My wife gave me a soft toy a few years ago, with the word “Cranky” embroidered on its stomach. Forty years earlier, when my son joined Indian Guides, each father and son had to have “indian” names, made up by the boy. I was “Chief Growling Bear.” Are you beginning to get the idea? What’s interesting is that, from inside my skin, I see myself as mainly easy-going and basically pleasant, with the rare bit of crankiness and growling. I would give myself a bear with “happy-go-lucky” on its stomach, and, given the opportunity, named myself Chief Sunny Face many years ago. Obviously, however, that’s not exactly how people I love experience me.
This got me thinking about the personalities of Biblical people. We don’t get much information about the personalities of people like Abraham, Moses, Isaac — or Peter, Paul or even Jesus. The person that I hope that I’m like is Paul (Jesus is too far beyond my capabilities). He seems a real living breathing person to me, struggling with himself, as he tried to do God’s will. “Why do I do the things I don’t want, and not do the things I want?” We don’t know much about how people actually experienced the personalities of these men. And maybe they were spiritual heros, and kept their personalities under tight rein, but somehow I doubt that. That seems the least of what we are asked to do when we take on Jesus’ “yoke” — keep our personalities out of sight, and only be sunny and happy.
Jesus especially loved Nathanael because he was without guile (always was himself and honest). So, maybe that means Jesus loves us warts and all. I also remember that I once, many years ago, clearly heard God say, “Jim, I love you just as you are.” Perhaps our personalities are only seasoning sprinkled on top of deeper truths about ourselves. And, while we ought not to let our personailities run rampant, we also ought not to focus too much on shaping them and ignor what’s really important, which is cultivating our virtues and controlling our particular vices. So here is a list of the main virtues according to St Thomas Aquinas. (I won’t list the vices because we are all too familiar with them).
- Prudence — we perfect our practical reason — and can apply the right principle in every situation (promoting the good of the individual person)
- Justice — we perfect our ability to see the good of equality of things in common life (promoting the good of others)
- Truth — we perfect our ability to promote trust by being honest
- Fortitude — we perfect our firmness in doing good and resisting evil and our vices
- Temperance — we perfect our ability to restrain passion so that we may be better able to follow reason
- Faith — a virtue infused by God, which shows us the end toward which we strive, which we reflect upon in order to better follow the path
- Hope — a virtue infused by God, which enables us to continue to journey toward that end, which we treasure in order to increase our strength
- Charity — a virtue infused by God, which unites us with the end of our journey, which we rejoice about since we are already but not yet completely, at our destination
It seems to me that our personalities are shaped by our experiences in the world, before we become conscious of who we are and the end toward which we are bound. It is better to spend time reflecting on and cultivating the virtues than working on our personalities.