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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:  https://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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