By: Joseph Bresowar, Seminarian, Diocese of Baton Rouge
As we grow, as we learn, as we try new things or perfect old things, as we hold converse with the world and with the people around us, as we love, lose, hate, dream–simply put, as we live our lives–we begin to develop our personalities. This takes place most formatively when we are young, but simple observation and self-reflection should tell us that our personality is always changing, evolving, or adapting. To be human is to be finite, material, temporal, and therefore, always and everywhere open and receptive to the world around us. As a consequence we can never quite consider ourselves “finished products.” I would note that this is not a bad thing, however. In fact, praised be God for this, it means that no matter how far we have fallen, how much we, in our sinfulness have made shambles of our spiritual life, there is not a second left in our mortal lives that is not pregnant with the possibility of redemption.
So our personalities are constantly evolving. Because there is indeed a self that perdures: our very personhood, rooted in the immortal human soul. So, we need not fear. It will always be us, no matter how much we change and grow in response to the world around us. The burden of developing our own personality responsibly is uniquely our own. Our experiences influence who we are and the choices we make, but far from being deterministic, our free will enables us to take the reigns, so to speak, and decide what sort of people we would like to become (cf. Joshua 24:15, “Decide for yourselves today whom you will serve”).
Ok. Down out of the clouds now.
We all know that we pick up things along the way. From the time we are toddlers until the very present moment, the things we experience shape us. If you’ve been friends with someone for a very long time, you’ve probably noticed a certain exchange of quirks or other personality traits. I have noticed this especially with catchphrases. People will ask me, “When did you start saying that?” and I will have to remember the person, place, or thing that prompted me to start doing so. Your favorite food might be something you would never have tried if a friend hadn’t made you take a bite against your will. We all know that guy who has a little too much personality(hint: if you don’t know that guy, you’re probably that guy).
A great deal of our personality is an organic amalgamation of various aspects and attributes that we have learned from other people, the ones who’ve influenced us, maybe the ones we wanted to be like. Especially when we were young. To be clear, in no way do I mean to be reductionistic–I say this to highlight the uniqueness of each person, not to downplay it. As we get to know people, if we are genuine and, dare I say it, vulnerable with them, a genuine exchange of persons can happen. To be doubly clear, this can and does happen also with sin and vice, as many of us are only too aware. How many of us have bad habits that we learned from our parents or older siblings?
So our personalities are the sum total of all our relational capacities; they shape and are shaped by our relationships. But what about God? Do we not enjoy a relationship with our Creator? By the same human nature by which we are open to the influence of the world, we are also, capax Dei, able to hear and respond to the presence and movements of the Holy Spirit. Our personalities are also, as I hope I have made clear by now, utterly unique. This can help us to understand why each human life has eternal and inescapable value – every single human person ever born has the ability to relate to God in a way that cannot be replicated. Each person can manifest God’s infinite glory in a way peculiarly their own.
As men being formed for the priesthood of Jesus Christ, we are the inheritors of a vast tradition, a spiritual treasure-trove which a lifetime of study and contemplation could not exhaust. It is a luminous and gilded masterpiece which makes the devil weep and cower. Because every face in that cloud reminds him of his impotence. Every single jewel in that gilded sky proclaims his defeat, and God’s sovereign goodness.
The Catholic spiritual tradition is tremendous, and because of the uniqueness of our personalities, it will not speak to all of us the same way. In fact, to no two of us will this divinely authored compendium unfold itself in exactly the same way. My point in going on about the development of the personality is to draw out its parallel in the spiritual life and the way we are called to develop our “theological personalities,” particularly in the very focused and intentional environment of seminary formation. The same kind of cross-pollination of ideas and tendencies that lead to a healthy, well-rounded sense of personhood also forms the breeding ground for future saints. We have a unique privilege in being exposed to such a vast array of spiritualities, and our responsibility for that privilege is to discover our own path to sainthood. While each of our spiritualities is unique, they will be formed and directed by the heavenly conversations we hold with our friends who have crossed the finish line. The order and sequence in which we encounter these holy men and women can hardly be considered an accident, it is rather a divine symphony God is weaving for our benefit. Maybe you will see the connection between St. Benedict and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity that no one else has, or maybe the actions of St. Charles Lwanga will help you to understand and interpret St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Don’t be afraid to challenge them, wrestle with them. But most importantly, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in learning from them what He wants you to learn, and be content with this.
The everyday person on the street is not responsible for being versed in the vast scope of Catholic spirituality, but as future priests, responsible for the salvation of every soul within our geographical boundaries, this is something that we simply cannot dispense with. How can we lead others to a personal relationship with Jesus if we do not properly understand our own? That is my challenge to you, my brothers. Own your unique, personal relationship with God, own it deep, and ask the Church Triumphant to shine a light on your path to eternity.
About the Author: Joseph Bresowar, Seminarian, Diocese of Baton Rouge
Joseph Bresowar is a Seminarian for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, in 1st Theology at Notre Dame Seminary.
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