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How Can I Grow in Virtue? (Part II of II)

December 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Prayer, Spiritual Direction, Virtue

How Can I Grow in Virtue?
Part II of II

Editor’s Note:  In Part I, we examined how we grow in virtue, how the virtues grow together and what constitutes the primary spiritual workout that helps us grow in the virtue we seek.  Today, we will look at how much we should pray throughout the day and throughout the rest of our lives. Here is the question we are considering:

Dear Father John, I am trying to be a better person but I need a little help.  I know virtues are important, but I don’t know how to get better at them.  How can I become more virtuous? 

VicenteCarduchoElPaular04PrayingChapelChurchKneelHow Much Should I Pray?

In our post-modern, secularized culture, growth in prayer requires commitment and discipline—remember, we are to love God with all our mind andstrength, not only when we happen to feel like it. The basic staples that Christians should include in their spiritual diet include daily, weekly, and
seasonal commitments. These will change, vary, and develop as our relationship with God deepens, but here is a sensible starting guideline.

  • On a daily basis, we need to engage in both vocal and mental prayer:
    • Vocal prayer uses prayers composed by other people… We can find favorite vocal prayers and use them to offer our day to God in the morning, to put the day in his hands in the evening, or to check in with him at noontime.
    • Mental prayer is more intimate. It involves listening to God through reflecting on a Bible passage or a spiritual commentary on the Bible or on some aspect of our faith. That reflection spurs us to speak to God in the silence of our hearts, using our own words—thanking him, asking for forgiveness, praising him, or simply opening our hearts to him. Without daily mental prayer, without a daily God-time, our other efforts to grow spiritually lose their grip; we end up just spinning our wheels. Ten minutes a day of mental prayer, preferably in the morning, is a reasonable place to start. Many solid and substantial daily devotionals are available to help our mental prayer.
  • Weekly, God commands us to come alongside the rest of our spiritual family to worship him by attending Sunday Mass (and living the Lord’s Day well). We should do everything possible to receive Holy Communion on the Lord’s Day. The Eucharist is the grace-filled food for our Christian journey, without which we will surely “collapse on the way” (Matthew 15:32).
  • Seasonally, we should follow closely the rhythms of the liturgical year, using the sacrament of confession (another guaranteed outpouring of grace) during each period and staying engaged in the parish celebrations (processions, penitential services, special feast days). The Holy Spirit uses this liturgical rhythm to form our hearts according to God’s priorities and not the world’s.
  • A yearly spiritual retreat or pilgrimage is also as essential as a yearly medical checkup, if we are serious about seeking first Christ’s kingdom.

Books and seminars and formation videos that can teach us how to live more and more deeply each of these prayer commitments abound (you can find some recommendations in the Appendix of my book). But none of them can make the commitment for us, and none of them can pray for us. Not even God can do that. We must decide to put our heart, soul, mind, and strength to work in “seeking the face of the Lord” through the great gift of Christian prayer (see Psalm 27:8).


Editor’s Note: This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.

Art: El padre Artaldo rezando en la cartuja de Portes (Father Artaldo praying in the Carthusian monastery at Portes), Vicente Carducho, 1626-1632, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Lamont

    Just as a single hole can sink a ship, so too a single vice or habitual sin can sink a life of virtue. This most often happens when one pursues some temporal good to excess while failing to seek the eternal goods which unite us with God. Confessing one’s sins and asking for forgiveness is important but without repentance it is often only a temporary repair. What is needed is the deeper healing that comes with real changes in how a person lives. I have never had a priest ask me what I intended to change so as to avoid repeating the same sin again. Perhaps this is an area where confessors and spiritual directors could do a better job? Or maybe one’s penance should be to spend 10 minutes considering what changes need to be made. Any thoughts?

    • AHD

      One of the priests that hears my confessions gives me the penance to pray for the ones that I sin against when sins are against other people. Another priest asks me to work on one of my sins that I just confessed.
      I can’t say if it depends upon the priest´s experience as confessor for decades or not but the two priest above are +70 years while younger (40-60 years) priests have given me penances like reading Scripture, 3 Our Fathers and certain prayers that are relevant to the upcoming solemnities or trusting and loving God even more.

  • David

    A valid point you make Lamont about true repentance. I once went to confession to a full on Charismatic priest and after confessing my sins he said “now what are you going to do about it?” I remember also as a 7 year old been instructed that the most important things were to have a sorrow for our sins and a firm purpose of amendment – putting right. Ofcourse the beautiful situation is that for every occasion of sin there is an occasion of virtue. I am blessed with a Catholic church that is open all day and every day and have often chosen to spend small amounts of time with Jesus in place of going to other places. I have never regretted these small sacrifices of time with Jesus, also Mary and the Saints.

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  • Kathy

    Discouragement is death of the soul,, it takes courage to tell your sins , the act itself is a small form of repentance , at least when I go to confession I think of the humiliation Jesus experienced as he was stripped of his dignity and clothes. Then I have courage to face Jesus in the confessional. Sometimes words can convict a change other times it hurts and causes pain and embarrassment. Perhaps love is the true reason to change not incrimination. I’m praying to love God more so I won’t let Him down , but in the meantime I remember that when He hung on the cross he looked far out and saw every sin, every fall, and said Forgive them Father… Thanks Be to God,

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