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Overcoming Vices (Part II)

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In the first part of this two-part series, I talked about the power that habits can have in our lives, how they can shape our natural responses to situations, making doing the right thing easier or harder It should be our goal as Christians, not only to DO what is good, but to WANT what is good and for the good to come easy to us

This is not something that happens overnight, and unless we’ve lived perfect lives from the moment of our conception, it’s likely that we’ve developed unhealthy spiritual habits, vices, that need to be overcome before we can build virtues So, how do we do that? There’s obviously no singular blueprint that works for everyone, but here are four tips that might help you along the way The first is to start with a spiritual inventory Evaluate your life and assess what you’re dealing with I counsel college students all of time, either in the confessional or in spiritual direction, and they’re pretty good at doing an examination of conscience

They come have looked at all facets of their lives, and can list out every sin they’ve committed And in one sense, that’s great Knowing your sins will help you know what you have to work on At the same time, simply knowing that you have a repetitive sin won’t help you get over it Simply saying “don’t do that” doesn’t work for most people

The reason for that is because sin is the final result of behavior, it’s step 5 But what about steps 1, 2, 3, and 4? By the time we’ve gotten to the point of sin, we’ve probably taken many tiny steps along the way, put ourselves in poor situations, failed to rely on God for help If you want to turn from your sin, it not enough to ask yourself what sins you commit — you have to ask WHY you commit them What vices lie beneath, what bad habits weaken your ability to choose? The final sin, as it often is, might be pornography and masturbation, but there is so much more at work here It starts with how we look at attractive people all day long; it’s about how we handle our stress and loneliness; it’s about the contributing factors of alcohol, isolation, poor diet, low self-esteem, or laziness that make relying on the sin so much easier

As you do your examination of conscience, don’t just examine sins, examine vices as well Just as you routinely look at a list of sins to compare to your life, look at the list of vices and evaluate your life against it Do you ever exhibit cowardice or intemperance? Injustice or folly? What about hate, despair, or serious doubt? These things can take on many forms and are not necessarily sinful in themselves, but they they’re at most one step away If all you focus on is your sin but ignore the things that lead you to them, you’re never going to be truly converted Once you’ve done this, something I recommend you do as often as you examine your conscience, it’s time to set a plan of action to remove them

Luckily for us, each vice has a corresponding virtue to counteract it Fortitude, temperance, justice, prudence, love, hope, and faith…these are the antidotes to vices The obvious answer is to replace your vices with virtues, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that To trade one for one is start, but I think if you really want to develop new habits, to get them to really stick, you have to have to absolutely obliterate your vices by overemphasizing virtue If you say something hateful about a person, don’t just respond with a single act of love, respond with 5 acts of love

Ten acts of love And don’t just wait for these things to come to you—you acted cowardly and so you say, “Next time I’m going to show more fortitude” No, I say, actively look for situations to act virtuously Make virtue an active decision that you choose, that you practice, that you will in your life Just as athletes train with heavier equipment and repeat a task thousands of times before ever entering a competition, I think we need to train our spiritual lives long before they will be seriously tested

In the ordinary, in the everyday, in the way we talk with our friends and treat those around us, we need to overemphasize the virtues we want to live by so that when we’re not at our best, when things become difficult, the muscle memory of good habits takes over A simple, practical example of this might simply be smiling and greeting everyone we meet Don’t wait for someone to be nice to you, don’t just be happy to see your friends, treat every person you see in a day as a blessing It may feel strange at first, but watch how much easier it becomes, when this is your normal way of life, to show love even to your enemies Overemphasize a virtue when it doesn’t matter, and it’ll shine when it does matter

That said, it’s not enough to become proficient in one virtue and ignore the rest Since the goodness of God pervades them all, they must work in tandem Tip three is to incorporate as much consistency in your life as possible It may sound strange, but I think vices are like conspiracy theories: if you fall for one, you are likely prone to fall for them all The same weakness that gives in to folly will not be long behind in giving in to despair

When I counsel people struggling with a particular vice or sin, I often ask them how the rest of their life is going “What’s your prayer like life? How do you eat? Are you sleeping enough? Keeping up with school work?” What I often find is that there is a problem throughout their lives Promiscuity may be their outward sin, but lack of impulse control is their vice The real problem that we need to deal with is discipline I say, if you’re struggling with one vice in particular, try giving attention to the other vices as well

Try regularizing your life, bringing more consistency Make your bed in the morning Eat one cookie, not four Put your phone away when working Train your entire life for virtue, not just the most obvious vice

Which is, admittedly, a tall order for sure, one that will inevitably fail more than it succeeds Which brings me to my final point: have patience with yourself The fact of the matter is that vices take years to form They don’t just pop up one day fully formed, and they don’t live simply on the surface Many of our vices have been with us so long that they have become ingrained into who we are—that’s just how we act

Overcoming vices is not a matter of flipping a switch It is not something that we can simply will ourselves to let go of and be cured tomorrow It takes a lot of persistence But do you know what? Persistence pays off When I entered novitiate, I realized that I finally needed to develop a solid prayer life

It wasn’t enough to pray only when I wanted to My inconsistency was the reason that I felt so lackluster at times And so what did I do? I got up at 5:55 every morning before everyone got up and prayed in the chapel for 30 minutes Everyday No matter what

At first, it was awful I am not a morning person at all I fought it and I fought it, but I stuck with it I had perseverance I stuck with the virtues I was trying to build, even if I didn’t feel anything at first

One evening, about three months into this routine, I stayed up fairly late for some reason, and decided not to set my alarm for the morning God will understand, I told myself It’s just one day No big deal The next morning, I experienced a miracle

5:55 came, and without even an alarm, I found myself wide awake Not just awake—like, wide awake So awake that I didn’t want to sleep anymore For me, it was as if God was calling me to prayer, removing all my obstacles from my path It was the easiest thing in the world to go up to the chapel—I truly wanted to be there

And I know what some of you will say—it was just your circadian rhythm You got up at the same time every day, and so it’s not a miracle that you got up, you had just trained your body to do so But you see, that’s my point! That’s what I’ve been trying to drive home for two videos! Our habits matter The way we live, our natural reactions, the routines that we develop—they can either help us follow God, or hurt us At the start of my novitiate, I did not want to get up to pray

I didn’t feel anything I would have much rather of slept in! But after training my flesh, overemphasizing the virtues each and every day, and remaining persistent even when it was difficult, I began to feel the fruits of that virtue, that spiritual good habit I now wanted to pray I now had joy in the morning to sit in the chapel with God I tell you, it is not easy to build virtue like this, and without constantly maintaining it, it can fall away

But it is worth it It is the very thing we need to do on our road to God And so, knowing how difficult the road is, I leave you with one of my favorite prayers of all time, a prayer that I have used before on this channel before, and one that I repeat to myself regularly

Source: Youtube

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