
Grace & Healing
The process of growing toward virtue and away from vice is a healing process. This process is how God redeems and restores us. Grace is God imparting divine life and favor to us. Redemption is not grace covering our imperfections. God transforms, heals, and restores us through his grace. Divine life is compatible with our design. (1) Human nature does not reach its full potential without grace.
The two most general categories of grace working in our life are the grace that changes us (2) and grace that is given through us for others (3). Here we will focus on the grace that transforms us. This category can be broken down into two types: Healing Gace (Gratia Sanans) and Elevating Grace (Gratia Elevans).
Elevating Grace lifts the person beyond their natural capacity. Elevating Grace directs the person to a supernatural end and develops the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Love) in the recipient.
Healing Grace cures the effects of sin. It orders the person: body, mind, and soul to the natural law and develops natural virtues (Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) in the recipient. The development of virtue is a gradual process from vice, and a lack of control to being controlled/disciplined, and eventually to virtue.
God does not abandon you.
God does not always do what we expect. If we ask for healing, God might powerfully change us, or it could seem like nothing happens. I have learned to interpret the latter as an invitation to engage in a healing process with God. This process includes God initiating ideas and inspiring action. Grace will also empower better choices and strengthen our will. In these ways, God walks hand in hand with us through the healing process.
Healing grace that inspires our thinking and comes alongside our will can be subtle. If we don't look for it, we could miss it. God's action not being apparent does not mean God is absent. God does not abandon us.
If you feel stuck, or if it seems like God is not showing up for you, take heart that he is working out your redemption in ways that aren't obvious. If you are seeking him and trying to grow, God is there. He is guiding you in subtle ways. The struggle is an invitation to step up and fully engage in the process of healing.
(1) "Then God said: 'Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.'" Genesis 1: 26A
(2) "The will of God, however, is that personal righteousness and holiness should also distinguish the possessor. With regard to the personal holiness of man, only that interior grace is of importance which is interiorly inherent in the soul and renders it holy and pleasing to God. Hence its name, ingratiating grace (gratia gratum faciens). To this category belongs not only sanctifying, but also actual grace." The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917) "Actual Grace" https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06689x.htm
(3) "there are also interior graces which do not procure the individual sanctification of the recipient, but the sanctification of others through the recipient. These, by the extension of the generic term to specifically designate a new subdivision, are, by antonomasia, called gratuitously given graces (gratia gratis datae). To this class belong the extraordinary charismata of the miracle-worker, the prophet, the speaker of tongues, etc. (see 1 Corinthians 12:4 sqq.), as well as the ordinary powers of the priest and confessor. As the object of these graces is, according to their nature, the spread of the Kingdom of God on earth and the sanctification of men, their possession in itself does not exclude personal unholiness." Ibid.