Emmitsburg Council of Churches

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

Part IV: The Stressors of Life

Father John J. Lombardi

Read Part 1, 2, 3

In past Bulletins and Conferences we have defined Virtues as Holy Habits, formed within us to help us to love God (esp. via the Theological Virtues), and to help serve our neighbor (via esp. Moral Virtues). To cultivate Virtues we need knowledge--we should know what virtues we personally most need and how to cultivate them. We need love--the inner thirsting for holiness and Godly-righteousness-cf. Mt. 5:6. We also need persistence--virtues don't form overnight-we need to work at them. Often in forming the virtues, though, we have enemies-many!-including stress. Stress strangulates our spiritual souls. What form does stress come in today and how do we, by forming virtues work against it? Following are some common stressors in life, and possible virtues or spiritual disciplines to help…

Family relations-marriage: Time together with spouse, friends or family, is one of the biggest challenges for modern Americans, along with keeping children, spouse, and family unified. Everyone is busy-even, unfortunately, on Sunday, the Sabbath Day of Rest (See Heb 4:9).The clear vice is this: the Devil's dissimulation of communion of souls and families. ….Some virtues we need-Wisdom to realize the modernistic frenzies which split families and people. Love in all stressful situations- despite difficulties, busyness and arguments, heroic and virtuous love "goes the extra mile" and never gives up. While talking to a sociologist visiting the Grotto one time, I asked this "expert" on human culture: "What's the greatest need for Americans, and families, today?" He immediately answered: "More time together." So: give the virtuous gift of sacrificial time and talent to your loved ones; work and sacrifice at it-be with them! Remember: there is no communion among souls without communication…Piety: this currently-attacked virtue means, really, loving faith performed thru actions. Learn to pray together with family, friends or spouse-begin with one decade of the Rosary--pray with your heart…Also ask: What activities or things do you need to give up to gain time and hearts with family or friends? Spiritual shrewdness: A pilgrim recently said she sent her son, who was away from the Church, a green scapular ("spiritual necklace" of Mt Carmel), as a sign of love and as a gentle seed for inspiration. He responded and re-joined the Church. St Monica exemplifies the virtue of perseverance as she prayed for her pagan-sensualist-seeking and sinning son, Augustine. He eventually converted and became one the greatest saints…Persist!

Money challenges: How are you managing your money? Do you have excess or less money? Prudence will help you ask: What do I need versus What do I want? Are your unpurified passions and desires causing you trouble and excess spending? Do you make a budget and plan for the month? Prudence helps us make holy decisions with wisdom in specific situations. Ask: How can you simplify your life and live frugally? (It's not just for pioneers anymore!)… Simplify! - Constantly, esp. in this Americanist-Mammon culture. Remember: "Desire for money is the root of evil" (1Tim 6:10). We need money- enough to plan, spend wisely, for future use and children's education, but not to covet and worship. So, ask the crucial question: How can I rely on Divine Providence more thru concrete acts of abandonment and spiritual poverty? One Summer Mother Teresa and two-hundred sisters didn't' have anything to eat, as they never solicit food or donations. They pray and fasted, and prayed. Along came a Hindu man and gave them money and food: God provided-and, while waiting, they trusted.

Traffic-commuting: One time a friend said: "Car goes fast, driver goes fast." True! Here we obviously need charity and patience--instead of road rage and "automatic pilot-anger". Practice patience: realize others have forgiven you, as you forgive others in your path doing clumsy driving maneuvers. Order: Begin your trips earlier, with adequate driving time; plan your course and then practice being-on-time, which helps you to travel slower. Obey the speed limits: these laws and seeming "enemies" are your friend- to moderate driving and hecticness... Be compassionate-automatically allow people into your driving lane--without question or delay! Remember: persistence of driving safely imprints virtues within your soul.

Difficult people: practice patience. Try to see Christ, at least disguisedly, in perilous people- even though you've encountered such people a thousand times in stress. Allow God to purify you by yet another opportunity--show up as a new person ("If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation: the old has passed the new has come" -II Cor 5:17). Our knee-jerk response is to "flinch"-to immediately reject the agitating person or to erupt into anger. Spiritual Reason and Mindfulness will help us stop, ask for Grace, and then respond, as Christ would. "For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, this is a grace" (I Pt. 2:19). Patience, from the root word, pati, means to suffer. St Peter, the first Pope, suffered for Jesus Christ, patiently persisting in his tireless travels and eventual torture and martyrdom. Without patience and long-suffering, he would not have been faithful-nor will we. Remember this Spiritual Sequence: Patience in particular situations leads to persistence which builds "long haul" perseverance. These are all degrees of intense love lived for the Savior. So: practice patience, persistence and perseverance in the shopping line, in traffic, in your marital and family relationships--never give up ! Gradually you will learn: the more patient you are, the more patience you can be, in intensely difficult situations. This practical, almost-always-needed virtue will become, hopefully, "second nature"--connatural --which means, literally, "with naturalness." In the classic work, "The Spiritual Life," A Tanquerrey outlines Degrees of Patience: First: whereby suffering is accepted as coming from God. Second: we become eager to embrace suffering in Union with Jesus Christ. Third Degree of Patience: where we desire-- and love--- suffering for God. How can you begin to practice this virtue and thereby form heroic patience?

