As I mentioned in an earlier post (Talents and Spiritual Gifts: What Do We Mean By “Talents”?), I have borrowed the distinction between natural talents and spiritual gifts from work being done some of my Roman Catholic colleagues in lay spiritual formation and discipleship. To be sure, it is a useful distinction but as I mentioned before (Talents & Spiritual Gifts: What Are the Charismata?) we want to be careful that we don’t think about our spiritual gifts as “supercharged” talents. Not should we imagine that our natural talents are somehow “deficient” relative to our spiritual gifts. Each has its own integrity; the challenge is to respect both and to find the balance between them. Otherwise, we risk creating spiritually and/or psychologically unhealthy people and communities.
This might take the form of ordaining to the priesthood a man who while very talented in music or theology or public speaking has no real gift for prayer or preaching or hearing confessions. When this happens the man’s ministry remains superficial and is one that fosters in others a merely mechanical or moralistic approach to life in Christ.
Alternatively, imagine a man who is a gifted confessor or preacher but who lacks appropriate social or administrative skills. His sermons are inspiring and not only challenge but instruct people on how to live a deeper life in Christ. In confession he is humble, insightful and forgiving. But if he has to interact with people outside of confession or explain his views to colleagues, or provide practical leadership for the parish council, he simply fails.
Neither man is well-balanced. And both men will foster an eccentricity in the parish and their spiritual children that undermines humility in the short run and in the long run, charity.
(This is not simply a challenge facing clergy. Parish communities can also become quite eccentric. But this is for another time.)
So what to do? How do we find a balance between the grace given in creation (our talents) and the grace given in the sacraments (our spiritual gifts)?
I don’t think that either secularism or sectarianism offer an answer. Will we find the answer in neither accomadation nor in simply criticizing the world. We cannot abandon Holy Tradition but neither can assume that the modern world has nothing of positive value to offer us.
Beyond that, I am not sure. But I think Chesterton points for us if not the way than at least the feeling. He writes that “People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.” For him orthodoxy is
…sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly.
And all the while, the
…Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.
But we must he says the easy temptation of falling
…into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom — that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame.
What we must do to avoid falling is to understand that the Christian life, the life of the Church, is a “whirling adventure.” It is a “vision [of] the heavenly chariot fl[ying] thundering through the ages.” Heresies leave us “sprawling and prostrate,” but “the wild truth” of the Gospel leaves us “reeling” but upright.