A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of willingly choosing to accept less freedom in order to become something greater than what we already are. When we choose to consistently give up certain freedoms, we become much more responsible, and we are eventually able to achieve more than we would have ever thought was possible. This is a critical concept that must be understood and practiced by those of us who are serious about becoming what God intended us to be.
I believe that one of the biggest shocks we’re going to experience immediately after our deaths will be when God reveals to us what we could have achieved if we had followed His plan for us. The disparity between what we actually achieved on Earth and what He planned for us will be so enormous that we will be completely flabbergasted. What will be most obvious to us is how selfish we were and how most of our thoughts and actions were focused on what we could do for ourselves rather than what we could do for God and our neighbor.
In order to close the gap between who we actually are and what God intended for us to be, we must focus daily on managing and eliminating our pride and our primary fault. We must freely choose to actively resist the tendencies and temptations that favor our pride and our primary fault. At the same time, we must also choose to practice the actions and virtues that are contrary to our sinful tendencies and faults. By doing this, we will be imitating our Savior in a minor but important way.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, while our Lord was praying and anguishing over the suffering and death he was about to endure, He could have easily chosen to flee and never return to Jerusalem or any of the cities surrounding Jerusalem. He had a free will just like you and me. He had the freedom to choose to disappear into the wilderness, or to accept and embrace the suffering and death that His Almighty Father had planned for Him. By freely choosing to follow His Father’s plan, He opened the gates of Heaven for all of us.
Unfortunately, most people don’t think about what God’s plan is for them. They don’t think about or realize that before they can successfully follow God’s plan, they must first diligently work on eliminating their faults. They behave as though they will never have to answer to God for their behavior. Yet they wonder why their lives are so empty. And they blame others for their inability to improve themselves.
If you have read about some of the lives of the saints, you know that they had a daily regimen in which they prayed and assessed where they were in life and where they thought God wanted them to be. They knew the importance of self-management. They also knew that if they were to live up to God’s expectations, they had to develop certain habits and rituals that forced them to regularly review and manage themselves. They weren’t perfect at this, but they were at least 10 times better at it than most people are at managing their lives.
One of the techniques Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught to his students was for them to set aside time each day — early in the morning and again at around noon — to determine how well they had done since the last time they had reflected on how they were spending their time. They were taught to reflect on: (1) how well they had done in managing and overcoming their faults, (2) how well they had done in following God’s plan and the plan they had prepared for themselves, and (3) what God’s plan for them was for the next half day.
In reviewing how well they had done in overcoming their faults, Saint Ignatius’s students were instructed to review what each of them had done to manage and correct their pride and their primary fault. Had they freely chosen to give up the traits that were associated with their faults? Had they freely chosen to practice the virtues that were contrary to their faults?
I want to suggest to you that you immediately incorporate Saint Ignatius’s exercise into your daily regimen. I’m going to provide you with a cheat sheet that you can use to review — in the morning and at around noon of each day — to determine what sinful tendencies you engaged in, and what virtues and virtuous actions you engaged in. Here’s the cheat sheet:
Pride – Defiance, intolerance, vanity, boastfulness, disdainfulness, revengefulness, impatience, unforgiveness, self-centeredness, stubbornness, unbridled ambition, self-aggrandizement, dishonesty, hypersensitivity, conceitedness, haughtiness, touchiness, and blindness to advice.
Opposing Virtue – Humility
Virtuous Actions to Take – Pray for humility; Perform frequent acts of self-sacrifice (mortification); practice heroic patience with your family members, friends, and fellow workers; develop the habit of consistently praising others; acknowledge your dependence on God by giving Him credit for all your gifts and talents; make an effort to consistently be of service to others.
Anger – Annoyance, indignation, rage, wrath, aversion, explosive, vindictive, impatience, revenge, cruelty, vengeance, not at peace, and/or fierce silence.
