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Everyday Virtues

December 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach, Virtue

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An Introduction to the Devout Life (Week 6 of 14)

We have but rarely opportunities for the practice of courage, magnanimity, and great sacrifices. But every action of our daily life should be influenced by gentleness, temperance, humility, and purity. Some qualities may be more eminent, but these are the most needful. Sugar is more agreeable than salt, but salt is in much more universal requisition. Therefore, we should be rich in these everyday virtues, of which we stand in such perpetual need. – An Introduction to the Devout Life (Part III: Chapter I, Paragraph Two)

Everyday Virtues

The word perpetual is one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. In fact, as I was contemplating my life this week (something I am prone to do as I gather – FOR THE 44TH TIME IN ONE DAY – dozens of shoes, coats, books and toys that have been discarded throughout the house), the name Sisyphus came to mind. Remember Sisyphus? The King in Greek Mythology whose punishment for all eternity was to push a large boulder all the way up a steep hill, only to watch it roll back to the bottom just before his moment of triumph? That was how I felt yesterday.  Sentenced to a life of fruitless activity and endless frustration. I know. Just a bit over dramatic – but that’s how I felt.

Amidst all the chaos, I even suffered a rare moment of defiance. I was standing in the kitchen, looking – in despair – over a counter that I had cleaned only five minutes before. I promise it had been completely clear of all paraphernalia. So you’ll understand when I tell you that as I glanced back toward said area after completing another chore, I actually did a double-take, attempting to register the complete transformation that had to have taken place in roughly a nano-second. Had I merely imagined clearing the counter? No. I specifically remembered collecting books one by one and carrying the stack up to the bookcase in the classroom as well as washing remnants of pumpkin cake left by a snacking toddler, among other things. But now, as I looked around, not five minutes had passed, and an entirely new layer of “stuff” had found its way into my kitchen – a pair of gloves, yet another book, a dishtowel, a licorice wrapper, two slices of bread and a bottle of milk – but there was not a child to be seen.

On instinct, I set out to collect the items on the counter. That’s when rebellion struck. I thought – The minute I clean this mess, there is bound to be another. Why bother?! So instead of cleaning, I stood there. Fuming.

Two seconds later, my 13-year-old made the mistake of walking into the kitchen from the garage.  This mistake became all but fatal when he had the audacity to lay a stack of (my) mail on the counter after he’d just done me the favor of checking the mailbox. Details of the next two minutes are not pretty, and I won’t tarnish our conversation further by reliving it. Needless to say, gentleness – particularly under duress – is not my strong suit. But despite my smeared reputation, I wanted to share this incident because I'm willing to bet that many of us have them.

Whether you are a mother, or you have a career with an inbox that refuses to give you the satisfaction of seeing it empty (or both), perhaps you, too, feel here and there as though you suffer the curse of Sisyphus.  I pray, for your sake, that you’ve never fallen victim to a momentary lapse; but in the event that you have, I’m sure you've realized that it does you no good. Those seconds of willful defiance and temper are bound to leave you dejected and regretful for hours – and the pain is even worse knowing that you were the cause of your own demise.

Thankfully, St. Francis de Sales chose this week to remind us of the perpetual need for those everyday virtues: gentleness, temperance, humility, and purity. Perpetual because we need them at all times – particularly when we feel we’re heading near the edge. So is it possible to build up a stash for those difficult moments?

Unfortunately, I don't think it works that way, in that we can’t store virtue in the pantry like we store extra paper towels (Wouldn't it be great if we could?!).  It seems that building virtue is more like building muscle. It takes time and lots of purposeful effort. St. Francis de Sales, himself, who was well-known for his gentle nature, admits having had to work very hard to acquire it. In fact, he claimed it took more than 20 years of meticulous care to learn to control his temper.

So how do we learn to build spiritual muscle? I’ve found a couple of books that contain practical advice for those seeking to grow in virtue.  I thought I’d share a few thoughts I found on gentleness. If you care to explore further, references are provided below:

  1. In a letter to a woman struggling to maintain a gentle nature among household duties, St. Fancis de Sales offers the following advice:  “…concerning your little but frequent impatiences in the accidents of your housekeeping. I tell you, then, that you must pay special attention to this, and that you must keep yourself gentle in them, and that when you get up in the morning, or leave prayer, or return from Mass or Communion, and always when you return to domestic affairs, you must be attentive to beginning quietly. Every now and then you must look at your heart to see if it is in a state of gentleness. If it is not gentle, make it so before all things; and if it is gentle, you must praise God, and use this gentleness in the affairs that present themselves with a special care not to let it get disturbed. (1)
  2. If you wish to control your temper, become aware of the circumstances in which you're most likely to be angry: in certain settings (such as rush-hour traffic), with certain people (perhaps a particular neighbor or acquaintance), or at certain times of the day (maybe just before the end of the workday, when you're scrambling to clear your desk).  Once you've learned from experience what things can anger you, prepare for these moments with a short, silent prayer – for instance…”Dear Jesus, let me stay calm.”  (2)
  3. It's also helpful to recall, when you're in a peaceful mood, a recent situation when you lost your temper.  Ask yourself, “Was my anger justified?  How will I respond to this situation in the future?”  You can even “practice” responding properly by pretending this situation is repeating itself; by letting yourself feel angry when you're alone, you can rehearse possible responses and evaluate which ones might help you. (2)

So by developing a game plan, it seems that little by little, day by day, I can take practical measures to grow in those everyday virtues touted by St. Francis de Sales.  I'm going to take out my notebook right now if you'd like to join me!  By God's grace, perhaps I'll be a little better prepared for that next high-tension moment – or better yet, prevent it altogether.

