Friends, in my previous article I spoke about the four stages toward building virtue. Today I’d like to more concretely break down what the spiritual masters suggest is necessary for virtue. If virtue is the manner by which we find peace in this life, then we must take to heart how important this topic is not only for ourselves but for those whom we love. This is the discipline of the Lord, and a part of being a disciple of Jesus.
The four things I think are crucial to build virtue are:
Growth in Wisdom
Wisdom is considered a ‘speculative virtue.’ It helps us initially get out of a vicious place. Where our mind is capable of understanding the difference between good and evil, we are beginning to experience a degree of interior freedom. The freedom that comes from the virtue of Wisdom is the ability to avoid rationalizing about sin. In this sense we begin to become free from the habit of turning what is good into what is evil, and what is evil into what is good - in our mind. This place of darkness is a place of willful ignorance. Humility is therefore required at this stage where we can be open to the teachings of Jesus, His Church and allow our mind to be led out of the darkness of error.
Friendship to Aristotle and Aquinas is essential for virtue. There is much that can be said about it, but here I’d like to mention only a few things. First, we must acknowledge the difference between false and true friendship. This distinction can only be made apparent by testing one another and ourselves (cf. Sirach 6: 5-17). Second, friendship is rare, and comes to those who fear the lord. In this sense, friendship is a gift from God, and we ought to pray for it in all its genuineness. Third, friendship is not merely an affectively and falsely consoling place where we complain, gossip, and enable one another. Rather friendship is about building virtue in the other and allowing the other to inspire virtue in our own lives. In this case, virtue is concerned with the greatest good for the other - which we know as Catholics is always God. Finally, friendship grows in intimacy the closer both parties are united to God. God isn’t in competition with human-friendship, but by placing Himself first in that relationship, we end up developing a greater sense of union. If you are lonely and discouraged, isolated and ashamed of sin - get a friend. Be proactive - be discerning, pray for the gift of friendship.
Practical work is required for virtue. You cannot have virtue by mere philosophizing. You have to do the grunt work that moves you from incontinence to continence and finally virtue. Welcome to the desert - but if you have a friend, you aren’t alone. Always remember that such exhausting work will eventually turn into pleasure and delight in the good. One point that I think is important - this is often where people get discouraged. Remember, the desert is only supposed to be 40 days - it isn’t meant to be our entire life.
Leisure is a place of reasonable rest for both our body and our soul. If all we do is work ourselves into the ground we aren’t living life, and delighting in the degree of virtue we’ve already found. In the world we live today, identity and value is associated with how busy we find ourselves. This is a lie and a type of cruel slavery to the values of a very utilitarian culture. Take time out, set up boundaries, become playful in ways that are rooted in the good. Without this rest you will not be able to return once again to the plow where work needs to be done!