Emmitsburg Council of Churches

On Virtues-A Spiritual Alphabet
ABC's of the Spiritual Life

Father John J. Lombardi

This past summer some laypeople made a retreat called "Disciplined Desire: Living God's Virtues in a Stress-Filled World." Here is the teaching from the last Spiritual conference: the ABC's of Virtue and the Spiritual Life.

Always practice good: This is the first principle of Holy habits-always, everywhere, practice holiness, virtue and goodness. We can't merely pick and choose when we want to form habits, virtues and holiness within: "In season and out of season…" (II Tim 4:2) be a vessel of Jesus and Mary.

Begin Anew: You may have sinned recently; you may sin frequently. Don't despair: get up and keep trying. We have to continually make new beginnings and never give up. Despair is our enemy

Clearly knowing Truth sets you free (Jn.8:32) from the self and sensuality of the world. Illusion, ignorance, falsity is of Satan, they all are imprisoning. But God's laws, commands and Spiritual Truths will liberate you. Memorize this Spiritual Equation: Effort Plus Knowledge Plus love = Holy Habits and Virtues. We need all these elements combining and re-practiced continually until they become dispositions within us.

Detachment from evil/inordinate attachments sets you free to love, to serve. Don't be a prisoner! The Three Main Inordinate Attachments we humans have are: possessions, people and thoughts. How do you need liberation from these? Good, ordered, holy attachment to these things, though, is helpful and healthful.

Effort: we have to exert and use energy. Just as Olympian athletes used all their strength to train and win medals, so too spiritual athletes must train. "I train my body and train it so I myself…" (I Cor. 9:27). Laxity is the enemy here. Give until it hurts….No pain no gain.

Fortitude means: when the going gets tough the holy get up and keep going. This virtue means we will not relent; will not give up or give in…Remember: Inch by inch it's a cinch.

Generate goodness: The classic Latin saying should be memorized and then practiced- "Bonum diffisum est= Good is diffusive of itself." Negatively put: bad company spoil morals. But holy people inspire other good people and actions. As one person described a holy man, may this describe you: "When I'm around him, I feel holy."

Heaven and Hell. Tom, a "wanderer" and holy guy, once said to me at the Grotto one light-filled spring day: This is beautiful but Heaven is beautiful, too...And, oppositely Hell is not only worse than we think; it worse than we can think." Practice the Holy Habit of meditating on the Four Last Things-which are not to scare us, but to convert us to holiness: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. (Skull and crossbones not necessary).

Inwardness/Interior Life: Do you have one, do you seek, embrace and cultivate an inward disposition? Or are you constantly looking for new fixes and highs from continuous stimulation from outside? Mediate, pray, sit in silence. Practice daily. No excuses.

Joined to the Lord. This comes thru the Holy Habit of prayer, love, Sacraments and constant devotion to Him. "Those who are joined to the Lord are one spirit with Him" (I Cor.6:17). Now, can you think of something or Someone more important? J

Knowledge of virtues. We need to KNOW in the head and intellect what is good and bad for us; determine what our enemies and weaknesses are. This is called objective knowledge, objective truth: things which never change, which we must conform to. The world wants to dismiss these, but the soul intuitively and inspirationally wants and needs to know these to grow. Form your soul and conscience by studying the Bible, Catechism, Spiritual reading and saints' teachings. The alternative: ignorance and suffering, mistakes and confusion.

Lord: This means we are His, we are His servants. Is He Lord of your Life? Does He reign in your heart? How will you allow Him?

Mary is the first and most perfect disciple. We can become like her, beautiful and even Immaculate in the soul, only by God's help and our constant conversion and supreme love-like hers. Pray the Rosary, get an icon for your house, office, car-emulate her precisely because she became a living virginal Tabernacle for God. Like her, "Magnify the Lord". Don't allow anything to get stuck on sinful, selfish self so you cannot magnify God. Clean the soul-window within-magnify Him! Pray the Rosary with your heart-meditatively, slowly, lovingly.

