Avoiding sin is not the same thing as growing in virtue.
Think of the human heart. One beat of the heart has two phases–the systolic phase and the diastolic phase.
Systolic refers to the heart collecting blood and diastolic is when the heart sends it out into the body.
The heart needs both of these functions to work properly, every second of every day!
The same is true of the Christian life. There are two phases we need for us to be healthy but it seems most of us only do one of them!
All of us know that we need to avoid sin. Every child in religious education classes knows this. But avoiding sin is only one of the two critical phases, like the beating of a heart.
The other one is growing in virtue! We need to avoid sin and grow in virtue!
The Church teaches that virtue is an “interior disposition, a positive habit, a passion that has been placed at the service of the good” (CCC 1803, 1833).
You can say that virtue is excellence that has become habitual.
Let’s use the practical example of impatience and patience. Impatience is a vice, patience is a virtue.
Everyone knows we need to avoid impatience; but we will never become free of impatience unless we also are actively pursuing and working on patience! Do you see the difference?
So, how do we grow in virtue?
we ask God for it. We must pray! We ask God to not only free us from our vices but to help us grow in the corresponding virtue.
we practice it! Remember, virtue is excellence that has become a habit. Developing patience (or any other virtue) takes practice and work. There is no pill. There is no shortcut. It has to be practiced over and over again until it becomes habitual.
we reframe every former occasion of impatience as an opportunity to grow in patience! So, when you’re in the car instead of swearing at the person who cut you off, you say “Lord, thank you for sending me this opportunity to practice patience.” It’s not easy!
we seek out little way of cultivating the virtue. For patience, it would look like letting other people go ahead of you, spending time in situations you would usually avoid and other such things that challenge you.
we reach out to the patron saint of the virtue we want to grow in and ask their intercession! The patron saint of patience is Saint Monica (see our Ask Father column this week!)
When we avoid sin and begin trying to grow in virtue, we start growing rapidly in holiness!
A great resource on growing in virtue is Bishop Robert Barron’s talk “Seven Deadly Sins; Seven Lively Virtues”: https://bit.ly/2XWe95o