Prayer is often an effort. It can be difficult to make ourselves read the bible. It is not easy sometimes to find the time or the energy to go to extra devotions. Wanting to do these things is a good thing. Actually doing them is even better. But how to get yourself doing them? The key is as obvious as it is simple. Practice.
Anything gets easier to do the more times you do it. Anything. Good things get easier and bad things get easier, too. Prayer is a good thing. It is a good habit. Generally speaking, a habit is something you have done so much that you do it without thinking about it. A good habit in the realm of faith is known as a virtue. That’s what a virtue is, just a good habit. “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” (CCC1803)
You can start a habit through direct effort. For instance if a person decides to get in better physical condition, he might join a gym or buy some exercise equipment, or do some other action to start his program. If he sticks with it, soon his workout routine will become a habit. It will become part of his lifestyle.
The exact same is true in the spiritual realm. The human virtues are “habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions”. (CCC 1804) “The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts;....” (CCC1804) You have to do some act or omission to acquire a habit. You must do some thought, word or deed, or not do some thought, word or deed to acquire a good habit or virtue. “Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace.” (CCC 1810)
The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity have God as “their origin, motive and object.” (CCC1813) God gives us the actual grace to achieve the theological virtues. These virtues however, do not fall out of the sky and land on your head. You have to go out and get them. To have a good relationship with the Lord we have to go to Him in prayer and read His word in scripture. To have strong faith we must be attentive at Mass and other devotions. To know our Faith we must study and learn about it.
On the other hand, bad habits seem to creep up on you. Generally speaking most bad habits start because we have not done something. If our relationship with the Lord suffers it is usually because we have not prayed or read the bible. If our faith suffers, it is usually because we have not gone to, or paid attention during Mass or other devotions. If our knowledge of the Faith is lacking, it is almost always because we have not taken the time to study it. “Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts.” (CCC 1865)
To avoid the bad habits we must practice the good habits known as virtues, whether human or theological. The virtues are not on the periphery of our faith. The virtues are the flesh and blood of our faith. Without the virtues we are not distinguishable from the pagans.
A huge theological difference that separates us from our Protestant brethren is the idea that faith must be put into action. As the scripture says, “...faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26) A virtuous person “pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” (CCC 1803) We must actively think of how we will pursue good and holy things. By actively thinking of how to achieve holy ends, we will train our minds, and our bodies, to desire the good. If we do it enough it will become a habit. One can become a person who “tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers.” (CCC 1803)
That is the key. We must pursue the good in concrete actions. Just having the vague notion that we must do something is not good enough. Just having a gushy feeling is not going to make any difference to oneself or anyone else.
There was a movie years ago which probably wasn’t worth watching, but had a catchy title. It was called “Action Jackson”. When it comes to our faith we should all be an “Action Jackson” because we will never acquire the virtues without action.
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Published by The Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, November 2002.