By: Rev. Paul Scalia
Sin divides. The first sin divided us from God, from one another, and from our very selves. In a world wounded by sin we encounter division at every turn. The harmony intended by our Creator is lost in this fallen world. But most painful is the contradiction and division of sin we experience within ourselves.
Perhaps Saint Paul put it best: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:15). We live at cross purposes with ourselves. Our bodies and souls — intended for harmony — war against each other for supremacy. Our passions rise up and overrun the intellect and will, dragging the rational soul along in their petulant pursuits. Left unchecked, the wound of sin leads us to ever greater dissolution. We become increasingly at war with ourselves, prey to whatever passion rules us. We have no center, no unifying principle, no unity.
This dark picture of sinfulness helps us appreciate a second dimension of holiness: wholeness. Grace, the means of all holiness, brings unity. By His grace we are reconciled — re-united — yes, with God and others, but also with ourselves. Our divided selves become whole again. God is simple. Holiness brings us a share in His simplicity. Simplex fac cor meum, prays the psalmist (cf. Ps 86:11). Unite my heart, as one translation has it. Literally, make my heart simple. A divided, conflicted heart is the legacy of sin. A heart whole and entire is the patrimony of the saints.
We grasp and desire this aspect of holiness more than otherness. We may not want to be other, but we do instinctively (and at times painfully) desire to be whole. This is the lesson of our Lord’s miracles, and why so many went out to Him. The physical healings of some — of the blind, the deaf, the lame, etc. — manifest the spiritual wholeness He has come to bring all. More astounding than a paralytic walking is a sinner being sanctified. As much as we might long for physical health, we desire spiritual wholeness much more profoundly.
Our divided selves become whole again.
The life of grace — the life lived according to God’s will and Sacraments — accomplishes this wholeness within us. “The Christian soul who is seriously following the grace of his prayer should find himself increasingly at one within himself” (Dom Hubert Van Zeller, OSB). This requires our cooperation with grace. And more than cooperation, because the human will and God’s grace are not equal partners. Grace is paramount. To receive this new integrity of soul, this re-integration, we must yield to God’s grace, truth, and way of life.
Now this is where it becomes difficult and we draw back. We would perhaps tolerate some division in our souls rather than respond to the demands of wholeness. To be whole we must surrender all. We must bring all aspects of our lives — prayer, work, play, family, friends, and even our failings — to the Lord. To the degree that we bring only parts, bits and pieces to Him, we will be divided. He alone brings about the unity we desire, but only when we make Him the center of everything. If we place Him off-center, then our lives will proceed oddly, like a bike with a wobbly tire or a car with bad alignment.
Unity in Christ brings peace. Saint Augustine famously spoke of peace as tranquillitas ordinis — the tranquillity of order. So also the soul, when well ordered towards Christ in every regard, has tranquillity, peace. The saint is a peacemaker because he is whole and entire, at peace with himself. Indeed, such interior peace is one of the most attractive things about the saint. We desire and long to have that for ourselves, so we are drawn to one who already possesses it.
Any eccentricities we may encounter in the saints come not from not from a lack of interior unity but from their contrast to the world. Saint Francis’s poverty strikes us as extreme not because he was out of whack, but because of the world’s wacky addiction to possessions. Saint Philip Neri’s antics appear absurd not because we was out of line but because our vanity is. So even the saints, the peacemakers, those men and women whole and entire, encounter some opposition. Because as peaceful and whole as we may become, the world is still fallen and divided.
To the degree that we bring only parts, bits and pieces to Him, we will be divided.
We lack peace because we fragment our loyalties and thus divide ourselves. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Mt 12:25). We pledge loyalty to Jesus Christ, but then chase after a million and one offerings from the world. We desire peace, but then shunt to the side the only One Who can establish it.
We find holy wholeness only when we sacrifice all other loyalties and make Him the center of all. This summarizes both the gift and the task of holiness. The gift is that tranquillity of order, that interior peace we desire. The task is to yield to grace — taking every aspect of our lives and submitting them to Christ, where alone they find unity and we find peace.