Advice and sentences of St. Josemaría Escrivá for improving personality and character, selected points of St. Josemaría and personality, character and spiritual life, the personality of the saints, Christian personality, Wenceslao Vial, Psychological and spiritual maturity

Advice and sentences on personality and character

in some of the works of St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer

To achieve happiness, one must strive to be a good person. And one's own way of being can be modified.

The most successful interpersonal relationships arise when one strives to improve one's character.

People who take care of the way they dress, walk, eat, speak, laugh, look, listen to others... attract. In the spiritual dimension , a personality matures especially when it allows itself to be shaped by God's grace .

We offer a selection of points from St. Josemaría that frame well what can be a peaceful effort to resemble Jesus Christ, which is born of this consideration that challenges us:

"Where is the Christ whom souls seek in you?"

To consult these and other works of St. Josemaría in various languages:

Original article in Spanish

Points from the book The Way on personality and character:

How to improve personality with the help of the saints, Psychological and spiritual maturity

(The first Chapter of the book The Way is entitled Character: you can read it below)

63. You think you are quite important: your studies, your research work, your publications, your social standing, your name, your political activities, the positions you hold, your wealth... your age: you're no longer a child!...

Just because of all that, you, more than others, need a Director for your soul.

124. You, a doctor, an apostle, write to me: 'We all know by experience that we can be chaste, living vigilantly, frequenting the sacraments and stamping out the first sparks of passion before the fire can spread. And it so happens that among the chaste are found the finest men in every way. And among the lustful predominate the timid, the selfish, the treacherous and the cruel — characters of little manliness.'

144. The spotless purity of John's whole life makes him strong before the Cross. The other apostles fly from Golgotha: he, with the Mother of Christ, remains.

Don't forget that purity strengthens and invigorates the character.

174. Don't say: 'That person gets on my nerves.' Think: 'That person sanctifies me.'

350. It's not enough to be learned, in addition to being a good Christian. If you don't correct the brusqueness of your character, if you make your zeal and your knowledge incompatible with good manners, I can't see you ever becoming a saint. And despite your learning — because of it — you should be tied in a stall, like a mule.

366. Let's see: do you feel slighted in any way because 'So— and-so' is more friendly with certain persons whom he knew before or to whom he feels more attracted by temperament, profession, or character ?

Nevertheless, among yourselves, carefully avoid even the appearance of a particular friendship.

697. Outside events have placed you in voluntary confinement, worse perhaps, because of its circumstances, than the confinement of a prison. You have suffered an eclipse of your personality.

On all sides you feel yourself hemmed in: selfishness, curiosity, misunderstanding, people talking behind your back. All right: so what? Have you forgotten your free-will and that power of yours as a 'child'? The absence of flowers and leaves (external action) does not exclude the growth and activity of the roots (interior life).

Work: things will change, and you will yield more fruit than before, and sweeter too.

857. Be a little child; the greatest daring is always that of children Who cries for... the moon? Who is blind to dangers in getting what he wants?

To such a child add much grace from God, the desire to do his Will, great love for Jesus, all the human knowledge he is capable of acquiring, and you will have a likeness of the apostles of today such as God undoubtedly wants them.

947. You were amazed to hear me approve of the lack of 'uniformity' in that apostolate in which you work. And I told you:

Unity and variety. You have to be different from one another, as the saints in heaven are different, each having his own personal and special characteristics. But also as alike one another as the saints, who would not be saints if each of them had not identified himself with Christ.

Points from the book Furrow on personality and character:

How to improve personality with the help of the saints, Psychological and spiritual maturity

14. “It’s very difficult”, you exclaim, disheartened.

Listen, if you make an effort, with the grace of God that is enough. Put your own interests to one side, you will serve others for God, and you will come to the aid of the Church in the field where the battles are being fought today: in the street, in the factory, in the workshop, in the university, in the office, in your own surroundings, amongst your family and friends.

148. Apply a savage sincerity to your examination of conscience; that is to say, be courageous. It is the same as when you look at yourself in the mirror to know where you have hurt yourself or where the dirt is or where your blemishes are, so that you can get rid of them.

356. May you never fall into the error of identifying the Mystical Body of Christ with a particular personal or public attitude of any of its members.

And may you never let other people with less formation fall into that error.

—Now you realise the importance of your integrity, of your loyalty!

370. I have always thought that lack of loyalty out of human respect is lack of love — and a lack of personality.

427. What a sorry state someone is in when he has marvellous human virtues but a total lack of supernatural outlook, because he will apply those virtues quite easily to his own selfish ends. —Meditate on this.