References

(1.) St. Francis de Sales. Thy Will be Done: Letters to Persons in the World. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1995: p. 53-54.

(2.) Esper, Fr. Joseph. Saintly Solutions to Life's Common Problems. Manchester, NH:Sophia Institute Press, 2001: p. 7.

 

Reading Assignment:

Week 6 Part 3: Chapter 6-11

 

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you developed strategies that have helped you to with any particular “everyday” virtue? If so, please share them with us.

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

 

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • THANK YOU for this post! Have you been in my kitchen?! I was JUST complaining to myself the other day, I clean it, cook, then it’s messy again! LOL. This post really spoke to me. I haven’t been reading this book along with you all, but I’m definitely going to pick it up soon and read back on your posts. I WISH I had a pantry full of patience, gentleness, temperance, and humility, but I guess this will help. 🙂 Thanks!!

    • Vicki

      Diana, It’s a never-ending cycle, isn’t it?! Thanks so much for your comments – and you can’t go wrong with St. Francis de Sales! God bless!

    • LizEst

      …a spiritual director can help here, too! ; )

  • Plevesque

    Question. It seems that every time I consciously try to grow in these virtues especially humility and meekness I seem to fall harder then before. I ask the lord for help in the morning and by mid morning I’m letting someone have it or retaliating for some small perceived slight. A priest once told me to pray to the lord in the moment. And yet I mostly seem to remember only after the damage has occured. Any Suggestions?

    • Vicki

      I’m with you – often in the moment, the prayers often don’t come to me. But I have begun to pray often during the day in quiet moments, that if there is a tense situation, I handle it humbly and with Kindness. Obviously, I have a long way to go; but those books I referenced above offer several recommendations for creating a game plan to help overcome this or that vice (or rather, develop the opposing virtue). While the process is bound to be slow (after all, it took St. Francis de Sales 20 years), a game plan would at least help one to be more purposeful in their thoughts, words and actions. Good luck to you, and thanks for asking the questions – perhaps someone else will offer a useful nugget of wisdom from which we can both benefit!

      • Plevesque

        Thanks Vicki and Liz

    • LizEst

      A spiritual director can be of great assistance with this. If you don’t have one, please look for one. If you do have one, please bring this to his/her attention.

  • hopeisfree8900

    Some years ago I found myself in a situation which was uncomfortable at best. My mother had become ill and needed open heart surgery. In my heart I wanted to be there with her during her long recovery, but at the same time, it was difficult spending so much time around my older sister and her family. I love my sister very much, and I looked up to her when we were children. Now as adults we were on very different spiritual paths. She is “new age” and follows UFOs, and I am a Catholic Christian and follow Christ. We couldn’t be more different if we had conscientiously made it our life’s aim. But still we are sisters by God’s design, and He implores us to love one another.
    I was staying at my sister’s house and focusing on how uncomfortable it was to be there and wondering how I was going to get through this difficult time. Well, soon after that I was listening to the radio on my way to the hospital to visit mom, and I heard a psychiatrist on a call-in talk show advising a caller about how best to deal with uncharitable family members during the holiday gatherings and her advise was simple……”cheerful and stupid”. Those three words hit me like a ton of bricks and they literally changed how I responded to others.
    Cheerful to me looks like this; a ready smile, body language that is approachable and words which are few but always kind. Stupid to me looks like this; listening attentively and never taking sides.
    A few months later when mom moved in with my husband and myself a situation arose which was going to take a lot of diplomacy to get through. I didn’t know how to tell mom we couldn’t allow her to use the cook stove unless I was home…..she had fallen asleep after lunch and had forgotten to turn the stove off. If it weren’t for my husband coming in when he did the house would have gone up in flames. I remember driving to bible study the next day with a heavy heart knowing I would have to address the situation when I came home but searching for just the right words. When I got to my bible study group, I shared my problem. Everyone nodded sympathetically. As we were about to finish our lesson and leave one of my friends slipped me a piece of paper which read “Let the words of my mouth meet with your favor, keep the thoughts of my heart before you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer”. Psalm 19:15
    I repeated the Psalm over and over until I arrived home….and do you know, with God’s grace I was able to say just the right words to mom, and she agreed to not cook unless I was home with her. My mom was a great cook, and I could easily have crushed her spirit. She went to her eternal life in 2009, and to this day I repeat the Psalm nearly everyday. Our Lord took me from a place of worldly understanding (cheerful and stupid) to a place of virtuous understanding (patience, gentleness and humility). For this I am eternally grateful!

    • Vicki

      What a beautiful story – thanks so much for sharing with us! I plan to write that Psalm down for my own reference. God bless you!

    • Jeanette

      I also wrote that psalm down so that I may pray it daily. Thank you!

  • Aimliz

    This post had me laughing out loud! We also have a countertop that has that talent. My husband said that this post spoke to his heart :).
    All joking aside, these tests do seem constant, and for myself without knowing, my patience snaps. My spiritual director reminds me that everything I do, needs to be done with love. This little piece of common sense advice had helped immensely. Lately if anger takes hold of me, I have asked my guardian angel to unceasingly remind me, of this advice. Then I take a breath and conquer the situation.
    Thank you so much for the laugh and the reading suggestions. I have been looking for another good book to read. In Christ.

  • Monica

    Whenever I feel anxious especially at work at tackling my day to day duties, simply remembering to breathe helps. If possible, maybe even adding a short prayer. Life is short, I’ve learned we have to be channels of grace and peace to those around us. Difficult, yes it is but all things are possible with God. And I’d like to end with a prayer by St. Teresa of Avila: Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices. Amen <3

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