Part of maturing spiritually is coming to a greater understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses. We begin to see the areas that allow us to love and serve God — as well as others — while also seeing where we may need work and also coming to accept that we may lack certain gifts that others possess. We are each unique individuals, even though we are united to one another in communion within the Mystical Body.
One of the mistakes we often make is in comparing ourselves to other people. We can focus too much on the gifts that other people possess rather than accepting our own. It is a mark of the maturing soul to be able to admit that we lack an ability or gift in a certain area. This does not mean we are less of a person, rather, it means that God has a different path He wants us to walk that differs from our neighbor’s.
We are not asked to walk someone else’s path. We are asked to walk the one God has placed before us. He created each one of us and He knows exactly how we will grow in holiness. If we ask Him to and we allow Him to, He will make each one of us into a saint. This means that comparing ourselves to others, being jealous, or even envious of another person is a waste of time. God wants each of us to use the gifts He has given to us for His purposes rather than our own. Venerable Fulton Sheen explains:
God has given different gifts to different people. There is no basis for feeling inferior to another who has a different gift. Once it is realized that we shall be judged by the gift we have received, rather than the gift we have not, one is completely delivered from a sense of false inferiority.
Fulton Sheen, Simple Truths page 40
Understanding that God does not expect us to be who we are not or to walk the exact same path as our neighbor should give us a sense of freedom. Once we stop comparing ourselves to others or expecting things of ourselves that are unrealistic, we will be able to live in conformity to God’s will and plan for our lives. He wants each one of us to become the individual saint He intends us to be with our individual personality, interests, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and character flaws. Of course we are meant to continue to work towards overcoming the latter two.
This freedom can also help us to overcome jealousy, envy, and gossip. Pope Francis has repeatedly discussed the dangers of gossip, especially since it so easily lends itself to calumny. Much of the time gossip occurs due to either envy or vengeance. The first being that we look at a person’s gifts whether physical, intellectual, spiritual, etc. and we often try to destroy any good we see because we are insecure about our own lack of that particular good. This often occurs in work environments, but also in our own parishes.
We see that someone is doing something that we are unable to do and we allow ourselves to feel threatened and then we act out in fear. It is fear that leads us to believe we are inferior or not loved as much as that particular person. The Enemy desires to lead us to insecurity and distrust of God’s love for each one of us. In those moments we forget that even though we cannot possibly merit God’s love, He freely gives and loves each one of us infinitely. There is no comparison between you and me because God’s love for each one of us is at such great depths and totality that there is no need for us to fear and worry about our perceived failings. That’s just what they are: perceived failings. Our gifts are merely different.
The other type of gossip comes from vengeance. Perhaps someone has done something we don’t like or that particular person’s personality doesn’t mesh well with out own and so we gossip to others in order to make ourselves feel better or to harm the other person. It is in these times that we are asked to love even those we find difficult or who betray us. We are Christians and the radical love we are called to requires that we even love our enemies. This means squelching gossip when it starts or if the situation is too volatile, walking away in order to avoid participating. Even in situations like those driven by anger and betrayal, often envy is at the root.
In order for the Mystical Body to live out its mission in the world, we must all come to embrace God’s plan for our individual lives so that we can serve in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means we must cast aside our own insecurities and fears of not being good enough and learn to accept and rest in the love God has for each one of us. Our paths will differ. The gifts God gives to each one of us will vary. Look at how varied the saints are in their own paths, missions, gifts, and temperaments. Would St. Teresa of Calcutta be threatened by St. Thomas Aquinas? No. They lived the path to holiness that God called each one of them to and they served God and His Church completely even though their personalities, experiences, intellects, and missions were vastly different. We are not all called to be the same. We are called to give our gifts back to God for His purposes.
One of the great injustices we do to one another is in expecting each other’s paths to be the same. We falsely believe that our way is the only way or that just because my experience is one way it automatically must be that way for everyone. God doesn’t have the same mission for all of us, so if we believe that my way is the only way, we may find ourselves in opposition to God Himself. Instead we need to remember that each member of the Mystical Body is heading towards the same goal, but not by the same path. There are endless ways to get to Jerusalem for instance, but the destination will always be the same. This is also true for our eschatological end.
There is great freedom in coming to understand our own strengths and weaknesses. It allows us to embrace the individual path God is calling each one of us to walk. It teaches us prudence and helps us to learn when to say “yes” and when to say “no”. There are many things that other people can do better than ourselves because they have specific gifts that God has given to them, just like we have gifts to lay at Our Lord’s feet in His service to the Church and the world. When we embrace those gifts we will be less likely to judge others harshly because their path differs from our own and we will also find it easier to walk away from gossip. We are all meant to seek God’s way for our lives, not our own. Part of loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is in celebrating the unique gifts in each person. In doing so, we will be able to bring all of our gifts together in union so that we can bring our fallen world to Christ.