435. Don’t be one of those people who, when they receive an order, immediately begin to think about how to change it... —We might say they have too much “personality”, and they cause disunity or ruin.

443. “A great sign appeared in Heaven: a woman adorned with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars about her head.” —From this, you and I and everyone may be sure that nothing perfects our personality so much as correspondence with grace.

—Try to imitate the Virgin Mary and you will be a complete man or woman.

458. How much sense there was in the plea of a soul who said: Lord, don’t abandon me; can’t you see that there is “another person” who is tugging at my feet?

644. What a mistaken view of objectivity they have! They focus upon people or tasks through the deformed lenses of their own defects and then, with acid shamelessness, criticise or dare to offer their advice.

—Let us make a firm resolution: when we correct or give advice, let us speak in the presence of God, and apply our words to our own behaviour.

651. You sometimes allow the bad side of your character to come out, and it has shown itself, on more than one occasion, in an absurd harshness. At other times, you do not bother to prepare your heart and your head so that they may be a worthy dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity... And you invariably end up by remaining rather distant from Jesus, whom you know so little.

—If you go on like this, you will never have interior life.

653. Personal sanctity is a remedy for everything! —That is why the saints have been full of peace, of fortitude, of joy, of security...

739. You fulfil a demanding plan of life: you rise early, you pray, you frequent the sacraments, you work or study a lot, you are sober and mortified... but you are aware that something is missing!

Consider this in your conversation with God: since holiness, or the struggle to achieve it, is the fullness of charity, you must look again at your love of God and your love of others for his sake. Then you may discover, hidden in your soul, great defects that you have not even been fighting against: your not being a good son, a good brother, a good companion, a good friend, a good colleague. And that, since you love “your holiness” in a disordered manner, you are envious.

You “sacrifice” yourself in many small personal details, and so you are attached to yourself, to your own person. Deep down you do not live for God or for others, but only for yourself.

755. Sometimes you try to excuse yourself, saying that you are distracted or absent-minded, or that it is your character to be dry and reserved. That, you add, is why you don’t even know very well the people you live with.

—Listen, isn’t it true that this excuse doesn’t really satisfy you?

777. The appearance is that of strength and resilience. —But how much softness and lack of willpower there is within!

—You must hold to your determination not to let your virtues become fancy dress but clothes which define your character.

797. To love is... to cherish but one thought, to live for the person loved, not to belong to oneself, to be happily and freely, with one’s heart and soul, subjected to another’s will... and at the same time to one’s own.

806. You were very sorry to hear that most un-Christian comment, “Forgive your enemies: you can’t imagine how it angers them!”

—You could not keep quiet, and you replied calmly, “I don’t want to cheapen love by humiliating my neighbour. I forgive, because I love, and I am hungry to imitate the Master.”

863. Fight against your harshness of character, against your selfishness, your spirit of comfort and your dislikes... We have to be co-redeemers; and, besides, consider carefully that the prize you receive will bear a very direct relation to the sowing you may have done.

980. From every point of view, mortification has an extraordinary importance.

—Considering it humanly, anyone who does not know how to control himself will never be able to have a positive influence on others. He will be overwhelmed by his surroundings as soon as he finds they appeal to his personal tastes. He will be a man without energy, incapable of any great effort when required.

—Considering it before God, do you not think it appropriate for us to show, with these small acts, how much we love, obey and respect the One who gave everything for us?

995. A Christian always triumphs from the Cross, through his self-renunciation, because he allows God’s omnipotence to act.

Points from the book The Forge on personality and character:

How to improve personality with the help of the saints, Psychological and spiritual maturity

28. Sometimes we hear love described (you’ll have heard me mention this more than once) as if it were a movement towards self—satisfaction, or merely a means of selfishly fulfilling one’s own personality.

—And I have always told you that it isn’t so. True love demands getting out of oneself, giving oneself. Genuine love brings joy in its wake, a joy that has its roots in the shape of the Cross.

37. When you love somebody very much, you want to know everything about him.

—Meditate on this: Do you feel a hunger to know Christ? Because… that is the measure of your love for him.

79. I will not stop repeating until it is deeply engraved in your soul: Piety, piety, piety! For if you lack charity it will be for want of interior life, not for any defect of character.

99. Try to be considerate, well—mannered. Don’t be boorish!

—Try to be polite always, which doesn’t mean being affected.

