The Temperament God gave you

3rd Sunday of Lent (Latin Mass)
Beloved in the Lord,
In 1935, when St. Josemaria Escriva was starting what would be a new movement in the church: Opus Dei, he invited a young man to join in the cause whose name was Alvaro del Portillo; Alvaro would become an essential advisor and confidant. History shows that the movement might never had come to fruition, if both had not been together.
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Josemaria had a firey Basque temperament, which, when tempered with charity, had the power to spread to the whole world, the message of sanctifying our daily life. Alvaro however, was a quiet and unassuming person who was able to deal deftly with many problems behind the scenes, and insire some powerful people by his kind manner to be faithful and influential Catholics; he would later become the Prelate of Opus Dei, with great effect. Of these two men, one would be canonized a saint, the other beatified. Two holy men – but two completely different temperaments.
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Friends in Christ, all the way back to the ancient Greeks it has been known that there are 4 basic temperaments among people, and everyone’s temperament is raw material for them to become a saint, for as Thomas Aquinas says, ‘grace builds on nature.’
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The 4 traditional temperaments are: the Choleric, the Sanguine, the Phlegmatic, and the Melancholic. A person’s personality is the result of environment – how one grows up, experiences – plus one’s temperament. The temperament is what we are born with, it’s in our genes. We may have already noticed our own, personal temperament. If we reflect on our life regularly, especially in prayer, we can hardly fail to consider why or how we have acted on a given day or situation, and perhaps we’ve recognized the patterns that come from our temperament.
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Spiritual masters have long had the slogan: ‘Know thyself.’ To grow in holiness, we need to know the truth of ourself, and the truth is, that there is usually an internal war going on inside of us; the good aspects of our temperament help us be good, the dark side of our temperament pull us toward the bad.
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In the Gospel today, Our Lord says: Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation, and house shall fall upon house.’ He tells how a person can have their house clean and swept and in good order – that is, a pure soul, a state of grace – and the next thing, the Enemy returns with 7 evil spirits. As St. Paul says, I end up doing the very thing I did not want to do. If we are trying to follow Christ, then we each have an interior war going on, the type of war usually depends on our temperament.
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The Choleric person has a strong will, a type ‘A’ personality, he has to be in charge, likes to be in charge, gets things done, reacts quickly, decisively, self-confident, independent. These are good attributes for a leader. St. Ignatius Loyola was surely a choleric. Certainly St. Paul.
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But such a person has a dark side that must be resisted: easily angered. quick to judge; stubborn; imprudent, denies their mistakes, hides insecurity by blaming others, impatient, can use people to get the job done. It is said, the choleric person would rather die than humble himself.’ So there is an interior war – and this is the battle of the spiritual life.
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The Sanguine person is friendly, outgoing, communicative; fun-loving, creative, looks on the bright side, emotional, notices details, has many friends, seeks adventure. St. Philip Neri probably was sanguine, who was a practical joker. Sanguine people are usually happy people, but they have an interior war also. They can desire to be the center of attention, or are tempted to vanity, or ready to give up morals or faith in order to be liked; they can act rashly or be frivolous or superficial or follow the crowd. St. Peter was probably Sanguine – he was impulsive, one moment ready to die for Christ, the next a coward – he spoke first and thought later; So the Sanguine has their own struggle.
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Now the Phlegmatic person is prudent, reserved, sensible, and dependable. He is attuned to his own feelings and those of others, he is not easily provoked to anger, he is easy going, very loyal; the phlegmatic is punctual, thrives on routine, good with detailed work, he has good judgment, is objective; he is agreeable and tolerant, but with a strong underlying backbone. A dry sense of humor. The monks that painstakingly copied manuscripts were probably Phlegmatics, St Thomas Aquinas was.
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But the Phlegmatic has an interior war too. Temptations to avoid manual labor, laziness, sensuality; not persevering in prayer, unmotivated; and the phlegmatic might give in to peer pressure to avoid conflict, which he hates.
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Finally, the Melancholic temperament. The Melancholic values the ideal, seeks perfection in everything. He is skeptical about overly simplistic labels, tends to be quiet and reserved, holds thoughts to himself. He is studious and orderly, attentive to detail; can be thoughtful and pious and compassionate, and is upset when he sees injustice. He prefers solitude and reflection and is very faithful in relationships and is good at planning things, and in detail. St. Edith Stein was surely a Melancholic.
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But Melancholics have a war going on also. The Melancholic can be prone to brooding or sadness, or dark critical thoughts. He can suppress anger for a long time, and then – blows up!’ Everyone wonders why. He was stewing and ruminating on something a long time. The melancholic can presume motives in others that do not exist and fume silently over perceived slights, and be unforgiving. His pride is not about wanting recognition like the choleric, it’s about fearing failure; wanting to be perfect, his pride fears disgrace. For him, caution can lead to a lack of courage and action. A melancholic’s idealism can lead him to be impractical and indecisive, and not always a team player. So – they have spiritual combat going on inside too.
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But this is the adventure of the Christian life – a war! It is not new. St. Paul says the exact same thing: ‘I see a law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin. Unhappy man that I am, who will deliver me?’ And then he answers it: Who will deliver me? The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord.
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We each have an interior war, usually between the best of our temperament and the worst; but we cannot fight our war without God’s help. And also, let’s ask Mary to aid us; O Virgin most powerful, O Virgin most faithful, help us by your prayers, to win our daily, interior battles for Jesus Christ.

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{Entrusted to the prayers of St. Camillus]

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