There is a saying in theological circles, “Grace builds on Nature.” It means a number of things: first, that grace perfects rather than destroys or replaces our nature. It also means that while grace opens our nature to the supernatural, it does not usually do so in freakish ways. We do not start leaping tall buildings in a single bound, nor do we usually gain instant encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible instantly upon stepping out of the baptismal font.
Rather, our growth in grace tends to reflect our natural tendency to grow and change slowly, organically, incrementally, and in stages. Grace augments; it enhances and opens us to things above our nature, but in ways that make use of our nature. And grace can and does grow as it expands our natural capacities and talents.
Our bodies, the physical aspect of our nature, are informed, and thus reflective of our soul – the spiritual aspect of our nature. And thus our body, which grows and changes slowly, almost imperceptibly, is also reflective of the soul, which tends to do likewise. We gain wisdom and insight, and grow in virtues like Faith, Hope, and Love slowly, and in stages that befit us.
And while many of us often become impatient with the pace of our growth, or that of others, God seems to have willed that the best and deepest growth is not the sort that comes with sudden conversion or change, but rather the kind that emerges from slow, steady growth, and daily practice. Many little things add up to a lot. Daily practices such as prayer, spiritual reading, weekly Mass, and frequent but consistent confession are little things that add up to a lot. “Biggie-wow” things have an occasional place, but it’s the small, steady, and persistent practices that make the most difference.
Think of that as you watch this video. From moment to moment there is little change. Yet within four minutes, a human person goes from being an infant to a 14-year-old young lady. And so it is also with our spiritual journey – if we cooperate faithfully. Grace builds on nature, and it is our nature to change slowly. Cooperate with grace and the Lord seeks to build on your nature and open you to the supernatural.
But, beware! While physical growth and change are inevitable, spiritual growth is not; it requires our cooperation. Scripture says,
- We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity… (Hebrews 5:11-6:1)
- And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able (1 Cor 3:1-2)
- So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Eph 4:11-15)
Allow grace to perfect and mature your nature, and to give you “super-nature.”