128. Love and seek help from the person who guides your soul. In spiritual direction lay your heart completely open — rotten, if it were rotten! — with all sincerity, with the desire to be cured. If you don’t, you will never get rid of that rottenness.

If you go to someone who can only cleanse the wound superficially… you are a coward, because really you will be going along to hide the truth, doing yourself harm.

153. Here is a good way of doing an examination of conscience:

—Have I accepted in a spirit of expiation the difficulties which have come to me this day from the hand of God? Or those which came from the behaviour of my colleagues? Or from my own wretchedness?

—Have I managed to offer Our Lord, in expiation, the very sorrow I feel for having offended him so many times? Have I offered him the shame of all my inner embarrassment and humiliation at seeing how little progress I make along the path of virtue?

168. There is but one fatal illness, one deadly mistake you can make: to settle for defeat, not to know how to fight with the spirit of a child of God. If this personal effort is lacking, the soul becomes paralysed and languishes alone, and is incapable of bearing fruit.

—Such cowardice on man’s part puts pressure on Our Lord to utter those words addressed to him by the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida, hominem non habeo! — I have no man to help me.

—What a pity if Jesus does not find in you the man or the woman he expects!

247. Lord, grant me the grace to give up everything that has to do with myself. I should have no other concern than your Glory… in other words, your Love. — Everything for Love!

463. Be convinced of this!: if only you wish it (and don’t forget that God listens to you and loves you and promises you glory and you will be protected by the almighty hand of your Father in Heaven) you can be a person full of fortitude, ready to be a witness everywhere to the most lovable truth of his doctrine.

468. —My son, where is the Christ that people look for in you? In your pride? In your desire to impose yourself on others? In those defects of character which you don’t wish to overcome? In your stubbornness?... Is Christ to be found there? No, he is not!

—You need to have your own personality, agreed. But you should try to make it conform exactly to Christ’s.

483. You are expecting victory, the end of the struggle... but it doesn’t come?

—Thank God, as if you had already reached that goal, and offer him your feelings of impatience: Vir fidelis loquetur victoriam, the faithful man will sing the joys of victory.

501. You cannot behave like a naughty child, or like a madman.

—You have to be strong, a child of God. You have to be calm in your professional work and in your dealings with others, with a presence of God which makes you give perfect attention to even the smallest details.

573. When you are with someone, you have to see a soul: a soul who has to be helped, who has to be understood, with whom you have to live in harmony, and who has to be saved.

642. Because of the trust He has placed in you, by bringing you to the Church, you ought to have the balance, the calm, the strength, the human and supernatural prudence of a mature person, that many acquire with the passing of the years.

Don’t forget that Christian, as we learnt in the Catechism, means a man or woman who has the faith of Jesus Christ.

702. Professional work — and working in the home is also a first-class profession — is a witness to the worth of the human creature; a chance to develop one’s own personality; a bond of union with others; a fund of resources; a way of helping in the improvement of the society we live in, and of promoting the progress of the whole human race...

—For a Christian, these grand views become even deeper and wider. Because work, which Christ took up as something both redeemed and redeeming, becomes a means, a way of holiness, a specific task which sanctifies and can be sanctified.

709. Face up to the problems of this world with a sense of the supernatural, and following the principles of ethics. They do not threaten or undermine your personality: they channel it.

—In this way you will bring to your behaviour a living strength which will win people over; and you will be confirmed in your progress along the right path.

767. What really makes a person — or a whole sector of society — unhappy, is the anxiety—ridden, selfish search for well—being, that desire to get rid of whatever is upsetting.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá, The Way Chapter 1

1. Don't let your life be barren. Be useful. Make yourself felt. Shine forth with the torch of your faith and your love.

With your apostolic life, wipe out the trail of filth and slime left by the corrupt sowers of hatred. And set aflame all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you bear in your heart.

2. How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.

3. Maturity. Stop acting the child; drop that affectation that only suits a silly girl. Let your outward conduct reflect the peace and order of your soul.

4. Don't say: 'That's the way I'm made... it's my character'. It's your lack of character: Be a man.

5. Get used to saying No.

6. Turn your back on the tempter when he whispers in your ear: 'Why make life difficult for yourself?'

7. Get rid of that 'small-town' outlook. Enlarge your heart till it becomes universal, 'catholic'.

Don't flutter about like a hen, when you can soar to the heights of an eagle.

8. Serenity. Why lose your temper if by doing so you offend God, annoy other people, upset yourself... and have to find it again in the end?

