"Vice to Virtue" by Ellen Mongan (CatholicMom.com) By Phillip Medhurst - Photo by Harry Kossuth, FAL, Link

As (Jesus) was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mt. 4:18-20)

Did you ever wonder what drew the disciples to faith in Jesus? Was it what Jesus said, or was it what Jesus did? Both what He said and did drew them to follow Him. Most importantly, Jesus called them by name. He took a personal interest in each of them. He, like a shepherd, guided them and protected them. He trained them to be His disciples and taught them to be “Fishers of Men!”

The same is true today. He calls us by name. He takes a personal interest in each of us. The more we obey His voice, the more He leads us, guides us, and protects us. The more we empty ourselves of sin the more He fills us with His love and grace. If we let Him He will also make us “Fishers of Men!” Following in the footsteps of Jesus in word and in deed will draw others to Christ. In the Letter to the Romans we are encouraged to “… put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” (Rom. 13:14)

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Being full of the Holy Spirit and choosing to walk in virtue and His grace aids you in living a joy-filled, holy, blessed life in Christ. The season of Lent is a great time to take an honest assessment of your life and your heart. Do you feel like you are walking through life adorned in virtue, or does vice affect your countenance, your character, and your witness? Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks into the heart. (I Samuel 16:7)

Let‘s take a look at what jewels you are storing in your heart. Did you find inside there some “Pearls of Great Price?” These are purchased through obedience, bought on the road of suffering. Now you proudly display them not just on special occasions but as a daily accessory. Pearls that speak volumes to the world in word and in action, saying, “I found my Jesus and I will never let Him go.” Are there bands of gold within your heart waiting to come out of your mouth to speak a word of wisdom, exhortation or correction? A well-trained tongue of a disciple is essential in drawing others to Jesus. If you let Jesus polish your words, you will someday be walking on the “Streets of Gold.” Has Jesus put an invisible crown upon your head and placed jewels in it as deeds are done by you, in love for Him? Will you one day place your crown at the feet of Jesus, bringing glory to His name?

As you come face to face in the mirror with yourself, you may find that some imitation jewels have found their way into your heart. Some of these accessories you possibly bought into as a young Christian. You are now ready to exchange a "fake it 'til you make it" mentality with true character. Maturity teaches that all flesh has to be purified in the furnace of God’s love. We all know a diamond is formed under tremendous pressure, becoming a thing of beauty. Let God polish, prune and, test your character and lead you from sin and death to life and peace. Most people can detect genuine quality character from a put-on. Let virtue and character be your accessory of choice. Be patient with yourself because virtue takes time to develop.

“A highway will be there, called the holy way; No one unclean may pass over it, but it will be for his people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray on it.” (Is. 35:8)

It is a road you take with God alone. The closer you get to God the more you desire holiness.

Vice is like a brick that weighs you down. Picture a person walking up a mountain with a backpack full of bricks. What brick do you have weighing you down? Worry? Anxiety? Fear? Self-Doubt? Disappointment? Anger? Bitterness? Are they keeping you from ascending up to the “Mountain of God”? Everyone has a brick or two in their backpack. Some people are brick collectors. What is weighing you down? Is it problems within, or problems without? Have you taken on the cares of the world?

Do you know that the weight of the bricks in your backpack can be seen on your face? They are so visible that they overshadow any accessory adorned. Your countenance is a clear view to your soul. I bet you thought that they were covered up behind your smile. What you think you have carefully hidden comes into clear view the minute you open your mouth. In fact, when you least expect it, an imaginary brick full of words that you can’t take back comes out of your backpack. So how do you avoid packing bricks or heaving them at another?

Begin the journey with Christ alone from vice to virtue. He will teach you how to take out the bricks that are weighing you down. The journey from vice to virtue is long and difficult. Anything that is worthwhile and fruitful, takes focus, hard work, effort, because that is how one grows. There are no short cuts in the spiritual walk. It is worth the journey. St. Therese  says, “It seems if a little flower could speak it would simply tell what God has done for it without trying to hide His blessings.”

One day I was grocery store shopping and I happened to be in the fruit department. I heard the Holy Spirit speak in His still small voice,"I am going to give you the fruit of self-control." I stopped dead in my tracks. I was so overcome with the fruit of joy that I was about to jump for joy.

Instead I decided to ask a question, "How are you going to give me self-control, Lord?" It was more of a dare than a question. I knew I desperately need that fruit.

The answer came before I barely got the question out. God said, "I am going to give you the fruit of the self-control just like I gave you the fruit of patience." I decided not to jump after all, nor run, nor leap either. Instead I took a pause and a deep breath. Then I took a trip down memory lane with my Jesus.

I recounted the day when God began to plant the fruit of patience in my heart. It was in the seventies. I, a new mom, had a two-week-old girl named Tarolyn and an almost-two-year-old boy named Tyler. I was getting ready to buckle them in for safety when Tyler said, "Mommy I want to buckle up myself!” He spoke with an explanation point at the end of his sentence. This became a daily choice to let Tyler buckle his seat belt all by himself. I purposed to exercise my virtue of patience. I forced a pretend smile. Some days this was easier to do than others. Along the way I grew in patience as Tyler grew in independence and responsibility. At first I found myself counting to ten under my breath, as my firstborn, Tyler, buckled himself. As I grew I was able to willing wait patiently. I tried to avoid the temptation to hurry him towards success. By encouraging the growth in learning new skills, instead of correcting, or rushing, learning took place.

On a good day I would respond rightly with a, "Sure, son, go ahead. You are such a big boy." Tyler tried and tried again. Try he did until he mastered the skill. Tyler became a “I want to do it myself champion.” Tyler led the way and his entire siblings followed after him, eager to learn new skills all by themselves. Each of my seven children learned to do many things, from toilet training to homework, from driving a car to living on their own. I was glad I chose to patiently let go and let them fly their wings. They have soared.

God was right! As I look back on my life to the day in the fruit department, I see that I grew in self-control, just like I grew in patience. There is always a journey from vice to virtue. You must take it with God alone. I am glad I took the journey. I hope I always will.

Will you take the journey too? Will you be ready to throw down your nets at the sound of His voice calling your name? He may be calling you to be His disciple. Be still in prayer and listen for His still voice then, “Do whatever He tells you!”  This is how we empty our backpack of bricks. This is how we walk in Jesus’ footsteps on the journey from vice to virtue. You must travel light if you want to fly on the wings of eagles, but not too light to accessorize with virtue. Virtue will never weigh you down.

Copyright 2017 Ellen Mongan