Some considerations on the practice of virtue for the lay person June 1, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, catachesis, Domestic Church, General Catholic, Grace, Holy suffering, Interior Life, mortification, Saints, sanctity, Tradition, Virtue.
A few days ago I posted some excerpts from St. Alphonsus Liguori on the subject of humility. A commenter left a very thoughtful comment that I felt merited a lengthy response. In brief, the commenter wanted to know how to properly understand, and put into practice, the very strong form of humility that St. Alphonsus recommends, with regard to her particular state in life as a wife/mother.
This is a big issue, and goes beyond just one particular Saint’s recommendations with regard to a particular virtue. It applies to many Saints speaking on many virtues. Sometimes, their language and recommendations seem extreme. This “extremity” may seem ill-suited to a lay vocation, and may well be in fact, at times. For me, I’ve never had a particular problem taking a call for, say, self-abasement as a furtherance to humility, and finding some small ways to try to implement this call in my life. From there, I hope to do a bit more and a bit more as time goes on. But to some, such a call can seem to stand in contrast to their vocation.
I think the key that needs to be kept in mind is that the practice of a virtue like humility needs to be much more internal than external. Simply because one dresses nice, or, in the case of a woman, tries to be appealing to her husband (within the limits of modesty), there need not be any impediment to humility. Most of us with lay vocations are not called to be “holy fools,” literal laughing stocks practicing a humility so extreme it is our primary virtue and literally our means of gaining Heaven. We have roles to play in the world and extreme behavior intended to practice humility could well be a sign of pride, or could at least serve to distract others from their own call to holiness. Again, the real practice of humility should be primarily internal, looking for ways to abase our pride and to put others first, for instance, rather than acting out in some manner that invites a lot of commentary.
I would also say, straight up, that if you perceive some incompatibility between the practice of a certain virtue, and your state in life, you’re doing something wrong. God doesn’t ask the impossible of us, or require us to violate our duties as spouse/parent/employee/whatever in order to grow in virtue. In point of fact, our state of life is the means by which He has chosen to perfect us.
To me, when I read an exhortation on a virtue like humility from a great Saint, I look on it as a guide star, a goal, perhaps distant, to be reached not by human effort but by cooperation with Grace alone. I take what I can from the exhortation and try to implement it into my life in small steps. Small steps are key, trying to suddenly radically change one’s life in huge leaps (absent a specific grace from God) is a good way to become discouraged. I say this with regard to growth in virtue, with regard to escaping sin, the grace is always there.
If one has questions on the subject of how much, or to what degree, they are called to practice a certain virtue, I really recommend finding a good confessor/spiritual director. It is really vital to take the “self” out of these kinds of decisions as much as possible, as there are so many ways in which our pride and egos like to fool us. I know good confessors/spiritual directors are very rare, but their input is so vital to the right conduct of the interior life and practice of virtue, I would personally be willing to travel a long distance to meet with one. If you are at a total loss as to who might be a good spiritual director near you, leave a comment with your rough location and I’m sure a soul will pop up who is willing to help with a recommendation.
Personal direction is really important because everyone is different. We all have different details about our lives and we are all at disparate places in the practice of virtue. It is preferable that a director be someone who already knows you and something about your state in life. But this is not always possible.
Hope this helps, at least somewhat.