Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shine bright!

The Saints never fail to fascinate me.  Their lives point to a life of selfless giving to others, an unfailing desire for Christ and a constant focus on living a virtuous life.  At some point in their journey, they were mentored, encountered Christ and made a choice that day to be a better version of themselves.  The life of a Saint is not a one and done story.  They are not one hit wonders nor did they find any huge success in a short period of time.  Becoming a Saint takes a daily devotion to say YES and to take each day with more forward steps than backwards.  Becoming a Saint is about choosing a direction, and letting all your being work towards that direction.  We've all heard the term practice makes perfect?  Practicing a virtuous life helps us to perfect the powers within us which ultimately purifies our souls to desire and act out of the 3 theological virtues FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE.

Where do we get these virtues?  Paul writes them in his letter to the Corinthians.  It's the "typical" wedding readings of love is patient, kind, and so forth.  In 1 Cor. 13:13, it says "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."  I'd like to take a moment and point out how beautiful these are.

Faith - What does it mean to have faith?  It takes a willingness to believe even when you're not quite sure.  It's to be trusting and to know that there is something greater out there guiding your life besides your own mind.  It's also to keep going knowing that God is present and within reach.  When you are living a life of Faith, you peruse a life which is guided and purposeful and has been chosen for you from the beginning of your creation.  You've been given gifts and qualities unique to you and you're to find the purpose of how and why you've been given them.  The pursuit of faith allows you to let go of your own self serving desires and to add meaning and purpose to your life outside of what is best for "me".

Hope - Looking at hope from the other side helps stress the importance of this virtue.  A person that lives in hopelessness - where everything is doubted, nothing is possible, and there is no point of even trying.  Hope is the opposite of this - as light shines within the darkness - hope bring light to the world.  Hope is the positive outlook that everything will be ok.  Even in our darkest moments, we can recognize we will survive, we will overcome we will persevere and in the end we will eventually find joy again.  There is immediate satisfaction in this virtue!  There is triumph over darkness and success even within our failures.  Hope is what drives us to fight until the end and overcome that which seems to be temporarily taking over.  Matthew 10:22 says "You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved."  

Love - Love is the source of all virtues.  Without love, we cannot be a virtuous person. To love another means to will the good of them.  Think of the people in your life that you can't stand.  If you were to see them in trouble, would you rejoice for they got what was coming to them, or would you do what you could to rescue them from their troubles?  If you saw something about to happen to them, would you warn them or rescue them before the tragedy strikes?  When in an argument, are you actively seeking the good of all rather then winning the argument?  To love someone is not necessarily the same as liking them.  You can act in love while not liking someone - but to lover others is loving Christ.  If we truly love Christ, we should love others.  

These are our theological virtues, however there are also cardinal virtues.  Prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.  

Prudence - Practical judgment, wisdom and knowing what is right and wrong.  More importantly for the virtue to take place - can we act on it?  There is a difference of knowing what is wrong and then actually not doing it.  There is a difference of knowing Christ and then living how he asks.  A prudent person knows the direction they're headed, and is able to consistently follow through and keep going in that direction even with a few bumps. 

Justice - fairness, to give what is deserved, to give what is owed to another.  I think of this in several instances.  What do you owe your co-worker or your boss?  How should they be treated and respected?  How should a child respect their grandfather, and how should a father respect his son?  How should the rich provide for the poor?  How do we forgive others?  Take prudence to the level of what would God want from us despite the actions of another?  How can we be prudent even when we may seem biased one way or another? A person who strives to be just sees the world around them through the eyes of Christ and attempts to give each person what is owed to them.  

Fortitude- strength, perseverance - overcoming the challenges ahead of us.  Being bold and firm.  Fortitude is the willingness to fight for what you believe in and not yield to the obstacles in your way.  

Temperance is knowing when to back away and wait.  It's patience and the ability to be soft spoken and gentle.  

These last two fortitude and temperance go together - and the balance of the two is virtuous.  Too much fortitude and you're reckless, and too much temperance and you're a "Pansy".  Finding the balance between the two and knowing which one to be (with the help of prudence) will be most virtuous.  

So those are the virtues.  You only can grow to be a virtuous person by seeing these virtues put into action, and then practicing them.  If a person is born in a home where the virtuous life is not modeled well, then there is no understanding of virtuous living.  If you're brought in a home of anger, greed, resentment, hopelessness and poor judgment, there is no way possible for a person to be a virtuous person until they begin to see the life of a virtuous person.  Our upbringing will certainly shape how we think act and feel towards others as well as God.  The things which we surround ourselves with, shape our vision.  It shapes our lifestyle.  It shapes how we think and act.  If we surround ourselves with virtuous things, we are encouraged to live a virtuous life.  If we surround ourselves with immorality we are directed to immoral things. 

So to tie all these together - why talk about the Saints, then explain all the virtues - because the Saints embodied these things.  They knew where they wanted to be, and they worked to improve these virtues within them.  They are Saints because they lived lives of sin, of controversy, of doubt, and fear, and CHRIST and the Holy Spirit filled their hearts and were overcome with a desire for the will of God.  As they worked day in and day out perfecting their lives, they practiced and practiced and practiced living virtuous lives.  

You and I both can be the hands and feet of Christ.  You and I both can become saints and here's how.  

1.  Write down what the IDEAL you would look like.  What qualities would stand out?  How do you want others to see you?  Kindness?  Gentleness?  Faithful?  Self control?  Being Bold?  
2.  Reflect on the lives of those who have accomplished being the best they could be.  The lives of the Saints are PERFECT for this!  Read about them, post pictures of them, go visit where they lived, if they're still alive spend time with them.  The only way to know how to be virtuous is to surround your thoughts around those things that are good and holy.  Imitate the lives of those who are developing virtuous traits. 
3.  Practice - each day living out a virtuous life.  Discover the appetites and vices that lead you away from a virtuous life.  Pinpoint your cravings for sin and avoid even slight exposure to things which cause your soul to desire those cravings.  Each day, commit yourself to being a better person - the ideal you.  
4.  Your failures can be made into successes if you recognize the unwanted feelings of guilt and shame and decide not to be mastered by your sin and failings.  When you fall, live in hope and start again with even more perseverance.  
5.  Focus on the goal NOT the obstacles.  If your goal is Christ, focus on him not the things keeping you from him.  Dwelling on the obstacles will reinforce even more the challenges you face when exposed to the distractions.  It leads us into a deeper desire for those immoral acts that take us away from our goal and cloud our vision.  Focus on Christ as your goal - focus on your relationship with him and the life you want to live in companionship with him.  

Lastly, I leave you with 2 quotes.
St. Thomas Aquinas - "Sin is offending God only because it hurts us, God's precious creation"

St. Irenaeus - "The Glory of God is the human person fully alive."

Go and shine bright in the light of Christ!

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