|Let's all aim to be the
sharpest pencils we can be!
I'm using a pencil to make notes today. It looked fine when I picked it up, nice and sharp and ready to use. But when I put it to paper I realized the graphite was not in the pencil's center. (Must be made in China!) On one side the graphite seemed to have a nice point that should write well. But on the other side the wooden sheath went all the way to the tip. So my pencil will only write on one side. And even that deteriorates quickly as the graphite wears down and the wood hits the paper. Frustrating!
That faulty pencil got me thinking about centering. The Oxford definition defines centering as "placed or situated in the center." Hmm...I was taught you should never use the word being defined in the definition. Dictionary.com does a little better in that respect defining it as " equidistant from all bordering or adjacent areas." When used to describe a person, being "centered" means "to be well balanced and confident and serene."
My uncentered pencil is only a little problem, but think of how terrible for one to live an uncentered life, always off balance and out of whack.
We are all uncentered to some degree because of original sin. Created perfectly centered by God, in perfect integrity, Adam and Eve's original sin skewed each of us so that our minds and wills and passions are off-kilter -- like the graphite in my pencil. And so we don't write quite right! The Baltimore Catechism tells us that:
...original sin explains why man is so often tempted to evil and why he so easily turns from God. Because of the the ignorance resulting from original sin, the mind of man has difficulty in knowing many necessary truths, easily falls into error, and is more inclined to consider temporal than eternal things.But man receives the grace of God at Baptism which restores him to friendship. When he cooperates with God's will, he can become as sharp a pencil as he possibly can be, well-centered and able to accomplish the purpose for which he was created. He will never be like Adam and Eve, in perfect justification before original sin, but can draw close to God by striving to accomplish the purpose for which he was created: "To know, to love, and to serve God in this world and be happy with Him in the next."
St. Thomas Aquinas doesn't talk about pencils, centered or not; but he does discuss and expand on Aristotle's principle of the golden mean described in the Nicomachean Ethics. In other words, moral virtue is the mean between two extremes.
For example, the virtue of courage is the golden mean between foolhardiness and cowardice. Generosity is the virtue between greed and profligacy. Aristotle focused on natural virtues which man can attain without supernatural help. But Aquinas magnified Aristotle's principle to include the action of God. According to Fr. John Hardon:
Aquinas believed what Aristotle never dreamed: that man is more than a composite of body and soul, that he is nothing less than elevated to a supernatural order which participates, as far as a creature can, in the very nature of God. Accordingly, a person in the state of grace, or divine friendship, possesses certain enduring powers, the infused virtues and gifts, that raise him to an orbit of existence as far above nature as heaven is above earth, and that give him abilities of thought and operation that are literally born, “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Nowhere else does the true character of the supernatural appear more evident than in the endowments of infused virtue which some people possess and others do not, and that make some capable of spiritual actions which others cannot perform.Wow! Not only can we be useful, well-centered pencils in God's hands, but we can be among the sharpest pencils in the box if we let Almighty God do the sharpening. And isn't that what Lent is all about: surrendering ourselves more completely into the hands of the Master, letting Him form us with a perfect center to be a better instrument of His will?
I pray to use these final weeks of Lent well by the grace of God so that my off-kilter center will be moved closer to where it belongs. With God, all things are possible.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.