9. Say what you have just said, but in a different tone, without anger, and your argument will gain in strength and, above all, you won't offend God.

10. Never correct anyone while you are still indignant about a fault committed. Wait until the next day, or even longer. And then, calmly, and with a purer intention, make your reprimand. You will gain more by one friendly word than by a three-hour quarrel. Control your temper.

11. Will-power. Energy. Example. What has to be done, is done... without hesitation, without more worrying.

Otherwise, Teresa of Avila would not have been Saint Teresa: nor Iñigo of Loyola, Saint Ignatius.

God and daring! 'We want Christ to reign!'

12. Let those very obstacles give you strength. God's grace will not fail you: 'Inter medium montium pertransibunt aquae! You shall pass through the mountains!'

Does it matter that you have to curtail your activity for the moment if afterwards, like a spring which has been compressed, you will reach incomparably farther than you ever dreamed?

13. Get rid of those useless thoughts which, at best, are but a waste of time.

14. Don't waste your time and your energy — which belong to God — throwing stones at the dogs that bark at you on your way. Ignore them.

15. Don't put off your work until tomorrow.

16. You a drifter? You... one of the crowd? You, who were born to be a leader!

There is no room among us for the lukewarm. Humble yourself and Christ will set you aflame again with the fire of Love.

17. Don't succumb to that disease of character whose symptoms are inconstancy in everything, thoughtlessness in action and speech scatter-brained ideas: superficiality, in short.

Mark this well: unless you react in time — not tomorrow: now! — that superficiality which each day leads you to form those empty plans (plans 'so full of emptiness') will make of your life a dead and useless puppet.

18. You persist in being worldly, superficial, scatter-brained, because you are a coward. What is it but cowardice not to want to face yourself?

19. Will-power. A very important quality. Don't despise little things, for by the continual practice of denying yourself again and again in such things — which are never futile or trivial — with God's grace you will add strength and resilience to your character. In that way you will first become master of yourself, and then a guide, a chief, a leader: to compel and to urge and to inspire others, with your word, with your example, with your knowledge and with your power.

20. It is inevitable that you should feel the rub of other people's characters against your own. After all, you are not a gold coin that everyone likes.

Besides, without that friction produced by contact with others, how would you ever lose those corners, those edges and projections — the imperfections and defects — of your character, and acquire the smooth and regular finish, the firm flexibility of charity, of perfection?

If your character and the characters of those who live with you were soft and sweet like sponge-cake you would never become a saint.

21. Excuses. You will always find plenty if you want to avoid your obligations. What a profusion of well-thought-out nonsense!

Don't stop to consider it. Dismiss it and do your duty.

22. Be firm. Be virile. Be a man. And then... be a saint.

23. You say that you can't do more? Could it not be that... you can't do less?

24. You are ambitious: for knowledge, for leadership, for great ventures.

Good. Very good. But let it be for Christ, for Love.

25. Don't argue. Arguing seldom brings light, for the light is quenched by passion.

26. Matrimony is a holy sacrament. When the time comes for you to receive it, ask your spiritual adviser or your confessor to suggest a suitable book. And you will be better prepared to bear worthily the burdens of the home.

27. You laugh because I tell you that you have a 'vocation for marriage'? Well, you have just that: a vocation.

Commend yourself to the Archangel Raphael that he may keep you pure, as he did Tobias, until the end of the way.

28. Marriage is for the soldiers and not for the General Staff of Christ's army. For, whereas food is a necessity for each individual, procreation is a necessity for the species only, not for the individual.

Longing for children? Children, many children, and a lasting trail of light we shall leave behind us if we sacrifice the selfishness of the flesh.

29. The limited, miserable happiness of the egoist — who withdraws into his ivory tower, into his shell — is not difficult to attain in this world. But the happiness of the egoist is not lasting.

For this false semblance of heaven, are you going to forsake the happiness which will have no end?

30. You are too calculating. Don't tell me you are young. Youth gives all it can: it gives itself without reserve.

31. Selfish. Always looking after yourself You seem incapable of feeling the fraternity of Christ. In those around you, you do not see brothers: you see stepping stones.

I can foresee your complete failure. And when you have fallen, you will want others to treat you with the charity you are not willing to show towards them.

32. You will never be a leader if you see others only as stepping-stones to get ahead. You will be a leader if you are ambitious for the salvation of all mankind.

You can't turn your back on your fellow-men: you have to be anxious to make them happy.

33. You never want to get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes, through politeness. Other times, most times, through fear of hurting yourself Sometimes again, through fear of hurting others. And, always, through fear!

