You’re no doubt familiar with the following scenario: otherwise bright child finds himself struggling with a particular subject. Exasperated at his inability to grasp the lesson immediately, he sets himself to wailing, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. “I don’t get this!” “It’s too hard!” “This is stupid!” “Why do I have to learn this stuff anyway?” “It’s not fair!”
In my younger days of parenting, I would have said (very loudly), “Suck it up, cupcake!” or the more Catholic classic, “Offer it up!” and left it at that. Not that I’ve stopped bringing down the hammer (though not as loudly) on the indecorous exasperations of my children, but I have found a more constructive way to explain why we, unlike St. Thomas Aquinas, haven’t been graced with the gift of understanding every page we’ve ever read.
Venerable Louis of Granada, O.P. (1504-1588), known as The Writer of the Spanish Empire, was the favorite spiritual writer of St. Teresa de Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis de Sales, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Vincent DePaul, and St. Rose of Lima. (That’s quite a fan club!) In his spiritual classic, The Sinner’s Guide, Venerable Louis first lays out several motives which oblige us to practice virtue and to serve God. The second of these motives is gratitude for our creation. In this chapter he calls to mind the general principle that creatures are not born with all their perfections, noting that many remain to be cultivated and developed, and only through our recourse to our Creator. He continues,
Things instinctively go back to their first cause for their development and perfection. Plants unceasingly seek the sun and sink their roots deep into the earth where they were formed. Fishes will not leave the element where they were engendered. Chickens seek vivifying warmth and shelter beneath their mother’s wings. In like manner a lamb, until it has attained its strength, clings to the side of its ewe, distinguishing her among a thousand of the same color, arguing, doubtless, with blind instinct, that it must seek what it lacks at the source whence it has received all that is.
And is not this thy position also, O rational creature? Thou art an unfinished work. Many things are lacking to the perfection of thy being. Thou hast naught of the beauty and the luster which are yet to be thine. Hence thy restless, unsatisfied yearning; hence those unceasing aspirations for a higher, a better state which arise from the very necessities.
Yes, God let thee hunger, in order that, driven by necessity, thou mightiest have recourse to Him. For this reason He did not give thee perfection at thy creation, but He withheld it only through love for thee. It was not to make thee poor, but to make thee humble; it was not to leave thee needy, but to compel thee to have recourse to Him.
So far from “not being fair,” our imperfections are gifts from God that require us to humble ourselves and to practice virtue. How often do we hear of the gifted athlete who, when faced with stiffer competition, chooses rather to sulk and give up than to work harder to compete at a higher level? So many promising athletes are drafted to the professional ranks yet, because things came so easily on the way up, never developed the habits of self-denial and hard work necessary to stay on top.
I am a naturally gifted musician to whom was given a great gift; things came easily to me, and I rarely had to work hard to develop a new skill or learn a new piece of music. Thus, I never developed a steady work ethic and failed in my pursuit of a professional musical career. Thanks be to God I learned eventually, though too late for a musical career, to acknowledge and accept my imperfections, to eschew my persecution complex, and to put in the work necessary for demanding undergraduate and graduate studies and a successful professional career in another field.
What worthless parents we would be were we not to remind our children that we are engaged in a lifelong struggle and, like our Lord before us, carrying our cross on our own via dolorosa! As Venerable Louis would encourage us to do, let us remind ourselves and encourage our children to embrace our crosses – our imperfections – humble ourselves, ask our Lord for His assistance, and inculcate the habits necessary for a virtuous – and holy – life.
“Thy hands have made me,” the prophet would say, “but the work is incomplete. The eyes of my soul are still imperfect; they see not what they ought to know. To whom shall I go in my necessities, if not to Him from whom I have received all that I possess? Enlighten, then, my eyes, O Lord, that they may know Thee, and that thy work Thou hast begun in me may be perfected.”