A School of Virtue

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

As a Catholic priest, I’m blessed to get to know a lot of Catholic families.

After countless hours of listening to confessions, providing counselling, and just speaking with families on a regular basis, I’ve come to notice certain patterns of how families relate. I see so much—so much good—but sadly, quite often I see so much bad. I’ve often noticed patterns of self-seeking behaviour in one or even both of the parents, which sadly erodes the joyful and mutual love that should fill the family. But I’ve also noted that the more some parents are sincerely engaged in their own spiritual life, the more they are able to give of themselves to others. Their prayer leads them to deeper self-giving in imitation of Christ, and in this way purifies the love in the family.

In seeing this, it becomes clear that what we as spouses and parents do affects not only other members of our family, but also the relationships within the family.

We all make mistakes, and perhaps the vices we have strove to weed out will occasionally shoot up as we battle them. But do not lose heart. Do not accept your fallen nature, do not settle in the vices

One of the greatest difficulties of being a priest, at least for me personally, is being so limited by time, especially when it comes to the day’s homily. There is so much I want to say, yet I have so little time to say it in.

So allow me to take a few moments of your time today and at least graze the surface of this topic which I seldom have enough time to speak about, but that I fervently want to devote more attention to.

You, dear parents, are called to holiness as a spouse and as a parent.

That is perhaps the most foundational of all the things I’d like to say.

If I could freeze time and chat with every Catholic husband and wife, at some point I’d like to ask them this question, “Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that we should follow It?”

Everything in our life depends on the answer to this question. It’s that simple.

Why? Well, if you believe in the Bible as God’s Word, the only loving response is obedience and trust—trust that God knows what’s best for you, even when that’s not the easiest thing to do. On the other hand,

If you don’t believe in the Bible as God’s Word, striving for personal holiness through marriage and parenthood will simply never be a real priority for you.

In 1 Peter 1:15-16 we hear Christ say, “... as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy.’” This call echos God’s command to Israel in Leviticus (11:44-45) to be a holy people.

So you see, we are all called to holiness—priest, husband, wife, child. Our paths to holiness may be different, but each of these vocations can lead us there if we allow it to.

For Catholics, holiness consists of three essential elements: 1) Doing God’s will; 2) God living in us by sanctifying grace; 3) striving for heroic virtue.

Let’s explore what these mean within the sphere of family life.

1) Doing God’s Will as a Family

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 11:35)

This first element of holiness is quite clear. Doing “God’s will” means doing what we believe God wants us to do. We don’t just follow the 10 Commandments, but we try as much as possible to live out all the teachings of Jesus revealed to us throughout the New Testament—all day, every day, as best as you can in a given moment.

What exactly does that mean within the family?

Well, for one, would your spouse and children say you are always loving? Forgiving? Patient? How well would they say you live out the Beatitudes? (See Matthew 5 if you need a refresher on what all of those are.)

Becoming holy is a lifelong journey. Out of love for God and neighbour, we are called to continually struggle with ourselves so as to become a better likeness of our Heavenly Father Who is perfect. Growing in holiness also entails learning what the Catholic Church teaches and why, so that we can better discern and follow God’s will, made known to us through His Church (Matthew 16:18).

Are you, your spouse, and your children sincerely trying hard to discern and live out God’s will and make that the primary pursuit of your life?

2) God Living in Us by Sanctifying Grace, and Fostering this as a Family

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)