Opposing Virtues – Humility, Kindness, and Forgiveness
Virtuous Actions to Take – Keep Christ Crucified habitually in mind; perform simple acts of charity for those who annoy and irritate you; keep your mouth shut whenever you are annoyed or irritated; practice forgiveness, even though you may believe you are innocent of any wrongdoing; develop the habit of genuinely apologizing for your behavior.
Lust – Uncontrolled curiosity about sex; carelessness in conversation with others; carelessness in reading and in viewing pictures, shows, movies, and videos; failure to control the imagination; failure to avoid people and places where temptation can arise; seeking out comfort and ease; failure to use the necessary means to control the flesh; and/or overfamiliarity with matters and events having to do with sex.
Opposing Virtues – Humility, Chastity, and Mortification
Virtuous Actions to Take – Develop a deep personal love of Christ; swiftly flee from occasions of sin; be hard on your body by practicing acts of self-denial; keep busy; focus on living for others rather than for yourself; develop a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (the mother of purity).
Envy – Discord, hatred, malicious joy, backbiting, bragging, detraction, jealousy, slander, spitefulness, teasing, petty persecution, splitting of friends, imputing of evil motives, joy at others’ sorrows, and/or boredom when others are praised.
Opposing Virtues – Humility, Charity, and Admiration
Virtuous Actions to Take – Develop the habit of thanking God for the gifts of the person you are tempted to envy; act kindly, generously, and lovingly toward the person you are tempted to envy; Speak well of the person you are tempted to envy, especially when others are saying negative things about the person; identify admirable traits in the person you are tempted to envy, and seek to emulate those traits.
Gluttony – Excessive thinking and talking about food; complaining about plain food; eating impulsively or hastily; neglecting others who are at the table; immoderation in wine, beer, or other alcoholic drinks; and/or loud and boisterous behavior at the table.
Opposing Virtues – Humility, Temperance, and Self-denial
Virtuous Actions to Take – Decide ahead of time how much food or drink to take, and stick to this decision; develop the habit of denying yourself something at every meal; keep in mind that the pleasure that comes with gluttony is always followed by shame and regret; remember that each act of self-denial can be offered as a prayer to God; cultivate the habit of eating and drinking in the presence of God.
Covetousness – Deceit, stinginess, lack of generosity, disquietude about position or work assignment, hoarding, secretiveness, and/or ungraciousness when performing or receiving a favor.
Opposing Virtues – Humility, Generosity, and Trust
Virtuous Actions to Take – Develop simpler tastes for the things of this world; generously share what you have with others; avoid excess and the temptation to live luxuriously; cultivate the habit of doing without necessities; give generously to the poor and to good works; recognize that wealth and earthly goods are not an end but a means given to you by God to provide for your needs, the needs of your family, the needs of those who are less fortunate than you, and the advancement of the kingdom of God.
Sloth – Laziness, tardiness, procrastination, idleness, indifference, discouragement, softness, nonchalance, moodiness, gloominess, focusing on the past rather than the present, distastefulness toward life, disquietude about position or work assignment, unwillingness to make commitments, feeling sorry for oneself, indifference to character development, lukewarmness, failure to develop and cultivate virtue, and/or distaste for the spiritual.
Opposing Virtues – Humility, Self-denial, and Diligence
Virtuous Actions to Take – Prior to going to bed, plan and write down tasks and activities that need to be accomplished the following day; militantly keep to the daily schedule that was created the night before; make commitments with deadlines even though you’re inclined to put them off; perform little acts of self-denial starting with denying yourself something at every meal; frequently think about the rewards that await you in eternity after your work on Earth has finally been completed; remember that starting is the hardest part of performing any task and then focus on getting started.
Life is not just one endless slog that we are forced to endure before we die. It is more like a book with numerous chapters. Each chapter has a beginning and an end, and we must deliberately work at determining what each chapter is going to be in our journey toward perfection. Each day is a new chapter that has a beginning and an end. If you incorporate the above-described exercise into your daily regimen, along with a daily ritual that includes prayer, the Rosary, and frequent reception of the sacraments, you will be amazed at the transformation that God has in store for you.