From Vice To Virtue

The word Vice to a police officer takes on a little different meaning than what most Christians think of.  Law enforcement dedicates personnel to suppressing criminal activity referred to as vice which includes prostitution, gambling, sex trafficking and often illegal narcotics which is interwoven into the tapestry of these “victimless” crimes. They are referred to as “victimless” because there usually isn’t a victim reporting the crime, but society takes on the role of victim because it has been deemed as morally bankrupt and a harm to those involved…even though the actors willingly partake in it.

The reality is that these “vice” crimes are a danger to the people involved as they become so self absorbed in their behavior that those they love become an after thought and anyone around them becomes the means to an end.  Ask any parent of a drug addicted child if there are any victims from their child’s decisions and they will tell you the road through hell that they have traveled.

Vice is Vice

The vices that will land you in jail are connected with the vices spoken about throughout Church history in that they are both self-seeking and lead to the destruction of the person and others around us unless we “cut it off” as Jesus would say.

Classically, the Church has taught that each vice has a corresponding virtue that counteracts the vice and is used as a weapon against our interior darkness.

“When we are assailed by some vice, we must, as far as possible, embrace the practice of the contrary virtue” – St. Francis De Sales

We find that the seven capital sins or vices have seven competing virtues that are the anecdotes to these flaws. For pride, the opposite corresponding virtue is humility. For avarice (greed), generosity. For lust, chastity. For anger, meekness. For gluttony, temperance. For envy, brotherly love. And for the vice of sloth (apathy), there is the virtue of diligence.

Which Way Does Your Pendulum Swing

An interesting way to look at vice is to see how each vice has an opposite in it’s extreme form. For pride, the opposite extreme is self-loathing; for avarice, it’s wastefulness; for lust, it’s prudishness; for anger, it’s an excessive willingness to please others; for gluttony, malnourishment; for envy it’s cowardice or timidity; and for sloth, it’s workaholism.

In this sense, vice causes our lives to become imbalanced on one side of the pendulum or the other, but we are made to live a balanced life through virtue.  Virtue allows us to sit in the middle of these extremes and control the unpredictable life of our self promoting vices.

What to Give Up for Lent?

For most Catholics we look at Lent as a time to arbitrarily give stuff up and somehow think that it will bring us closer to Christ or help us to become better Christians.  Lent is a powerful and holy season, but we must enter into it with the correct frame of reference.

It is a time of extraordinary grace if we have the eyes to see it.  We must focus on the vice that plagues us and then respond to the grace offered by Christ to overcome them through the practice of virtue.  Doing this for 40 days will place us at the foot of the Cross come Good Friday and allow us to truly appreciate the life redeeming work He did for each us through His Life, Death and Resurrection.

There are two ways to implement this practically.  First, we can train the virtue we are seeking by choosing to insert it into the ordinary parts of our day.  Just like working on pull ups consistently, it trains our will which increases our ability to use those muscles so to speak.  For example, if you are working on the vice of anger and want to train your ability to be meek (which mean power under control) you can choose to stay in the slow lane during your morning commute because you have recognized anger coming out while driving in the past.  This involves making a decision before the temptation to anger flares up.

The second way is to utilize that training when real exterior temptations arise and your tendency to swing the pendulum towards your vice creeps in.  God allows these temptations to occur in order to test us, but he also provides sufficient grace to tap into that virtue and overcome the vice if we will only respond.  Going back to our earlier example, you can tap into the virtue of meekness that you have been practicing during the day in traffic or maybe in the office by engaging that weapon when an exterior event occurs that is beyond your control.  When you get home and your kids are out of control, your typical response probably is to spew anger at them, but you can engage the meekness muscle that you had been training that day and calmly gain order so that your kids can see what true power under control looks like.

As we train and practice these virtues as tactics to battle our vices we must not forget to thank God each time we engage these weapons because they come from His grace and are truly a glimpse into His life and characteristics.

“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:14)