As long as you are so afraid of the truth you will never be a man of sound judgment, a man of worth.

34. Don't be afraid of the truth, even though the truth may mean your death.

35. I don't like your euphemistic habit of calling cowardice prudence.

For, as a result, God's enemies, with minds empty of ideas, will take advantage of your 'prudence' to acquire the name of learning and so reach positions that they never should attain.

36. Yes, that abuse can be eradicated. It shows lack of character to let it continue as something hopeless, with no possible remedy.

Don't shirk your duty. Carry it out conscientiously, even though others neglect theirs.

37. You have a persuasive tongue. But in spite of all your talk, you cannot justify — by saying it was 'providential' — what has no justification.

38. Could it be true — no, no, I can't believe it — that in the world there are not men but bellies?

39. 'Pray that I may never be satisfied with what is easy.' I have prayed. Now it is up to you to carry out that fine resolution.

40. Faith, cheerfulness, optimism. But not the idiocy of closing one's eyes to reality.

41. What a 'profound' way of living a life of empty follies, of getting somewhere in the world: rising, always rising, simply by 'weighing little', having nothing inside, either in your head or in your heart.

42. Why that fitful character? When are you going to apply your will to something definite? Drop that craze for foundation-stones, and put the finishing touch to just one of your projects.

43. Don't be so touchy. The least thing offends you. it's necessary to weigh one's words well before speaking to you even on the most trivial matter.

Don't be annoyed if I tell you that you are... unbearable. Unless you change, you will never be of any use.

44. Give the polite excuse which christian charity and social convention demand. And then... on your way again! With holy shamelessness, without stopping until you have finally scaled the heights of duty.

45. Why are you hurt by what people say about you? How much worse you would be if God were to leave you. Persevere in doing good, and shrug your shoulders.

46. Don't you think that equality, as some people understand it, is synonymous with injustice?

47. That pose and that self-satisfied manner don't suit you at all: they are easily seen to be affected. Try, at least, to use them neither with God, nor with your Director, nor with your brothers: and between them and you there will be one barrier less.

48. You lack strength of character: what insistence on having a hand in everything! You are bent on being the salt of every dish. And — you won't be annoyed if I speak clearly — you have little aptitude for being salt: in particular, you lack its capacity to dissolve and pass unnoticed.

You have too little spirit of sacrifice and too great a spirit of curiosity and ostentation.

49. Hold your tongue! Don't be childish, the caricature of a child: telltale, mischief-maker, little sneak! With your stories and tales you have chilled the glow of charity: you couldn't have done more harm, and if by any chance that wagging tongue of yours has shaken the walls of other people's perseverance, your own perseverance ceases to be a grace from God, for it has become a treacherous instrument of the enemy.

50. You are curious and inquisitive, prying and nosey. Are you not ashamed that even in your defects you are not much of a man? Be a man: and instead of poking into other people's lives seek to acquire a true knowledge of your own.

51. Your manly character — simple and straightforward — is oppressed when you find yourself entangled in gossip and mischievous talk, which you cannot understand and in which you never wished to be involved. Undergo the humiliation that such talk causes you and let the experience teach you greater discretion.

52. When judging other people, why do you put into your criticism the bitterness of your own failures?

53. That critical spirit — I admit that there are no unworthy motives behind it — should not be exercised upon your apostolate, nor upon your brothers. I will speak plainly: that critical spirit is a great hindrance to the supernatural undertaking in which you are all engaged, for while you examine the work of the others — with the highest possible motives, I admit — without there being any reason why you should do so, you are not doing anything constructive, and furthermore by being negative you are holding up the progress of all.

'Then', you ask uneasily, 'that critical spirit which is the keynote my character...?'

Listen, I'll set your mind at ease. Take a pen and a sheet of paper. Write down simply and frankly — ah! and briefly — what is worrying you, hand the note to the person in charge, and think no more about it. He has the grace of state. He will file the note or he will throw it into the waste-paper basket. And, since the motives behind your criticism are not unworthy, since they are of the highest, it is all the same to you.

54. 'One must compromise' I Compromise is a word found only in the vocabulary of those who have no will to fight — the lazy, the cunning, the cowardly — for they consider themselves defeated before they start.

55. My dear man: though you feel very much a child, and though you are one before God, don't be so simple as to put your brother 'on the spot' before strangers.


Selection made for the course of Psychology of the personality, applied to spiritual direction. 

Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. 

Prof. Wenceslao Vial