Some Correspondence on Virtue

Dear Christopher,

Thanks for the note, and I’m sorry it’s taken me a bit to get back to you. I’m happy to correspond with you, and I’d be happy to help you out. It’s hard for me too to live a chaste life, so we’re in this together!

The first thought I have as I read what you wrote is to ask you what a virtue might “feel like.” That’s an interesting question, I think, since as you say, when you long for a warm body next to you in bed, and he’s not there, it doesn’t feel particularly virtuous. In fact, it sorta feels bad NOT having that warm body next to you, right?

But think about all of the other virtues–for the person overweight, for example, not having that pint of ice cream feels bad, when they really want it, and it seems to be the only answer to their emptiness inside. I don’t know if any virtues particularly feel good, as compared to the sort of “feeling good” that we experience when we’re eating that pint of Ben & Jerry’s. But virtues are difficult, and we need to view them in some ways like the pain one feels after working out. The virtues are in service of the most noble expression of man: that means we live in a way that Christ would live, or the way Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden before the fall. Everything God made is good, but to be truly human, to live fully in the way we are meant to flourish, we will only use those gifts according to the good use that they bring us. So ice cream is good–in moderation. We wouldn’t feel that not having the full pint when we really want it is painful, if we actually knew how to live in the way that really leads to our human fulfillment. And in that light, the virtuous life wouldn’t be hard.

But since the Fall of Man, our desires loom large within us, totally out of proportion to what is truly human, or truly what would make us happy. So thus, to live in that balance of what is good for man, we are in a heckuva battle. Chastity, especially when we first tackle it, feels hellishly difficult, and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But the more we exercise those muscles, and work on the virtue, the more we realize that chastity is a friend that helps us live the lives we would live if we truly knew who we were, and truly knew what would lead to human fulfillment. But in the trenches, well, it doesn’t feel easy, or always “good.” But exercising the virtues can feel good in the way that we feel good after a long day’s work, where we’re exhausted, but know that the work we did was good. It can feel good in the same way that the muscles feel sore the day after a good work out. We’re doing something that is hard and difficult, but is in service of our true good.

So I don’t ever expect chastity to “feel good” in the way that having a warm body next to me “feels good.” Nor do I expect temperance in food to feel good in the same way that an extra helping of mashed potatoes tastes good to me. In fact, until my desires are more aligned to my true good, I’ll keep looking at those mashed potatoes, wanting to enjoy them, or thinking about having a man in my life to sleep next too. But I know that both are opposed to my ultimate happiness, so then the good I feel in making the choice not to do what I want to do is a much deeper level of “feeling good” than having the warm body next to me ever could. But don’t get me wrong–it’s not a replacement for the warm body! But it makes the lack of the warm body next to me more palatable, and ultimately, I can be grateful that I haven’t bought the lie that tells me that I’ll be happiest only when I have that warm body beside me.

The virtuous life doesn’t always “feel good” but I don’t think that’s what the virtues are about anyway. I think they’re more about experiencing the peace that surpasses all understanding, following the way of Christ, which as we know, didn’t always “feel good.”

I hope this helps a bit.

God bless you,

Dan

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4 thoughts on “Some Correspondence on Virtue

  1. Hello Dan! I’m so glad I finally got to meet you at the conference. I enjoyed our talks and it’s always great to run into another Tolkien fan. ☺ I was reading the diary of the mystic, Saint Faustina, this morning and this made me think of you: “On one occasion, Jesus told me, concerning a priest [probably Father Sopocko], that these present years would be the adornment of his priestly life. The days of suffering always seem longer, but they too will pass, though they pass so slowly that is seems they are moving backwards. However, their end is near, and then will come endless and inconceivable joy. Eternity! Who can understand this one word which comes from You, O incomprehensible God, this one word: eternity!” You, dear brother, and all those in Courage and Encourage are always in my prayers. May Christ’s peace always remain with you, Pearl

  2. Pingback: Some Correspondence on Virtue | Jean'sBistro2010's Blog

  3. The above is a beautiful letter. I loved the comparison to the things of this world that we need to have in moderation.

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