Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Disciplined Desire: Living God's Virtues in a Stress-Filled World

Part III: Moral Virtues

Father John J. Lombardi

Read Part 1, 2

We have seen how we need virtues-good, holy habits-to love God and neighbor. But virtues are sometimes hard to acquire. How does one acquire them and, just what kinds of Virtues are there? The moral virtues help us in our human relationships and build our character to help us be upright-even when we don't want to be.

The Theological Virtues "spiritually glue us to God"--they direct us to Him. Faith feeds upon our Divine Friend, God, by learning and loving His Truths. Hope helps us to Trust God in Trials. Charity Links us to the Beloved, God, and to others. The Moral Virtues deal with our character, and we attain them by knowledge, persistence and love. Without each element we will not acquire them. Living and loving any Virtue takes love. Here, then, are Ten Steps of Highly Heroic People to Live the Virtues…

1. "All is Grace." Pray for desire to be freed from evil, vices, and to do good, and practice the virtues. Most likely, as "average humans," we will make Two Great Mistakes: grow lukewarm in holiness and/or "try to do it ourselves"-become holy on our own. We can't become holy by ourselves. We need God. Ask yourself: Do I want to become more human, and become a saint? Then you need God. A friend who was good at drinking (a "drunk," as they say) eventually asked God to remove his desire for alcohol-and he became, and is now, sober, decades later! Bravely pray to God to both remove evil from you and also form good within you-as virtues. God wants to use you, like He did the Virgin Mary, as a vessel of light--beginning with desire and grace.

2.See Clearly-Floss the Soul: examen your life of virtues and vices, what is good and bad. Make a list. Use as a guide an examination of conscience--it's a kind of cleaning of the soul. St Ignatius taught his men to make this examen daily--as a virtuous discipline of his Jesuits. Form the habit now.

3."Is there a Pattern Here?": List the top three virtues and vices in your life. What is most common (vices) and lacking (virtues)? Be fearless in your review. The virtue of "reporting" to a spiritual director or holy friend will guide you and make you accountable, and help you see things you cannot. "More eyes can unmask the disguise." Uproot the bad patterns and form virtuous new ones.

4. "They didn't build Rome in a day": Your change and plan for holiness, acquiring of the virtues, will take time. You need the virtue of Fortitude ("stick-to-it-ness"). Work on one virtue or vice a month. Don't be scattershot, and "keep building"--be persistent.

5.Focus: Do a "Particular Examen" each day to focus on the one vice you want to root out, and the one virtue you want to "grow". A couple of times a day review how you have done regarding the vice and virtue, and then resolve to keep trying and avoid near occasions of sin, and multiply occasions of virtue and grace. Do this for a month; no less. This kind of intense concentration means you love God and holiness.

6. View your daily life, in action and particular circumstances, and then plan to do the good you want to grow and the evil you want to avoid. Thus: Drunks shouldn't go into barrooms, and sinners generally become saints by being around holy people and healthy experiences. Lovingly see what is on horizon for your day and know you are going to encounter it with resolve and virtue.

7. Do the good and avoid the evil. Virtue will require overcoming aversion of will to some difficulty (giving up smoking, gossip), and rooting out vice requires avoiding evil circumstances. Don't cower when it comes time to actually do good. It will be hard, but don't get intimidated and thereby "shoot yourself in the foot."

8. Persist in your doing good and avoiding evil-don't be a slacker or backslider. Charity is a virtue whereby you give to others even though you may not want to. Avoiding evil even though you won't get gratification is a virtue and victory! It is easy to get lukewarm and fall backwards-but keep doing good even though you may not want to!

9.Externals: change the harmful, outside things you can to become holy-i.e., remove excess tv, media intrusions, wrongful relationships, possessions- all which engender sin and vices. Mother Teresa threw out TV's, carpets and luxuries-and sinful ways, so as to help focus on Jesus and holy poverty. Some things are like pollution in the air around our souls-change the air when you can.

10. Internal: "Wherever you go there you are." You always bring yourself -the same self?--with you to each new experience. Jesus, the Bible and saints stress internal change of heart before anything else. Therefore slaves can exist amidst harsh conditions-(St Mammalian Kolbe in Auschwitz concentration camp; Fr Walter Ciesezk in a Russian Gulag). The battleground is the human heart, and this is the "engine room" which will run your ship (you). So master it sooner than later. Your mind and spirit will control much in your attitude and help you respond to stressors, sinful situations and trials. …"Above all, put on love" -St Paul

Regarding life and the practice of virtues, we may notice Three Scenarios:

Master the Disaster: Troubles await us constantly-temptations to lying, stealing, cheating and lust. We sometimes choose vice because it is usually pleasing to our senses or false self. But by living virtuously --in truth and chastity, no matter how difficult--you choose goodness no matter what the gratification level is (what's in it for you, sensually speaking), and because you love God and holiness, not your own ways. You must become the Master of many different internal (heart) experiences and external (world) factors. By cultivating virtues you will master the disasters awaiting you instead of…

Cave-in To Craving: Like a small reed in front of a tidal wave, you break down by giving in to temptation. You have not cultivated a firm disposition within, of patience, lovingkindess or equanimity-so you become like a boiling volcano and spew forth. You choose vices because they apparently bring more happiness and gratification (sensually speaking); but your mind and soul remind you-"Really, I m not happy."

