In his book called Reality, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange explains in simple detail the difference between acquired and infused virtue. Acquired virtue is that which we practice and obtain insofar as men practice anything and perfect a skill, art, etc. Infused virtue comes from God’s grace, primarily through the sacraments. Acquired virtues facilitate the use of the infused ones, as finger exercises facilitate playing a piano. For example, though abstaining from alcohol is part of acquired temperance, the alcoholic may receive infused temperance in confession. Even if he altogether lacks acquired virtue in this area, he may still receive sanctifying grace from a valid confession.
I say all this because I’m convinced that there is a group of people in society, so used to practicing a variety of virtues and full of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, that they may be the best example of patience we have today: school bus drivers.
When my friends and I took the bus and were lucky enough to get a seat in the back of the bus over the wheel, we’d prepare ourselves for a daily sensation of a proto-bounce-house. Sitting on our feet and bracing ourselves just right would allow every hillcrest or bump in the road to send us flying up to the roof and crash back down in our seats, cackling and convulsing in pure, six-year-old demoniacal laughter. These moments were sandwiched in between shouting to the kid next to us – our idea of conversation – and yelling out the window every time we caught a glimpse of the native wildlife, namely, squirrels or deer.
In short, we were absolutely obnoxious.
Yet each day, that sweet old bus-driving lady would give each kid a hug and well wishes for a good afternoon, waiting patiently until the little terrors would totter off into their houses before she peeled away to the next stop. I’m amazed she didn’t just slow down a little and throw us out the door as we passed by the neighborhood. Most likely she is now at Our Lord’s right hand, pleading for the salvation of all the knuckleheads she drove around Easley, South Carolina.
People like this teach us how to receive the other. They understand that little kids are no more self-aware than a Jack Russell and can’t be totally blamed for how they act. Kids have to learn what behavior is appropriate and what isn’t. No one could get annoyed at a crying baby, because that’s what babies do – they cry. Years later, they learn to talk, then learn how loud or soft to talk, or what’s ok to say to whom, or when it’s a suitable time to speak. Most of us, in fact, spend a lifetime still learning these cues. Crying babies and screaming kids may be one thing, yet grown-up babies and kids are another.
The examples of people who bother us, though, could run on and on. Simply put, all people deserve to be thought of in a better light than what their spectators’ initial agitated temperament would permit. Yes, someone may be more quirky than others, and they might be harder to get along with than a bull with a head cold, but I’d be fooling myself if I thought that only others were in the wrong and that my own less-than-saintly traits didn’t step on someone else’s toes more often than I’d like to admit. Just as it’s unrealistic for the bus driver to wish her kids sit still and be quiet, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to behave as we see fit.
Our Lord desires us to be of one heart and mind. This implies an authentic charity that binds us together as children of God. The sacraments are not magic. We must follow the grace that comes from them to the virtue they give. We can’t receive daily Communion and make a weekly confession but put no effort into our lives outside of the church building, and then expect to be perfect angels when out and about with our neighbors. To look past petty frustrations takes a certain resolve to do so. Aided by grace, we make a choice to love and do it, because a love that doesn’t show itself is a love that doesn’t exist.
Imagine what the Church would look like if her members were as patient with each other as they were with themselves. Since we don’t stay mad at those we love best, I doubt there would be much animosity to be found. In fact, the charity that would be made manifest would be so apparent, attractive and compelling, no one would doubt there is something different.
This, I guess, is the point: the true Christian life does have something different. It calls us to die to our sick self, to forsake the fallen nature and put on a new one. It’s not natural. Nature is severely weakened by original sin, supernatural life is filled with sanctifying grace and infused virtue. Nature gets irritated every chance it gets, but virtue sees each soul as made and loved by God. Nature yells at children; virtue waits in the driveway.
Image: From the film Forrest Gump