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The Spiritual Temperaments

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | May 29, 2023

The much-heralded “new evangelization” anticipates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “Know thyself” is an ancient Greek proverb. Knowing our emotional temperaments helps us proclaim and receive the Gospel as we understand personality strengths and bear with weaknesses. For example, the witness of St. Paul reflects his volatile choleric personality.

We also have spiritual dispositions rooted in faith and love that help us understand our receptivity to the Holy Spirit and the truths of the Gospel.

The Marian Temperament ponders faith without sinful resistance and lives it with serenity and love.

Mary assembled the fragmented truths of the Old Testament into the image of her Divine Son and lived without sin. Mary’s generous response to the Angel Gabriel during the Annunciation brings Jesus into the world: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:38)

We share in the Marian temperament when we expand our understanding of faith with respectful inquiries and quickly act on our love for the truth.

The Pharisees have an orthodox but failing faith that lacks Mary's loving and obedient response. Jesus tells His disciples, "So practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice." (Mt. 23:3) The Pharisees (not all – Nicodemus is an exception) are repugnant because they know the truth, including the intricacies of the Mosaic law, but ruin it by refusing to respond in love.

Catholics who have grown smug in their faith have the temperament of the Pharisees. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor. 13:1)

The Petrine Temperament knows the truth and struggles with fears to live it.

At the beginning of His public life, Jesus calls the Twelve Apostles. Peter, the fisherman, awestruck by the miraculous catch, falls at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Lk. 5:8) But Jesus welcomes Peter into the Band of Brothers and teaches him to love: "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men." (Lk. 5:10) Jesus builds His Church on the rock of Peter's orthodox faith. After Peter's threefold denial, the resurrected Jesus teaches him a litany of love in reparation. We have affection for the humble, weak and erratic, big-talking Peter. We hope our sinful failures do not reflect an unorthodox faith; we also hope to repair our cowardice with love.

Judas is the alter-ego of Peter and the Apostles. Judas responded to the truth of Jesus with greed, cynicism, and despair. His name will forever be a synonym for treachery, possibly sinning against the Holy Spirit, as Jesus forewarned. Catholics numbed by a life of cynicism and failure and allowing their sins to crush them without hope have the loveless temperament of Judas.

The Davidic Temperament knows the truth but occasionally needs harsh rebukes to dislodge entrenched sinful complacencies.

With his slingshot, David courageously knocks Goliath down for the count. Sought by the envious and psychotic Saul, he religiously refuses to take the life of God's anointed. But success and the pleasures of the palace ruin his charity. He commits adultery, murders a man, and tries to live happily ever after.

David knows God but dulls his conscience with pleasures. Nathan knew his indictment of King David for his crimes was dangerous for a court prophet. Undeterred, Nathan accuses the King: "Thou art the man!" (2 Sam. 12:7) David’s repentance defines his greatness and saves his dynasty—and his soul. Catholics susceptible to the seduction of worldly success may return as penitents to the Church with the harsh realization of their moral treachery.

King Herod—the son of Herod the Great—knows only the truth of his power and seeks the pleasures of indulgent privilege. Momentarily attracted to John's teachings, following a frenzy of lust Herod puts John the Baptist to death. We remember Herod and his father as loathsome tyrants. We honor the Holy Innocents and John the Baptist as saints.

Comfortable Catholics who have made peace with the world, who neglect their faith and wallow in lives of immorality, have Herod’s spiritual temperament.

The Magdalene Temperament has directionless passion until encountering the transforming love of Jesus.

Mary Magdalene is probably the woman caught in adultery (Gospel ambiguities protect her reputation). Mary is likely the sorrowful young lady who washes the feet of Jesus with her penitential tears in the following scene—and again shortly before the Crucifixion, to the chagrin of Judas. Seven demons are cast out of her (cf. Lk. 8:2). She stood at the foot of the Cross and witnessed the resurrected Lord before Peter and the Apostles. Mary Magdalene was a sinner. But the love and truth of Jesus transform and redirect her passions.

“The tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before [those who promise to obey the Father but never get around to it].” (Mt. 21:31)

The Magdalene temperament is widespread today. Broken families, poverty, war, hatred, and depravities tear apart humanity. Jesus "saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." (Mk. 6:34) Many are lost in meaninglessness and may be disposed to receive the love of Jesus and His saving truths.

The Holy Spirit helps us to proclaim and live the Gospel according to our spiritual dispositions:

  • Like Mary, ponder our faith and respond with generosity.
  • Like Peter, overcome our sinful cowardice with love.
  • Like David, take a punch like a man and respond with repentance when prophets indict us for our moral treachery.
  • Like Mary Magdalene, allow faith and love to overshadow our unsavory past, never wallowing in our sins.

The new evangelization is always ancient: “All men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13:35)

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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