in the beginning there is always a gift

The tendency to overvalue hard work and the effort of doing something difficult is so deep-rooted that it even infects our notion of love. Why should it be that the average Christian regards loving one’s enemy as the most exalted form of love? Principally because it offers an example of a natural bent heroically curbed; the exceptional difficulty, the impossibility one might almost say, of loving one’s enemy constitutes the greatness of the love. And what does Aquinas say? “It is not the difficulty of loving one’s enemy that matters when the essence of the merit of doing so is concerned, excepting in so far as the perfection of love wipes out the difficulty. And therefore, if love were to be so perfect that the difficulty vanished altogether—it would be more meritorious still.”
…The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; …he refuses to have anything as a gift. We have only to think for a moment how much the Christian understanding of life depends upon the existence of “Grace”; let us recall that the Holy Spirit of God is Himself called a “gift” in a special sense; that the great teachers of Christianity say that the premise of God’s justice is his love; that everything gained and everything claimed follows upon something given, and comes after something gratuitous and unearned; that in the beginning there is always a gift—we have only to think of all this for a moment in order to see what a chasm separates the tradition of the Christian West and that other view. (31-33)

From Leisure: the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper (1952).

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