Monday, December 6, 2010

Growing in Virtue

I awoke early again this morning, wide awake unable to sleep. As I went downstairs I remembered a similar morning, long ago. I had awoken early then also, and searched for something to do before work. An avid reader, I had already devoured all the printed material in the house and so as I sat at the kitchen table thinking about work, my eyes wandered over to the coffee table in the next room and the large book which decorated it --- you know, the Bible. Although I had read parts of it, I had never really READ it, and so I sat down and started, from the beginning, to read this “novel”. In subsequent days I continued to (deliberately) wake up early until I had finished it, cover to cover. I found parts interesting, but I didn’t think too much about it. Although I was not aware then, however, I think that was the starting point for a big change in my journey.

Advent is meant to be a journey of sorts, as we prepare for the upcoming Birthday celebration, but that’s not how we usually treat this time. We’ve too many other things to prepare for. My morning meditations today, however, got my mind in a proper focus --- at least for now.

Yesterday’s gospel reading had John the Baptist saying to prepare: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” This morning’s meditations continued in this vein and asked how we might reform our lives. Interestingly, it defined reform as “re-form”, forming ourselves back to what we once were, “that dream that God has of each one of us, that dream-form in the mind and the heart of God of what He intends each of us to be.” Mother Mary Francis then goes on to speak of how a renewed focus on Faith, Hope, and Charity is a good place to begin our reform:

“In puzzlement, in bewilderment, and perhaps most of all in anguish, when it seems like things are not going right, when it seems almost like God has lost control --- this is the hour of Faith. … God asks us now in Advent to give evidence of our reform, of our being formed again into the essence, the radicality of ‘I believe’ --- not because I see, but because (like Mary’s belief at the Annunciation) I don’t see.”

“We ask: ‘But how is it going to turn out?’ …. Hope is such a strong thing, because it is hope in the face of almost everything not presenting human reason for hope…. Dom Gabriel, speaking about Faith and Hope and Love in prayer, said that when a contemplative is crushed with anxieties and still Hopes, this man is praying.”

“Love is perhaps less lyric than dogged. Love, true love, will not give up. … What are the things within me that hinder me from receiving Christ with joy? Do they not have a common denominator, that there is some lack of Faith, some wavering of Hope, some weakness in Love?” … “We want to be determined, with God’s grace, to give Him evidence of our allowing Him to reform us to His original thought of us, His original dream of us, so that we really are (people) of Faith, which is a suffering thing; of Hope, which is a demanding thing; and of Love, which is a dogged thing, so that it can become lyric.”

I think these thoughts, on the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, are a good place to begin an Advent commitment to prepare for Christ’s coming, His coming to us. We are so easily driven by our vices, the excesses of our senses, the giving in to the material world around us because “it feels good”. Virtues are driven by grace; they are the desires of our nature, to be good as we were made to be, to be holy. Vices form our actions; virtues re-form them. Look at the sidebar prayer here to St. Paul. It is a prayer for Faith, Hope, and Charity, but look at the adjectives: “Give us a deep faith, a steadfast hope, a burning love for our Lord; so that we can proclaim with you, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’” Advent is preparing for Christ to live in us, even deeper.

Virtues are driven; isn’t it time for you to get out of the passenger seat and start driving? Those adjectives are there to be had, but you have to work at it, to cooperate with the overflowing grace waiting to help you. You’ve seen some of my vices written about here; I admit to having no shortage of them. If you would like to make some progress in virtues to help overcome your vices, Advent is a good season to start. Perhaps you need to get up a half hour early, as I did today, and seriously drive change in your life. Like my early mornings, so long ago, it may be the start of some big changes in your life. It may be the start of you becoming who you were made to be. And that will bring you great joy, trust me.

If you are looking for some good books on the virtues, I might suggest these two: The Virtue Driven Life, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and The Four Cardinal Virtues, by Josef Pieper. Fr. Benedict’s book is an easier read, while Josef’s book is more philosophical. I plan on re-reading both this Advent.


  1. I like how you have started to read the Bible from the start. I tried that years ago. I started with the Old Testiment. Some people I know say it is best to start with the New Testiment, which I think I might try if I ever read it from start until end. I've been reading the daily Catholic scripture readings, and doing that means within a year I will have read most of the Bible!

    Life changing moments are super. I think you're right about how change is something you need to take on for yourself. Thanks for the great reminder!
    -Cat, fellow Blogger

  2. You're right, Cat, we certainly need to take on change, but as I've come to realize more lately, He is the one who ultimately changes us. We can try, we can prepare, but ultimately all we can do is accept the gift of the change He makes in us. Like the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or confirmation, it is a gift, but one we can pray for, and be prepared to accept --- no matter how much it hurts. Change always hurts, it has challenges, it is not the way things were before, when we got so comfortable with our life.
    But it will be a change that gives us life everlasting.

  3. Wow! Very well said. Thank for the reply.