Sickness and Illness: "Christ suffered for you and left you an example to follow" (I Pt. 1:21).We can either use or abuse our suffering (not use it wisely). Spiritual suffering is called "vicarious atonement"-we become "little Christ's" helping atone the world. We must learn to see all trials as opportunities to suffer thru Jesus, with Him and in Him. In sick persons see Jesus appearing to you in distressing disguise-tend to Him. Work on seeing Him below the surface of your ill friend or relative. St Paul counseled: "I take joy in my sufferings for I fill up what is lacking in Christ for the sake of the body, His Church" (Col 1:24 ). Use your suffering to sanctify souls, to release awaiting ones in Purgatory and to purify the Church. Imitate the Savior more.

Chaos in world: Regarding the manic morals and decay of Religion in public life, be active but not anxious. Patience and persistence are needed. The "world" (apart from, or against, God) promotes many anti-Christian values: homosexual unions; killing of elderly (euthanasia) and young (abortion); the Ten Commandments, God and prayer exiled from public life--all these evils often as a kind of virtuous multiculturalism Just remember: it's a madness but don't give into madness. We can easily get depressed and despair. Practice a "Virtuous Middle": be engaged and concerned, but not anxious and depressed (which prevents us from acting well and over the long haul). Hear the words of the Christ and priest at Mass: "Protect us from all anxiety…" Respond-by engaging but not raging; abandoning but not apathy. Through the continual chaos, remember: Right where you are, "Do little things with great love" (Mother Teresa). Change what you can-and accept what you can't (i.e., the weeds (evil) in the midst of wheat (goodness)-Mt. 13:29-30). This maturation of wisdom and of realistic acceptance--even of evil--will help liberate you to more paced and "long haul" action. Do not be overcome by evil: God is God and you are not.

Office environment: this is a place of continual challenge, therefore practice selfmastery in difficult situations: recall Jesus before Pilate. He was innocent and yet did not speak, but rather communed with the Father- and thereby showed resilience. This same discipline will help you overcome instead of coming over to evil. Make sacrifices like Jesus, and never be won over by bad actions or deeds (which continue the Devil's plan of chaos and atrophy). Outside of work practice holy prayer and meditation (meditation= within: think about and thank Him). Awareness is the virtue of true seeing: Don't let people "press your buttons" which "set you off" (be shrewd-avoid stressful situations if you can). And then dismantle the annoying "buttons" by prayer and meditation. Pray for your enemies, do not be overcome by them. Seek higher truth thru superiors when things need to be dealt with-do I honestly, truthfully. At break-time -get breathing space from the stress; read the Bible or a spiritual book; carry a Rosary in your pocket and touch the crucifix to gain strength… Information overload: Thru so many more sources of media today-how do you filter and subtract what you see, hear, absorb-esp. for you Do you?! How much information, news, and entertainment do you really need? Are you spending time with God in prayer, spiritual reading, Mass? Begin to cut down and cancel some of your media intake (No: you don't have become Amish or squeamish). You will find out: how much you are attached to the world; how little you really need, and the spiritual beauty of freedom from false idols. The worldly conspiracy is: If you know more (about the weather, movie stars, and prehistoric dinosaurs) you will be wiser. Obviously, not true. Rather, seek and know more about God and eternal Truths, as St Paul counsels: "Think of the things above, not what is of the earth" (Col. 3:2). This means: turn off --TV. - and tune in--to God, especially thru meditation, which will bring True Good News. Multi-tasking: the virtues of focusing and simplicity are desperately needed today. There's a Latin maxim you should remember: Age Quod Aegis-do what you are doing. Don't split and fragment your mind which affects you soul. Like God, be simple. Don't' become burned out and bored". Meditate upon the following: Present movement. Holy Moment, Sacred moment, Only moment. Live now-not tomorrow or when the grass is greener or when you can learn how to juggle and multi-task twenty balls. "Consider the birds of the air…the Heavenly Fathers clothes them…" (Mt. 6:26).

Fear of Future: Anxiousness about "unknown things" is like an inner, mental sticker bush, strangulating the soul. Remember what the Virgin-with all her challenges--heard from the angel: "The power of the Most High will overshadow you … (Lk 1:35). In difficult moments, when any dark thought appears (fear, pride, jealousy, anxiety, and lust), immediately and repeatedly make an Act of Faith, such as: "Jesus I trust in You!" Or call on Jesus' Name (which means, literally: "He will save them from their sins"), or think of the Radiance of Heaven (see Rev. 21: 10-11), or the Beauty of the Virgin Mary. Repeat and make complete, within your soul, this practice until Peace and Christ-Kingdom-Consciousness is deeply rooted in the soul.

I asked Fr Robert Zylla, expert on the saint called the "Dumb Ox" and "Angelic Doctor" (St Thomas) what the Most Needed Virtue Was, so here is some very wise advice from a Priest of Mary's Mountain. "The virtue most helpful in a stress-filled world probably would be patience and perseverance in most cases. These are subdivisions, as it were, of the virtue of fortitude and courage. When a person feels that there is much stress in any given situation, or in life altogether, they are experiencing life as difficult. So the easy answers or remedies don't seem to work. That's what St. Thomas means when he refers to the "irascible" passions. When the situations are enough out of the ordinary, something extraordinary is required to cope When it comes to the passions these extraordinary or "irascible" passions often kick in automatically. But when it comes to the rational level, a person may have to shift gears for himself, instead of expecting our human nature to do it. This is almost always the situation when we are speaking of the virtue of fortitude." … So: Practice using Reason, Skilled Wisdom and Spiritual InSight to overcome all inordinate attachments, passions and devilish diatribes to become more divinized and Christ-Centered-Persevere in Holiness by making each choice for the Kingdom! Conclusions: We need Knowledge, persistence and love- to form Holy Habits. Never give up and hold high standards-the highest-perfection: "Be perfect as your Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48 ) then you will become God-like, to appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4 )

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi