The words virtue and vice are somewhat foreign to our modern culture. We rarely think of them. These words once expressed the core of spiritual growth. The notion of leaving behind vices and becoming more virtuous was once a common striving of all spiritual people. Whether our culture today pays much attention to them or not, the fullness oflife will always be experienced in the midst of discovering the beautiful virtuesthat only one under God’s control can possess.
In a culture so void of virtue, how could vice be virtuous? I hadn’t thought about it that way either until I read the following quote from Father Thomas Keating: “With that kind of trustful dependence on the Spirit, each time we accept a new sense of our own weakness and lack of virtue there follows an inner resurrection. What a relief to a soul!” What Keating is saying is that we cannot begin to realize that we are full of vice without coming closer to God. Becoming aware of our vice in the context of desiring virtue is virtuous.
Jeremiah exposes the truth of who we are without God. In Jeremiah 17:9 he states, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” With such deceitful hearts as ours, we need a God who can understand our hearts and show us the way to understand ourselves.
Virtue is not the kind of thing that our hearts will automatically seek. We need to be exposed to the love of God and the sweet fragrance of virtue before we will be willing to practice the disciplines that lead to virtue. There is virtue in calling a vice a vice. Perhaps that is the better place to begin on the journey to become more virtuous. When I stop excusing my anger at the drivers on the road and begin to realize that my anger isn’t hurting anyone but me, I’m actually on my way to virtue.
Sometimes we are not able to see our own virtue, but we are better able to recognize when we have not responded as harshly to some trigger as we have in the past. Being less anxious doesn’t necessarily make us content, but it means that we are moving in that direction. Visiting our vices may be more freeing to the soul than trying to put on virtue in our own flesh. Once we accept our true nature, we become ready to realize that we need someone greater than ourselves to free us from the grip our vices have around our souls.
Rather than wish you were more loving, kind, patient, and so on, try to become aware of how unable you are to move away from your self-centered desires to have your way now. Tell the Holy Spirit that you would like His help in following the way of love, kindness and patience when it comes to the circumstances that you have exposed only your vices thus far.
Admitting your vice with a desire to die to self and receive the help of the Spirit will lead you down the path to virtue.