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Lent reflection day 36

Day 36

We’ve talked before about an order for acquiring the virtues, but in chapter thirty-six, Unseen Warfare makes an additional distinction - between the outer virtues and the inner virtues. The distinction is apparent in many ways; for instance, someone may say to himself, “today I’m going to go to Church,” and he goes. But while he’s there, his mind is flitting from place to place, and none of those places are Christ-centered. What has he achieved? He has made an attempt to acquire the virtue of attending Church, but this outer virtue is nullified by his lack of attention to his inner self. This happens in many areas of the spiritual life. I use fasting as an example: during this time of the year, fasting is automatic for me. I go home for lunch and automatically make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But how does this act serve my spirit? It often doesn’t. Often, while I’m eating my fasting food I’m not thinking about God at all.

To quote from Unseen Warfare: For not only should external, bodily virtues be acquired little by little, by gradually ascending, as by the rungs of a ladder, but in the acquisition of the inner virtues of the soul one should also observe a definite order and sequence, since only then does our little become much and remain with us for ever. For example, in the process of acquiring the inner virtue of patience, it is impossible at once to welcome injustice, injuries and all other forms of un-pleasantness, to seek them and rejoice in them, although, it is possible to endure them with patience when they come. For welcoming them and rejoicing in them are the highest degrees of patience, and before you reach them you should traverse the lower degrees, which are: humble self-depreciation, in which you consider yourself worthy of every insult, overcoming in yourself impulses of revenge, hatred of the least thought of revenge, and so on.

Recently someone insulted me, and this made me see in myself the various levels that Unseen Warfare talks about. The book says that there are (what we might call) lower levels of inner virtues, two of them are self-depreciation and hatred of revenge. Acquiring these “lower” virtues enables us to climb to the higher virtue, which is patience. When the person insulted me, my first reaction was to think of patience, to urge myself to be patient. I prayed for the person, and tried to think about how his insult would be helpful to me. But this good work dissipated quickly. In just a few moments, I was delighting in making plans to ask the bishop to move me to a different parish. That, I thought, would show him. Of course, I wasn’t thinking that perhaps the person who insulted me would be glad to hear that I was leaving, because my inflated self-image would not allow for such a possibility. The only picture that my fallen mind would allow was him saddened by my departure, everyone in the parish blaming him, and so on. Today, as I think back on this, I see the value of Unseen Warfare and the teaching of the different levels of virtues. Patience, a high virtue, is not acquired without the lower virtues being acquired first. When I came to my senses and told myself that I don’t deserve anything at all, and that revenge is a hideous sin that God will have no part of, then I was able to at least look up the ladder and see the rung above me, the one marked “patience,” even if I am not yet ready to climb up to it yet.

Today we come to the thirty-sixth day of our holy Lenten journey, brothers and sisters, the final week. Let us struggle to continue our ascent up the ladder of virtues, and prepare our hearts to walk with our Savior through the events of Holy Week.

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