By: Sr. Clare Hunter, Director of the Respect Life Office
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, Sr. Clare reflects on how we can apply the principles of growth in gracefulness to growth in holiness.
The term getting along itself, in the sense of being on harmonious terms, implies graceful behavior. It carries a hint of a dance, a peaceable duet, or the falling-in-step impulse that horses have with one another, which makes them manageable.
Dance critic Sarah Kaufman might not be surprised that a Catholic nun is promoting her book The Art of Grace for its invaluable look at the lost art of grace, manners and getting along. After all, nuns were the mothers of education and proper graceful behavior for centuries. Her book reminds us of ancient to modern traditions and ways of behavior that formed a code of manners, established to make civilization, well, civilized. As an expert in judging the science of symmetry and grace, Ms. Kaufman highlights the rejection of grace, not only in etiquette, manners and body presentation, but also in the arts, sports and film, and shows the harmful effects of this loss. As I read the book, I yearned to be “graceful,” wondering if I could convince my Community to send me to “finishing school.” But more, I also saw that the art of practicing a graceful life is built upon the same principles as the art of growing in a holy life. The author might be intrigued that said nun is also using the book to promote practical steps to self-disciplined, virtuous, prayerful and sacrificial Christ-centered lives.
Ms. Kaufman defines grace as “the refined ease of movement and manner, as a way of pleasing, assisting, and honoring others,” a getting along that demands graceful behavior. Like any art or mastery, grace must be a lifelong disciplined practice. As the athlete, dancer, musician, chef or painter must give their heart, mind and body to the disciplines and sacrifices of perfecting their art, so must the same effort go into being a person of grace. Certainly, the same is true in the art of holiness.
Do we have a genuine desire to be graceful? What does this entail? Ms. Kaufman states: “being with people is an art like any other art, or a practice, if you will, just like cooking or riding a bicycle. The more you realize what smooths things over, what pleases people, the more you want to be graceful and practice being graceful.” Like all arts, there is a tremendous amount of practice and discipline. We have to want to change, we have to study and practice grace. Of course, we can ask God to help us to control our undisciplined conversations, gluttonous stomachs, prideful hearts, impulsive minds and slothful slouches, but we also have to focus on others, shut our mouths, say no, stop our fantasies and impulsive behavior and get moving.
At the end of her book, Ms. Kaufman gives ten tips for growing in ease and “moving well through life.” These tips are perfect timing as we enter the Thanksgiving holiday and the Christmas season, a time we need to “get along” and grow in grace as well as the opportunity to grow closer to Christ. If you look at these tips, they can certainly be applied to the sage advice of the saints and spiritual writers who help to give us the “etiquette” of a spiritual life. Here are a few spiritual applications I have applied to Ms. Kaufman’s tips:
- Slow down and plan: Prayer, daily Mass or meditation need to be part of our daily plan. It is either a priority or it is not. Plan prayer, slow down and prioritize your life to make God the center.
- Practice tolerance and compassion…take time to listen and understand: Put down the phone and stay away from your computer. Pay attention to people. Pray to the Holy Spirit for His gifts of wisdom, understanding and counsel so that we can be true friends, good parents and loving neighbors.
- Make room for others. On the sidewalk, in a store, public places, during a business meeting and in your life: The first person we need to make room for is God. As we move over for others, realize we are moving for Christ. Pushing out self-centeredness and worldly loves, our hearts can be filled with the heart of Christ. It is then that we can live Our Lord’s command “love one another, as I have loved you.”
- Strive to make things easier for people, even in small ways: This reminds me of the words of Christ: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones” (Lk 16:10), as well as the “The Little Way” of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva.
- Make things easier for yourself. Be easily pleased, accept compliments. Accept and embrace any act of kindness that comes your way and graciously accept gifts (which allows others to practice gracefulness to you): Okay, so this one might go under “Things Jesus Never Said.” Nevertheless, it addresses the ability for us to allow ourselves to be loved, which is necessary to know how to love. I might suggest that practicing this tip, along with The Litany of Humility, would bring us the peace we long for and help us to battle the great demons of Pride, Vanity and all of the 7 Deadly Sins.
- Lighten your load. Let heavy things go physically and emotionally: Get to confession and lighten the soul! Certainly the Year of Mercy was centered on the need to forgive others and ourselves, ridding us of the burden of anger and resentment. Continue this practice. And as we are baptized into the life of Christ, we too are called to live the spirit of poverty, free from attachment to worldly things – so get rid of stuff!
- Take care of your body: From the moment of conception, our bodies are sacred gifts from God to be loved, valued and care for as part of God’s creation. Respect the human body!
- Practice extreme noticing. Look for grace where you least expect it: Make a daily Examination of Conscience and a good Act of Contrition each night.
- Be generous. It’s a lovely thing to anticipate and fulfill someone’s hopes: Generosity is one of the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit, and certainly the definition of a God who has not only given us life and all of creation, but the life of His beloved Son was offered as a sacrifice for our sins. We are called to imitate this generous love.
- Enjoy: The words “Do Not Be Afraid” appear 365 times in the Bible, one command for each day. We must let go of fear and control and have faith in a loving God, enjoy His gifts and creation in order that we too can exclaim: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near!” (Phil 4:4).
Thanksgiving Day seems like a perfect day to start to practice these tips with our loved ones and begin some of these spiritual practices, growing in gracefulness and, God willing, holiness.