Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Family and the Vice-Filled Path to Holiness

September 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Book Club INTERNAL IMAGE (internal to post) 600x214

The Way of Perfection (Week 3 of 10)

Commend to God often any friend who is at fault and strive on your own part to practice with perfection the virtue that is opposite of her fault. Make determined efforts to do this so that you may teach by actions what your friends could never learn by words nor gain through suffering. 

The habit of performing some conspicuously virtuous action through seeing it performed by another is one that easily takes root. This is good advice: Do not forget it.  – The Way of Perfection (Chapter 7, Paragraph 8-9)

Family and the Vice-filled Path to Holiness

God plays favorites. He does. How else can He explain His decision to let Thérèse of Lisieux and other special souls grow up with such holy parents while allowing my kids grow up with…Me?! She had the opportunity from a very early age to see virtue demonstrated on a daily basis, and little by little, virtue took root.

Well, just in case you’ve been one of His chosen few, those who grew up with beautiful, holy souls who always provided a loving and perfect example, I’d like to share a little secret with you from down here in the jungles of regular family life…

Vice takes root too.

I mean, it makes great sense that we are supposed to emulate those virtues we most wish to take root in our children. My husband and I often discuss how we must provide a good example. But, while the above advice is certainly good, how in the world do we actually put it into practice?

The ugly truth of the matter is that our children often see the exact opposite of perfection in the areas where they most struggle.  Let's be honest – how in the world did they develop those habits in the first place?!  Vice takes root.  And I'm sure our home is not unique in that fact.  Hasn’t it often been said that the faults we most recognize in others are often the same faults that we, ourselves struggle to overcome?

If that’s the case, there seems to be a major flaw in the system. How can I strive to practice with perfection a virtue that I don’t even possess?!!  Shouldn’t there be a requirement that we have at least some modicum of holiness before we are blessed with children?!

Yeah, yeah, yeah…I understand that my family is my path to salvation. That I am meant to grow in holiness in my vocation as wife and mother. But don’t my kids deserve a mother who can provide a holy example so they can see it performed and it can easily take root?  Don't we all?!  While there are some very grace-filled souls (Ahem…St.Thérèse),  most of us, from an early age, are sowing seeds of vice (admittedly intermixed with virtue – weeds among the wheat)  planted by our own parents, and we spend a lifetime trying to overcome them.

Again, when I read the above passage, all I could think was that this advice from Saint Teresa of Avila sounds great, but putting it into practice is like trying to create utopia on earth – never going to happen.

Thankfully, reading Pope John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio has taught me that all is not lost. The truth is that God is fully aware of my weaknesses, and even took them into account when He instituted the family.

In fact, family life is not about perfection. In many ways, the family is meant to be a school of grace wherein we grow in virtue – parents and children – together. It is not about providing a perfect example, something in my fallen nature I could not possibly provide. Instead, it is about learning to overcome weaknesses, habits, and mistakes with patience and fortitude. It’s about a communion of persons, who are willing to grow together in love and forgiveness.

According to Pope John Paul II,

There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: Hence, there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life. But, at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to have the joyous renewing experience of “reconciliation,” that is, communion reestablished, unity restored.  

Yes, it would be great if we were able to give our children a perfect example of virtue from the very moment they first gaze into our eyes. But thankfully, our loving Father – while calling us to practice virtue – has blessed most of us with a soft place to fall.  A place where we are sustained and even encouraged as we stumble along on the road to virtue, supported and surrounded by loving arms that never fail to pick us up along the way.

Despite the trials and tribulations of family life, we have been given everything we need for our sanctification.

In fact, the grace of Jesus Christ, ‘the firstborn among many brethren,' is by its nature and interior dynamism ‘a grace of brotherhood,' as St. Thomas Aquinas calls it.  The Holy Spirit, who is poured forth in the celebration of the sacraments, is the living source and inexhaustible sustenance of the supernatural communion that gathers believers and links them with Christ and with each other in the unity of the church of God. The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can and should be called ‘the domestic church.'  – Familiaris Consortio

Within our families, we are often called to extreme sacrifice, just as Christ sacrificed for His Church. Each of us has family members who help us to “sharpen the saw” – so to speak – of charity.  And often, perfect virtue of any sort is nowhere to be found.  But Christ and His mother stand, ready to dispense grace upon request, to assist in our efforts to demonstrate virtue for the sake of our children, and to help us grow to be virtuous ourselves.


Reading Assignment:

Chapters 13-17

Discussion Questions:

1.  What are some ways that family life helps us to grow in holiness?

2.  Are there ways that you have benefitted from the faults of your family members as well as by their virtues?

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:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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 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

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!