Monday, September 21, 2020

Most people want to do what they like. But it takes effort to like what one does, especially when it isn’t gratifying in the short term.

The cultivation of virtue in life isn’t something that is taught well these days.  I don’t particularly remember being taught to want to lead a virtuous life in my school days, even up to the time when I was in my late teens.  If it was, virtue was something that was only at best hinted at. 


I lament about this lack of clear teachings about living lives of virtue because I can see that whenever I give counsel or any form of spiritual advice to members of the laity, the mention of virtue and any talk of living heroic lives is often met with furrowed brows, vacant looks and flummoxed faces.  


Most people have a misconstrued notion that living a life of virtue means that one will be missing out on many of life’s pleasures.  It gives way to what the millenials call FOMO these days. That would only be true if one associates life’s pleasures with things that are sinful and detrimental to the health of the soul.  The life that was experienced in Eden prior to the advent of sin was a life that was full and exuberant.  Giving in to and making our lives about the things that are sinful and cause us to distance our relationship with God and each other will always be attractive and enticing at first, but they also inevitably come with regret, anxiety, and a sense of “I could have done better than this”.  This would also mean that it isn’t true that life would only be delightful if one had no limits and no borders.  


I am certain that for those who do not know God or have a very diminished sense of God, life is only about getting the maximum benefit and enjoyment from it, and see that life is more to be obtained from, than it is for a medium through which we can encounter God.  The Christian doesn’t worship life, but worships the God who gives life to everything and everyone.


That life is to be used for one’s maximum benefit goes hand in hand with the notion that one should only pursue what one likes in life. In fact, many will start off in life along these lines, where they will do what they like.  With hardly any notion that all that we have in this world and in this life must come from a source that is responsible for existence itself, this is all one can do and believe that this is the best that one can do. But if we realize that all life has a source that comes from the giver of life, it would be insufficient to not go beyond the gift and just stay at the gift without raising our minds and hearts to the giver of life.  


Whilst living for what this life alone can give is not wrong in itself, it mayend up preventing one from living virtuously, because the virtue isn’t pursuing what one likes, but liking (or loving) what one pursues.  In a similar vein, there is much less virtue when one only gives one’s life over to what one likes, whereas great virtue is seen when one’s attitude is to like (or love) what one does in life.  


While I am not advocating in any shape or form that we should become masochistic in life to only pursue what gives us pain and suffering, I am inferring that especially where there seems to be no choice that gives us the option of doing what we would like to do, changing our attitude in these situations can result in us experiencing and entering in a peace that is seismic, to say the least.


A case in point would be many of the stories of the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps who were able to see life through a different lens that gave them a sense of positivity even though their situation was far from tranquil.  They could not change their circumstance, and certainly were not doing what they liked. They were stripped of their freedom, and sometimes even of their thinnest shred of dignity.


Yet, an interior change in attitude to put joy into their hearts with an act of the will changed everything.  I would cite the heroism of St Maximilian Kolbe as a shining example. In giving his life for another prisoner, he made the death camp into his stepping-stone to his heavenly goal.  


St Therese of Lisieux is another great example for us, where even though she had yearned so much to be sent to the mission lands outside of France, her frail health prevented her from this dream.  Rather than being dismayed at her situation, she chose to offer up everything that she did behind the cloister walls for the missions, and did small things with massive shiploads of love.  Because she didn’t do what she loved, she realized that she only needed to love what she did, and that was the ‘game changer’.  The church’s decision to declare this physically weak and cloister-confined nun a Doctor of the Church and the Patroness of Missions is something that should inspire those of us who think that we are stuck in a rut with the ordinariness of our lives.


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