October 13, 2010

Training the Will for Virtue

We've been spending a lot of time thinking about the virtues. Some, like prudence, operate on the intellect. The virtue of justice, in contrast, operates on the will. (Hardon) In other words, prudence is about knowing what is the right thing to do, while justice involves doing it. Most of us, I suspect, provide daily empirical evidence that the latter is more difficult.

What does this mean for us? It means the will must be trained. If you want to be just, you must practice justice. The Catechism tells us that "(p)rogress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts." [1734] 

Let's break that down. To train the will, you should:
  • progress in virtue
  • grow in knowledge of the good
  • practice ascesis
Reading good catechesis, solid spiritual books, and, of course, Sacred Scripture helps you grow in knowledge of the good. God, who is goodness, is infinite; there will always be something new to learn! Progressing in virtue comes from practicing virtue. For example, if you've not been just, make reparation. The Catechism lays out the "how" in paragraph 2487. Ascesis comes from a Greek work meaning athletic training. St. Paul compares the spiritual life to athletic competition (2 Tim 4), so as a champion athlete works his body hard, we should work our bodies and souls into shape. Denial of good thing, temporarily, when we don't have to turn them down helps train our wills to deny bad things when we must.

The Catechism continues: "The upright will orders the movements of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them. Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices." [1768] As we master our will, it will order the movements of our senses more, and we will succumb less often to our disordered passions. In other words, the more I use my will rightly, the easier it will be - to an extent - to use it rightly later. 

Today, take time to plan the next steps in your spiritual training plan. You can begin by taking a hard look at your daily life. Sin is not always (or, I suspect, usually) a sudden explosion of wrong. It is, instead, a creeping ground war that wears us down slowly and almost imperceptibly, driving back the borders of grace day by day - a siege on our daily lives. This excellent post at Catholic Spiritual Direction gives you some real-world, very pointed examples of where sin rears its head in daily life: How Can I Identify My Root Sin. Grow in your knowledge of good. Turn from your sins daily. Practice virtue. Train your body and spirit to finish the race.

Hardon, Fr. John A. The Virtues. Available from http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Virtues/Virtues_001.htm. Internet; accessed 22 Aug 2010

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