Saturday, July 27, 2013

God Redeems Even Our Selves

On August 5 (a week from this coming Monday) I will appear on The Journey Home on EWTN as Orestes Brownson, one of the most fascinating Catholic converts in American history.

Me as Orestes Brownson
One of the things Brownson strove to communicate in his writings was the cooperation of grace and nature.  For Brownson, the supernatural was the grounding of the natural, and superior to the natural, but the two realms coincided, working together through God's providence.   He was quite suspicious of a rejection of either nature or of that which is beyond nature.

And, while most moderns flatly reject even the concept of the supernatural, sometimes devout Christians make the opposite mistake.

Many Catholics, for instance, are fond of a kind of spirituality that seeks to obliterate the self so that only God and God's will remains.  Men are to become merely empty vessels for God's grace.  This is not only anti-incarnational, it is almost a form of Eastern despair.

Grace perfects nature, and God gave us egos, wills, desires and reason - in short, personalities - not for their immolation (though there are times when even that is called for in a kind of martyrdom) but in order for Him to work through them and for us to work through them as well, in our personal cooperation with Him.

What we seek is not death to self and life in Christ, but death to sin and life in Christ.  For with new hearts our selves, by His grace, can be without sin.


4 comments:

Joey Higgins said...

Grace perfects nature, and God gave us egos, wills, desires and reason - in short, personalities - not for their immolation (though there are times when even that is called for in a kind of martyrdom) but in order for Him to work through them and for us to work through them as well, in our personal cooperation with Him.

What we seek is not death to self and life in Christ, but death to sin and life in Christ. For with new hearts our selves, by His grace, can be without sin.


This is interesting and different than what I had been previously taught or my understanding of what had previously been taught.

There is a big concept of, "dying to yourself," but never a specific explanation of what that phrase means. I asked once what it meant to everyone in the youth group and no one had the same explanation - which was consistent with my lack of understanding of the concept.

This understanding that you present here resonates much better with me than the "become an empty vessel" teaching - because it never made sense to me how I was to "become a vessel for God's grace" without "me" in the picture.

*please feel free to correct anything that I may be missing

Kevin O'Brien said...

Joey, today I heard my favorite Jesuit Fr. Marty on the radio explain that St. Martha - though physically dead - is still a member of the Body of Christ, and can still intercede for us, as she is still Martha - and still "has her memories and her personality".

The "empty vessel" notion is even, some say, contradicted at the Annunciation, when Mary asks Gabriel, "How is this to be done when I know not man" - in other words, "This is who I am: a perpetual virgin; how is God to work through me, Mary, the creature He has made to be a specific person? If He made me to give myself to virginity, how can I bear a son?"

In other words, our personalities have meaning. We are persons in so far as we share in the Personhood of God. Personhood for men is all about limitation; vocation is all about a specific call to a specific person made for a specific end, a specific "final cause". It's about how you are made happy in a way that others could not be happy; how you are made to serve God in a way that's unique to you.

This is not to say that we don't all share a universal call to Christian holiness, a general vocation, or that our individualities negate what we have in common.

But there are many parts and one Body - the Body is not all eye, all nose or all feet.

So the notion that we are to die to sin but not to "self" (if "self" means who we are and who we are made to be) is consistent with what we hear in St. Paul. Death to "self" as "obliteration of everything I am so that God can start over with a blank slate" is not Scriptural, not Christian, and kind of creepy. It's Eastern pop-religion and pop-psychology. Yes, many of the saints have said things very similar, perhaps in their enthusiasm or as a kind of metaphor or hyperbole, but the mystery of who we are is tied in to the mystery of who God is, to the mystery of existence itself.

So, again, die to sin, but in doing so God will make you more emphatically who you are meant to be, you your "self".

Anonymous said...

I keep catching bits and pieces of The Journey Home episode with you as Brownson on WRYT and KHOJ. I really have enjoyed them, I just wish that I could hear the whole thing. I guess I'll have to do some digging.

Dr. Eric

Kevin O'Brien said...

Eric, go to www.grunky.com. The whole thing is up as our most recent video!