Last week I shared with you a way to grow in virtue. After writing this, I came across an article by John Clark (http:// www.setonmagazine.com/dad/olympic-virtue, 07/20/19) in which he tells of advice from a priest friend, Fr. Frank Papa, who has passed away. In this article, John offers the advice given by Fr. Papa, advice that I believe can compliment what I wrote of last week.
When reading this article, I was reminded of one of the basics of Dave Ramsey’s financial plan, and that is attacking the smallest debt first. Ramsey teaches that we need to see success in whatever field we are in, and if getting our financial house in order is our immediate task, list all debts. Then, rather than tackling the largest or highest interest debt, attack the smallest. This way we get an early victory, and that can lead us to a greater effort to keep on task.
Fr. Papa’s advice, when seeking spiritual advancement, is to get better at your best virtue. This approach to growth in our spiritual life comes from another angle. In my article last week,I wrote of identifying the sin that may be impeding your spiritual growth. This is still important. If we were looking at our financial program, Ramsey doesn’t teach that you only look at the smallest, but to do an inventory and list all debts and assets. In the spiritual life, we look at our sin and virtue, in order to grow in our love for God and how we live that in service to our neighbor.
Fr. Papa teaches that for most of us, there is a particular virtue that is very consuming and difficult to practice- chastity, charity, empathy, faith, patience, kindness, hope, forgiveness, humility. But often, at the same time, there is one that is not so difficult. Fr. Papa’s advice is to identify that one virtue, and get better at it. This is where it gets similar to a financial program. We need victories in our spiritual life. When we do this, we do not ignore the other virtues, but strive to bring the practice of one to a high level. Then the practice of this virtue radiates out to the other virtues. Excelling at one makes it easier to improve how we live the other virtues, even the one that is most difficult.
But to make this work, we need to be honest in our approach. Pick the virtue you are truly good at, not necessarily the one you desire to be best at. Ask your spouse or another who will be brutally honest with you. Identify this virtue and explore ways to become better. This is where the practice I wrote about last week comes into play. It is not easy, and will make demands upon us if we are really striving to become a more virtuous person. It will stretch us and challenge us, but this is the path of growth in all things.
Help Your Virtues Grow Stronger
Some ideas that may help get started in the process:
- If you are kind, be kinder. In an envious world, rejoice in the
true happiness of others.
- If your strength is listening, listen closer. Hear not only the words, but the heart as well.
- If you are good at alleviating pain, heal more. Adopt the pain of another and suffer together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
- If your strength is forgiveness, forgive more. Teach others to forgive and forget. And to remember the mercy of God.
- If you are good at giving away money and material possessions, give more. Don’t give till it hurts. Go beyond that—give till it doesn’t.
If the only strength you have is the will to get up again today, get up again tomorrow. And keep going. And in the process, help everyone else get up again, too.
- Praying for you, God bless
- Fr. Jim