No to evil, flesh, and sensuality means "Yes" to God, holiness and Light. Practice the Holy Habit of rejecting bad, evil things, and embracing good, radically holy things and disciplines.

Offer it up. A friend, Fr Sam once said, regarding some trouble, "You know, in the end, this situation means three words: Offer it up." That means give it to Jesus. Use it to lose it.

Persistence/perseverance/patience. These words say it all: Don't give up. Our heroine of Mary's Mountain, Mother Seton, persevered thru the deaths of her husband and two of her children; trials of community strife in beginning a new family/religious order; and persecution after converting to Roman Catholicism. But, whenever she fell, she got back up. Do the same. Pray: "Mother Seton, help us climb the mountain of Holiness!" It's a climb - one holy step at a time.

Quiet, quell the passions, versus spewing forth like volcanoes. How? Bite your tongue (yes, if necessary, literally); count to three; call on Jesus' Holy Name. Deny yourself. Fast. Embrace mortifications (hard things). Study a Crucifix. Love.

Rehearse for Union. The Bible is just this-about preparing us for union with God, the Blessed Trinity. But there is little time-don't postpone. Thru prayer, meditation, Bible reading, Holy Mass and Confession, you are called to oneness with Him. The saints practiced these Holy habits and embraced union with God-will you?

Singular minded vs. multi-tasking. I was typing this very bulletin while talking to a client on the phone. The client, suspecting this, asked: "Father, are you typing?" Got me: convicted! I stopped. We both laughed. Another Latin adage-Age quod aegis: Do what you are doing. As a priest I'm supposed to be a good listener, focused and single minded. But I sometimes try to multi-task. We all need help! Keep helping your priests!

Tenacity. If there's one virtue and trait I recall from a summer with the Missionaries of Charity and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, it's this: tenacity, which means grasping, holding firm. She and they held firm first to love of God and second, loving God in the poor, the sick and dying, and in lepers, going so far as to look for castaway babies in dumpsters and trash dumps. She never wavered. Many things would seemingly help her and the Missionaries in the short run (air conditioning, televisions, computers), but in the long run, they didn't. Don't compromise. Grit your spiritual teeth.

Understanding. Are you using your Catholic understanding to interpret the world, work and others-and your own self? Remember-it must be Catholic. A priest friend recently shared how his mother made the sign of the cross before crossing the street, while baking bread, etc. She even named her son Lawrence so that his name would be mentioned every day at Mass (in the older Eucharistic prayer I). That's a Catholic understanding about being-in-the-world! Do likewise. U

Vocation. Learn about your calling (married, single, religious life); love it and also, especially today, defend it. Discern what God wants you to do; then decide-make a reasonable decision with another holy person-and just do it. Don't waver. God is calling you to be holy. How will you fulfill your unique call?

Win Grace. We absolutely need grace-God's gifting Life of Himself-for salvation. We can "win" this grace by prayer, sacrifices, Mass and constantly asking for it. Then we must cooperate with it so the Lord's Gift does not go unused or neglected. So…ask; cooperate and then multiply graces.

X-out sins and bad desires. Are you stealing or lying? Then stop! Gossiping? Stop now! You may have attachment to sins and faults but, basically, we all need to cease these bad impulses, thoughts and actions. Blot them out. Immediately!

Yes to God is the Virgin Mary's answer : "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn.2:5) Say "Yes!" to Him - without reservation. At least hold this as your perfection point because if you keep strings attached or do it halfway, that's what you'll get - lukewarmness. Remember: Total abandonment.

Zeal is like a holy gasoline in your soul, ignited for God and others. Do you have a keen, fervent desire for God, the spiritual life, for saving other souls? The saints did. What do you need to do to cultivate this? We all get tired, discouraged. How can you keep cultivating this virtue thru holy habits?

"Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 6:48).

Our Lord counseled, and impress within your soul: "Fear is useless, Trust is needed"

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi