Imagine yourself at the foot of a mountain. Dawn is just peeking through the trees and you can see your breath in the brisk morning air. You turn your phone on airplane mode, knowing full well the battery won’t last the multi-day journey to the summit. Reaching to the ground at your feet, you swing a waterproof pack up and over your shoulders. The forty-pound weight sinks into your frame as the caffeine from your early morning coffee hits your bloodstream. Hiking isn’t an extreme sport, it’s a slow and steady climb, one foot in front of the other. You can do this. You clasp the extra buckles at your chest and waist, redistributing the weight of the pack. You can’t see the summit from the trailhead, but the path is clearly marked, and it will lead you there. Grasping your shoulder straps with a final breath, you step onto the trail.
During this season of Lent, we invite you to join our college seminarians in embarking on the virtuous life.
The Church asks that seminaries and religious formators develop affective maturity in each seminarian. This means that each man is striving to live the virtuous life. The classical understanding of virtue is that it is the perfection of a power.
What are these powers that we possess and can perfect? They are the powers of knowing, loving and “feeling” to put it simply. These powers do not come to us at birth as a finished product, they must be earned. The intellectual life grows in virtue by study and experience. The will grows muscle by consistently choosing the good by means of prudence. The emotional life is trained into virtue by repeated acts for the good willed. The virtuous life is a climb with many frustrations and obstacles and only for those who want the creative facility of action, the joy of moving in the truth, the freedom over-self to push upward and the reward of the summit’s vista.
Yet the dramatic image of a mountain can obscure the fact that these battles are conquered in everyday life. Willing to hold my tongue even when I feel like saying hurtful things. I have the power to speak the truth in defense of those who are helpless. If I practice patience and courage, I can perfect the power I have over my tongue. I have the power to turn off the TV and pick up a rosary. I have the power to visit an elderly relative during my free time. I have the power to laugh, to listen, to praise, to serve. The virtuous person is the person who has perfected their powers that separate us from the merely animal and the reactive. The virtuous person is no longer a slave to his or her emotions, but lives a life which experiences the tranquilty of order.
A fundamental aspect of formation in College Seminary is working on the human virtues to form mature men. This Lenten season of conversion is the perfect time to join our seminarians in the school of virtue. Traditionally, Catholics give up a comfort or attachment as a sacrifice during Lent. Living out this Lenten Resolution will require the virtue of fortitude, and likely other virtues as well.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of our journey up the mountain. The virtuous life, this perfecting of our powers, is a desirable goal, but there isn’t a cable car to the summit. We can only reach the top step by step, day by day. We can only reach Easter Sunday by traveling through Lent and Good Friday. Let us embark on this journey with fortitude and hope. Finally, we are not sustained on the climb by human effort alone. We must be fortified by grace which gives us the nourishment and strength to keep climbing.
Take Action this Week:
- Choose your Lenten sacrifices. We should choose something(s) in each arena of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It should be clearly defined and accomplishable, a small discomfort that you can offer daily to God. (It’s often that one thing that you really don’t want to do.)
- Research the virtues. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1803 -1845 is a great place to start!
- Keep our seminarians in your prayer. May our future priests be virtuous men.