In our popular culture, a lot of people think of religion as duty, as a series of dos and don’ts. In fact, it’s a whole way of life – a relationship that brings us joy. All relationships require discipline, sacrifice, and commitment. Virtues provide this, helping us move along a path to grow and deepen our relationship with Him.
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We first need to establish what a virtue is. A virtue is a good habit. We develop habits very early in life. That’s how we learn to speak. That’s how we learn to walk. That’s how we learn to interact with other people. A virtue comes from habitually doing something over and over. When we choose to do things that are oriented toward what’s good and true, then we grow in virtue and develop habits that help us become a more mature human being. We were made by God for what is good, beautiful and true, so our heart instinctively desires these traits. When we follow the virtues, our hearts are free and unfettered
Yet, in today’s world, we find it hard to discover this truth. Too many things compete and create noise for the heart, for the soul.
Society often suggests that freedom is in the ability to engage in vice, the opposite of virtue. This is a wrong notion of freedom. Vices are also habits, but they enslave people in addictive actions that are not good for them or the world. So we become less and less free when we do not follow a life of virtue
To create individuals who live a freeing life of virtue, it’s important to consider the formation of children’s habits. This first occurs with the family, where real culture exists. The family is where we learn to walk upright in the Lord and learn responsibility for one another. We learn to forgive one another, to support one another, to pray for one another. Teaching virtues within the family allows the entire family to grow spiritually and become virtuous
Teaching virtue at school is also important. Children are formed by good or bad teachers. As disciples of Christ, we have the opportunity to prepare young people for the larger world, which can often be very different from the home where they were raised.
Young people are also formed by having the largest society in history around them, with both good and bad cultural influences. Good families and good teachers can help them navigate these influences to understand the value of a virtuous life, especially in the context of the love of Jesus and being a follower of his. These youth are then prepared to grow into full maturity in Christ, and that is a great blessing for any human person.
Every one of us is called by Jesus to follow him. As soon as we begin to follow Him, we are on a path of conversion. We have to let go of what is not of Him – what is not true, good, and beautiful – and open ourselves to act in ways that are good, true, and beautiful. He inspires us to do that. He gives us the grace to do that, so the life of virtue begins to be something we really want to do.
In this conversion we recognize, “This isn’t easy. This is difficult.” The effort that is required can be much longer and more arduous than we thought it would be in the beginning. That struggle is really good because it teaches patience and perseverance with ourselves and others. The struggle allows us to see why it is also difficult for others to follow the path.
The great thing about being a follower of Jesus is that it is not just a hobby, and it is not just something we do on one day of the week. It is an engagement of our whole person. It is a commitment of our whole person. It is something that sets our hearts on fire with joy and gratitude, so our whole way of life is engaged in it
We were created to live forever in Heaven, and we were created to live as full human beings. God is always giving us graces to help that journey, but we have to put in our own effort. That is where virtue comes in. Traveling the path involves this combination of the use of our own freedom and the acceptance of God’s grace within us. As we become more mature, we rejoice in realizing that we are actually able to be what we would desire to be in the Heart of Hearts.
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