Killing old habits makes way for virtue

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
The human comedy never stops. We crave change. And we dread it. Haunted by this love-hate, attracting-repelling relationship, we tentatively forge our way through life, trudging on because of ourselves and in spite of ourselves. Habit is the word. Habit becomes so much a part of us that it becomes us. We are our habits, and don’t you even dare think of trying to change these individual bundles of habits.
Mahatma Gandhi warns us that our habits are part of a serious progression:
Your beliefs become your thoughts
Your thoughts become your words
Your words become your actions
Your actions become your habits
Your habits become your values
Your values become your destiny
Though inspiring, this saying/progression opens up a firestorm of chatter about which comes first, second, etc. It recalls to mind the thoughtful words of Saint Anselm, “I believe that I may understand,” that are based on a statement by Saint Augustine, “Believe in order that you may understand.” However, it would seem unlikely that one would believe anything before puzzling over ideas, all creation and the manifold things and people in life that might lead one to believe. This is true, unless one is taking “I believe” to be a synonym for “I think,” not for a matter of faith.
Values appears to be the next word out of sequence. Even though habitual behavior plus environment can gravely affect our sense of values, the core genesis of values lies at the roots of our beliefs. It is our belief system that enables us to discern between good and evil, between things of fleeting value and those of eternal value. So how are values and virtues related to the habits we acquire in our lifetime?
In Philippians 4:8, Paul describes virtues as “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report.” Spiritual writers always add one ingredient: these good works are virtues once they become habits.
All of us visit the spiritual realm, usually for short bursts of time. The saints, however, simply dwell there most of the time and, eventually, practically all the time. Holiness becomes a habit to them, a chosen way of life at all times. Since we are our habits, the saints add, “We are the virtues/spiritual habits by which we live.”
The highest and most powerful of all habits/virtues result from being molded by Christ the Potter: “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way; thou art the Potter, I am the clay,” is a powerful, deeply moving hymn that is apropos any time of the year. The great prophet nailed it in Isaiah 64:7, “You, oh Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the Potter; we are the work of your hand.”
Finally, Paul sums up the ultimate reach of virtue/habit in Galatians 2:19-20, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet, I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
Alas, back to earth again, ingrown human habits often cause even the best of advice – tips – to go not just unheeded but flat out ignored, as if the sentiment of the advisee is, “Who needs his/her advice anyway?” Such a reaction makes one loath to give advice, even when asked for it. Creatures of habit that they are, relatively few people really want serious advice, however much they claim to desire it or ask for it.
Of course, one of the worst things that can befall us is that someone meanly belittles our advice or even tramples upon and resents our very effort and ideas. In many cases, a good message or piece of advice is rejected because the messenger is disliked or mistrusted by minds that have been poisoned, prejudiced or spoiled.
Today, after I had been saying this in vain for three years, joyful feedback came about a simple time-saver, money-saver that is ridiculously easy to set up and painless to set in motion. It is simply to put a large, dry, clean towel in with your clothes to be dried. “It cut my drying time by half!” said Brenda “Bubbles” Curtis, the affable cook/housekeeper at Holy Ghost Church rectory in Opelousas, Louisiana.
Most are a lot more status quo than they are willing to admit, readily walking, running or driving in the time-worn ruts of our forebears and fellow travelers. Even so-called rebels seem to run out of habit-kicking steam as they approach middle age.
Ingrained habits are worth nothing of themselves, and neither is change good of itself. But habit and change collaborating with true values are a Godsend for us all.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)