Middle Muddle: Many Christians exist in a general lukewarmness--and therefore they "fall into sin". Depending upon various factors-what you just ate or the weather, you may choose good or evil; kind of like a "fair weather friend of the Lord, and of holiness" .This may be attributable to lack of decisiveness of knowledge of morality and your passions. The virtues are not deeply rooted in you

The Moral Virtues: How to Become Human…

Fortitude-Jesus says: "In the world you will have many troubles but fear not I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33)…The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Fortitude "ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in pursuit of good…strengthens the soul in pursuit of arduous moral good without allowing it to be deterred by fear."- I.e., The tough get going when going gets tough-Catholics like Mother Seton persevere under trials. Her husband got sick and died; two of her children later died; in her conversion to Catholicism she experienced alienation within family and persecution; she encountered troubles beginning a religious order and the first Catholic school, and she moved many times. She overcame by overcoming. You can pray to her: "Mother Seton- Help us walk up the Mountain of holiness." It is a mountain and she persevered--persistently. Even when she "fell"--physically (walking with children on her back up Mary's Mountain), or metaphysically (thru sin)--she got back up--probably quicker the more she lived. We all fear risks, criticism, ridicule in life-this Saint persevered and so can we. ...Opposites of, and stressors to, Fortitude are paralysis, fear, depression, lukewarmism…We therefore need courage, persistence, magnanimity and constancy…

Pope St Martin was saddled by many troubles in his papacy, yet he kept faithful to his office; and St Athanasius was exiled four times as a faithful bishop, for teaching that Jesus truly was God and Man. He persisted in keeping his faith and duties, and kept going despite difficulties.

Prudence-The Catechism states this is the virtue of "practical reason to discern good in every situation and right way of doing and achieving it. It is right judgment in practical matters, inclines our intellects to the best means for attaining a good and Ultimate End"--one of the most underestimated virtues today. A "hair trigger question" should arise within in perilous choice-making: What does God want, what is His Will in this situation? We must refer all to God…as the driver (prudence) is to chariot and horses (passions, wily choices)-we need strength and wisdom to drive and reign in various forces…My philosophy professor used to say: "If in doubt, then delay." That's prudence…Stressors and challenges to Prudence: relativism which declares anything is ok to do and is shifting "truth" in different situations; lack of truth (ignorance willed or unwilled); lack of spiritual clarity; tempestuousness (strong emotions overcoming reason); bad judgment; lack of wisdom (knowledge of eternal truths). What we need to do: discernment of truth , deciding truth and then doing the truth.

Temperance: moderates attraction of pleasures and provides balance; ensures the will's mastery over instincts….maintains healthy dispositions; moderation/sobriety… and keeps them within limits of propriety moderates the attraction towards sense pleasure, esp of palate and flesh right balance and equilibrium"…St Margaret of Cortona liked, and eventually married a man outside the Faith; and spent many years living in sin; he eventually died a bloody death. She want to her father and then Franciscans for help. And they taught her penance, prayer praise of God. She began practicing True Love. She became a penitent and contemplative, and thereby attracted many people to her way of life. She tempered the fiery passions within to seek and love the Fire From the Fountain of Trinity. It took her time to practice and fully embrace chastity, but she persisted and tempered herself. …How can you temper passions and wily forces within? Stressors to Temperance: unpurified passions ; carnal, sensual desires; lack of judgment.

Justice: Is a "constant and firm will to give due to God and neighbor"…It is right ordering of parts which are out of order (money, possessions, etc)…There is, what we call, social and individual justice. This virtue is traditionally associated with Religion-giving to God His due-Worship and Sacrifice, and imitating Jesus Christ…It is also associated with love of neighbor-including the temporal, horizontal dimension…There are wrong kinds of justice-liberation theologians in S. America who became semi-communists and flirted with Church doctrine; there are certain forms of civil disobedience, etc.…Stressors to Justice: materialism (which takes away love due to God), and also away from our neighbors; making God in our own image-"dumbing down divinity" and discipleship …How can you be more just towards God and neighbor? Are you holding back time, talent or treasure which is due God or others? How can you practice social justice by helping Jesus, in His "distressing disguises," in the poor, sick and dying?

Know the ways to practice virtue; love holiness and God so much that you will persevere in all trials: "The goal of a virtuous person is to become God-Like." -St Gregory of Nyssa.

Read Part 4

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi