My family is in the midst of a do-it-yourself basement remodel. One weeknight at about 11pm, I came up from the basement where I had been spackling, sanding and painting for several hours. As I approached the kitchen sink to wash my paintbrush, I passed an hours-old wilted salad still on a dinner plate, a dirty pan on the stove, and a pot of tomato sauce on the counter. OK, freeze frame right there. This is where I need the Lord to stop the action and hold up the queue card – make that flashing neon sign – that reads, “This is that opportunity to grow in virtue you’ve been praying for!” Only, He didn’t. So, I went with the old familiar script instead.
I picked up my phone and called the culprit, my 17-old-son. He was upstairs in his room getting ready for bed when he received my tirade about salad and tomato sauce and dirty dishes and don’t you know how tired I am…
“the one that makes you practice virtue the most is making you holy.” – Mother Angelica
In one of his Ascension Presents videos, Father Mike Schmitz asked a powerful question: “If you’re not holy at home, are you actually holy?” Perhaps it’s obvious, but the answer to that question is no. Holiness is not achieved by doing a lot of holy things, like praying a daily rosary, sticking to a morning prayer routine and attending Mass regularly. Holiness is achieved through the “arduous struggle of practicing virtue,” in the words of the great Carmelite priest, St. John of the Cross.
In his book about St. John of the Cross,’ The Dark Night, Father Marc Foley, O.C.D. writes of the imperfections of “beginners:” “They mistake perfection of outward observance with perfection of charity. They cannot see that even though fidelity to one’s religious exercises is important, it pales in comparison with the weightier demands of holiness: charity, mercy, kindness, forbearance, forgiveness and humility.”1
Pulling these ideas from Father Mike and St. John into my personal story, it would seem that the Lord placed a golden opportunity in my path that had all the potential to become a glorious triumph of virtue over vice! And isn’t it true that He does this for us again and again? He offers His constant assistance to us along our journey towards greater holiness, precisely through each ordinary, frustrating, challenging interaction with those closest to us!
Prayers Being Answered
A little while later that night, I realized that the scene in the kitchen was not only a missed opportunity for holiness, but it was also an answered prayer. In my prayers, I’ve been asking Mary to help me grow in meekness and humility. And then moments like that one show up in my day, inviting me to practice meekness and humility! We don’t grow in virtue by thinking about being virtuous and reading about being virtuous. We grow in virtue by practicing virtuous behaviors. That’s the part that can trip us up, right!? To grow in humility, I have to allow myself to be humbled. Oh, but that means mortifying my prideful inclinations!
Here’s something really important and really beautiful. The Lord does not demand or order me to surrender my pride to Him already and move on. His methodology for helping me grow in virtue is Love. He says, “Come, sit with me. Let me hold you and let’s look at what triggered your strong reaction.” He invites me to open my heart to Him. To open to myself too, with the willingness to look there at the wounded place in me that reacted that night in the kitchen. As I reflected, what I heard beneath the louder voice of my pride was a quieter, “Does anybody see me? Does anybody think of me and consider me?”
To which He eagerly responded, “I do! I have always seen you and I can’t stop thinking about you.”
Ahhh, deep breath in and exhale the fear of being unseen. Exhale the desire of being respected by other humans. Exhale the fear of being forgotten. Relief flows in at such a deep and core level of my being. Why? Because my desires to be seen, respected and loved have once again been rightly ordered. It is Jesus alone who truly fulfills my deepest needs and desires. The prayer He answered was one I didn’t even know to pray.
This is the great inner exchange that we are invited into in the spiritual life. Empty a bit more of me, fill up with a bit more Jesus. Day in and day out, without needing to leave my home! Oh, and I might just grow in virtue along the way.
Closing Prayer: Thank you Lord for your deep desire for union with me. So great is Your desire for me to belong totally to you, free of every temporal attachment! Give me the grace to recognize each daily opportunity to grow nearer to You through the arduous struggle of practicing virtue. Help me also Lord, to not skip the step of coming to you and being vulnerable in Your Love. In You alone are my ways corrected and refined. In You alone is my deepest fulfillment. I love You Jesus, Amen.
1 The Dark Night: Psychological Experience and Spiritual Reality, Marc Foley, O.C.D., ICS Publications, 2018