How Can I Grow in Virtue?
Part II of II
Editor’s Note: In Part I, we examined how we grow in virtue, how the virtues grow together and what constitutes the primary spiritual workout that helps us grow in the virtue we seek. Today, we will look at how much we should pray throughout the day and throughout the rest of our lives. Here is the question we are considering:
Dear Father John, I am trying to be a better person but I need a little help. I know virtues are important, but I don’t know how to get better at them. How can I become more virtuous?
How Much Should I Pray?
In our post-modern, secularized culture, growth in prayer requires commitment and discipline—remember, we are to love God with all our mind and strength, not only when we happen to feel like it. The basic staples that Christians should include in their spiritual diet include daily, weekly, and seasonal commitments. These will change, vary, and develop as our relationship with God deepens, but here is a sensible starting guideline.
- On a daily basis, we need to engage in both vocal and mental prayer:
- Vocal prayer uses prayers composed by other people… We can find favorite vocal prayers and use them to offer our day to God in the morning, to put the day in his hands in the evening, or to check in with him at noontime.
- Mental prayer is more intimate. It involves listening to God through reflecting on a Bible passage or a spiritual commentary on the Bible or on some aspect of our faith. That reflection spurs us to speak to God in the silence of our hearts, using our own words—thanking him, asking for forgiveness, praising him, or simply opening our hearts to him. Without daily mental prayer, without a daily God-time, our other efforts to grow spiritually lose their grip; we end up just spinning our wheels. Ten minutes a day of mental prayer, preferably in the morning, is a reasonable place to start. Many solid and substantial daily devotionals are available to help our mental prayer.
- Weekly, God commands us to come alongside the rest of our spiritual family to worship him by attending Sunday Mass (and living the Lord’s Day well). We should do everything possible to receive Holy Communion on the Lord’s Day. The Eucharist is the grace-filled food for our Christian journey, without which we will surely “collapse on the way” (Matthew 15:32).
- Seasonally, we should follow closely the rhythms of the liturgical year, using the sacrament of confession (another guaranteed outpouring of grace) during each period and staying engaged in the parish celebrations (processions, penitential services, special feast days). The Holy Spirit uses this liturgical rhythm to form our hearts according to God’s priorities and not the world’s.
- A yearly spiritual retreat or pilgrimage is also as essential as a yearly medical checkup, if we are serious about seeking first Christ’s kingdom.
Books and seminars and formation videos that can teach us how to live more and more deeply each of these prayer commitments abound (you can find some recommendations in the Appendix of my book). But none of them can make the commitment for us, and none of them can pray for us. Not even God can do that. We must decide to put our heart, soul, mind, and strength to work in “seeking the face of the Lord” through the great gift of Christian prayer (see Psalm 27:8).
Editor’s Note: This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
Art: El padre Artaldo rezando en la cartuja de Portes (Father Artaldo praying in the Carthusian monastery at Portes), Vicente Carducho, 1626-1632, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.