Human Nature vs Grace
Written by bro. Kevin de Sanctis, CSE
Translated form carmelia.net
Joseph – 1st story
Joseph was a strong and handsome young man and he had a good character and pious. He worked at the house of an Egyptian, Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh and his chief steward. When Joseph’s master saw that the LORD was him and brought him success in whatever he did, he favored Joseph and made him his personal attendant; he put him in charge of his household and entrusted him all his possessions. From the moment that he put him in charge of his household and all his possessions, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the LORD’s blessing was on everything he owned, both inside and out of the house. Having left everything Potiphar’s owned in Joseph’s charge, he gave no thought, with Joseph there, to anything but the food he ate.
Because Joseph was so handsome, Potiphar's wife had an eye on him and seduced him on several occasions, but he would not agree to lie with her, or even be near her. One such day, when Joseph came into the house to do his work, and none of the household servants were there in the house, she laid hold of him by his cloak, saying, “Lie with me!” But leaving the cloak in her hand, he escaped and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand as he escaped outside, she cried out to her household servants and told them, “Look! My husband has brought us a Hebrew man to mock us! He came in here to lie with me, but I cried out loudly. When he heard me scream, he left his cloak beside me and escaped and ran outside.” and she told the same story to her husband, Potiphar who was very furious and put Joseph in jail. Even though he was treated unfairly, Joseph still loved the Lord and stayed faithfully to the Lord. The LORD was with Joseph, and showed him kindness by making the chief jailer well-disposed toward him. The chief jailer put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners in the jail. Everything that had to be done there, he was the one to do it. The chief jailer did not have to look after anything that was in Joseph’s charge, since the LORD was with him and was bringing success to whatever he was doing. (Genesis 39:7-23)
St. Therese of Lisieux – 2nd story
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, or Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus or is popularly known as "The Little Flower of Jesus", was a very sensitive child, easily to cry. Especially after her mother passed away in 1877 and her 2nd older sister Pauline who was like a 2nd mother to her went the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, which caused her to suffer a mysterious illness. Even though the Lord healed her through a vision of Mother Mary, she was still very timid, shy, and extremely sensitive; easily burst into tears. Not until Christmas night 1886, when Therese received a special grace from God, she became very strong and brave, freely to love God and had a self-sacrifice spirit for the salvation of souls.
The Meaning of Self-Control
From the two stories above, we learn the beauty of the relation between the nature of man and the grace of God. What Joseph and St. Therese experienced were the same as St. Paul said in Galatians 2:20a, "yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me". This the fruit if the Holy Spirit, when the Spirit get hold of a soul, the soul does not belong to himself any more but wholeheartedly to God. Therefore by the grace of God a soul can control himself and be set free as St Paul said in 1 John 2:16, "For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world."
Self-control is one of the manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a soul, against such there is no law (Galatians 5:23). Self-control also means that a soul will avoid all that are contrary to the will of God and all that is against the worldly indulgence that kept us away from God. So, self-controls help us not to sin and trapped us from the world pleasure as St. Paul said in Galatians 5:24 "Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires". To take control of all lust and desires in a soul, first a soul should experience the presence of God and a team work has to be established between the soul and the grace of God, poured out by His presence. St. Paul in Romans 13:13-14 said, "Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."
Nature vs Grace
A continued war is always present in every human being, between human nature and God's grace. Since man is created in a womb of a mother, he received an inevitable "sinful nature". This is a heritages from Adam and Eve since the fall, but it was not so in the beginning of creation. In Genesis 1:31, "God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day." God created men for Himself to love Him, but since men fell into sin, "as a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence") CCC 418".
From this condition, men have all kind of shortcomings or weakness impacting his character. Men has to struggles hard to survive, physically and spiritually. The spirit strived to freedom and life but the flesh lead us to destruction and death. Therefore we have to be bold to what to choose in our life, either we struggle with the help of the Spirit of God or we want to be succumbed to our fleshly desires.
Because of life in this world is full of egocentricity and materialistic, a lot of people cannot control themselves, anything they see they want to poses it instantly, and do anything in their power to acquired them. They always feel deprived, it is true what the scripture said in Ecclesiastes 1:8, "The eye is not filled with seeing, neither is the ear filled with hearing." They surrender themselves to lust. They are so full of lust that control them and are so trapped inside so that they could not set themselves free from instant sexual lust, rage, avarice, etc. Yes, our struggles in this modern age are very hard, since there are so many temptations and are facilitated by modern technologies and sophisticated, advanced, high-technical telecommunication such internet, hand phones, movies, which are presented in such a way to arouse our desire.
Therefore, it Important that we walk in the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who will help us to control our behaviors so that we can walk upon the earth in holiness. The more the Holy Spirit works in us freely, the more we will walk freely in obedience to His will. St Paul said in Philippians 4:11, "Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient."
It is only with the Holy Spirit, that we can live as a Christian in this world according to the will of God. But, one thing to remember is, the more we walk closer to God, the more we walk on earth in obedience with the will of God, the more temptation we will have to suffer. St. Gregory the Great once said, "frequently when our soul are lifted high by the Holy Spirit, the more we will suffered in the flesh, as if heaven will collide with hell, since our soul at the same time was enlightened by contemplation, it was darkened by annoying temptations”
The Devil will not let us be in union with God, his main purpose is to tempt us to be on his side and have fellowship in the kingdom of darkness, but we don't have to worry nor be anxious. As long as we are in union with God and have intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit, God Himself will play a role in assuring us to overcome the temptations. This is the beauty where God's grace and human efforts work together which produce great self-control
To reach this great self-control, we need a self-discipline that we are able to control our life in accordance to God's will. This can be done with all kind of spiritual exercises like, like fasting, abstinence, self-denial, prayer, self-training in virtues and alms giving, etc.
The Sanctity of Souls
The souls that let "the self" in care of the grace of God, will always strive for holiness in His Presence, either in their minds, attitudes, words or works. These are done out of love with the graces they received from God, Who is the source of Grace and Goodness.
As Joseph and St. Therese of the Child Jesus, they always tried to please the Lord within all of their being, even a small sin they will not do it. They are always conscious how the Most Good God is, so that they did not dare to abuse the gifts and grace that are given by the Lord to them.
Joseph did not succumb to the "lust" of Potiphar wife, because he did not dare to hurts God feeling and Potiphar who was very good to him. Consequently he had to suffer in prison to protect his purity in soul and body, but the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him kindness by making the chief jailer well-disposed toward him. The chief jailer put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners in the jail. Everything that had to be done there, he was the one to do it. The chief jailer did not have to look after anything that was in Joseph’s charge, since the LORD was with him and was bringing success to whatever he was doing (Genesis 39:21-23). Romans 8:28 said, "And we know that for those who love God, that is, for those who are called according to his purpose, all things are working together for good".
St. Therese since her early childhood always pleased God, even after she had special grace that overcame her weakness, she still had all kinds of trials and tribulations, but she considered them as a means for reparation of souls in the world. All these trials and tribulations made her stronger in character and spiritual life. Even in her last days of her life, she was constantly tempted to blaspheme God. But since her love was so pure and astounding to God, she could restrain herself and keep loving God. And in her last days of her life, in the middle of the mist of dark nights in her soul, she surrendered her soul to God by saying, "Jesus, I love You".
Bless are those who receive from the Holy Spirit the fruit of self-control as his/her body, soul and spirit is in God's hand. Even though, how severe his/her temptations and tribulations are, he/she will always in God possession and with St. Paul he/she will says, "What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? ... Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. ... What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? ... For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (Rm 8:18.104.22.168.39).