Virtue may hide a vice PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 September 2015 11:19



That was quite a reminder I got while I was reading recently on the life and work of St. Gregory the Great (540-604), Pope and Doctor of the Church. A native of Rome who became its mayor, he later became a monk, an ambassador, a deacon and then a Pope during a very turbulent period of Rome and Europe in general.

He was both a fervent contemplative and a highly educated person active in secular affairs, immersed both in the sacred and mundane things. It must have been precisely due to this background that he also became a very good reader and guide of souls.

Virtue, he said, can mask a hidden vice that one may be suffering. It’s a most relevant insight that, I think, explains very well that increasingly common phenomenon of people who appear very good and holy, seemingly advancing north, when all of a sudden we hear that they have gone south instead.

Sad to say, cases of sudden and surprising defections and infidelities are heaping up. Seminarians, for example, who have already spent many years in seminary formation and who appear brilliant and promising, decide not to pursue priesthood. The high expectations of many people are abruptly thwarted.

Or priests and married people who appear to be good, holy and faithful, already with significant accomplishments, suddenly fall into some compromising predicament, often causing scandal and painful break-ups.

We all know that we actually need to be in constant vigilance and interior struggle against our own weaknesses and temptations. We have to get real and acknowledge that we have feet of clay, our own version of the Achilles’ heel.

Temptations also abound and have in fact become systemic. We have to contend with the classical “lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and the pride of life” that have worsened with the coming of the new things. While they give us a lot of good, they can also occasion a lot of evil. Besides, we are ranged against powerful spiritual enemies.

We cannot be naïve and just attend to these challenges with half measures. We need to be thorough, seeing to it that our efforts are earnest and authentic. We have to be wary of the temptation of coming up simply with decoys, making use of our other talents and good qualities to cover a weakness or a vice that is actually festering.

This is when we can appear to have virtues that actually are not virtues. We can mislead not only others but also our own selves. We can get the sensation that we are just ok, when in fact we are not.

Yes, we can make use, for example, of our good looks, our speaking talents, our affable personality, etc., to cover our being a calculating person, or our bad trait of disorder, superficial treatment of our duties and responsibilities.

Nowadays, this deceptive kind of mind-frame seems to be fostered, since there is a trend toward mere image-making that may not correspond to reality. We have to be most careful with this development.

It’s important that we really would make it a habit to have regular examination of conscience so we can take stock of the current status of our spiritual life, aware of the deficiencies and mistakes that we have committed, and prompt in providing the appropriate remedies, solutions and resolutions.

Yes, we also need to have regular confession and spiritual direction, being brutally sincere in these occasions, without shame or fear, calling a spade a spade, so that the fitting advice and help can be given to us. With trust in the providence of God and in the competence of the human instruments, we can only gain from these recourses.

We have to aim at making our virtues truly second nature to us, and not just reactive responses to our defects and mistakes. This can happen when we notice a stable consistency between what is theoretical and practical about these virtues, between what is ideal and actual.

In other words, we should notice that in a particular virtue, while we start with having to struggle all the time, there should come a time that the struggling gets less and less, because it has become an integral part of our life. It comes out automatic, spontaneous and with great ease and joy. The anguish part of the struggling should diminish.

We have to help one another in this struggle of making our virtues real virtues, and not a mask for vices that are not properly addressed. We have to get real! Away with simply projecting falseimages of ourselves.