Do you remember some of the things you used to do over and over as a kid? Little, personal, and sometimes quirky activities that you’d do when things got boring or you started getting nervous?
My sister Maureen would suck her thumb. My buddy Terry used to bite his finger nails. Maybe you had a special blanket you would take everywhere. Later in life my father and I battled cigarettes (I still struggle!). We call repeated actions habits; we do them without thinking. They relieve tension or anxiety and bring a mild pleasure or calming effect.
Some habits are healthy and benefit people whenever they do them. “That’s a good habit to get into,” we say. (Brush your teeth/eat your vegetables.) Other repeated actions can hurt us or others. These are bad habits. Some are bad (e.g. lying), because the act itself is bad. We call these “sinful habits”. Others are bad because they go too far,(“Too much” of anything is a bad habit) or not far enough (sloth, or carelessness) in doing the right thing.
So . . . what’s the point? It’s simple. Get in the habit of doing good things. How? Repetition. Doing something again and again will bring a certain ease of performance. A good thing, once rather hard to perform (choosing not to gossip) can, with repetition, become easier. Parents, I can’t stress this enough. “Repetition” of good actions is essential to learning the happiness of the moral life.
Our bodies themselves bear witness to this. Sit-ups/push-ups (yuk!) become easier with repetition. Fitness experts call this the “training effect” – – – ease in physical performance.
It’s really no different for our spiritual lives. Repetition makes for habit. Habit makes for virtue (an abiding strength). Virtue leads to happiness. Want to be happy? Keep on doing good. Simple, eh?
Let’s take matters of sexuality. I don’t think anyone of us is immune to the “sinful habit” that can develop in our thoughts or actions as we confront lustful images or impulses that exist within us and around us.
Our eyes (windows to the soul) by nature “want to see” . . everything. And, here’s the problems. Some things ought not to be seen. Why? Because they are not ours to have. Those intimate, beautiful parts of our bodies belong to the spousal partner. They are the “gift of ourselves” we give to the one we promised ourselves to. ”Impure” thoughts or glances really are “stealing” what doesn’t belong to us.
There is an old habit encouraged by spiritual directors and confessors as “custody of the eyes”. It refers to a mental readiness to turn away from seeing things that go beyond the intimacy we are permitted to have with that person. Repeated ways of acting we call “modesty”, (the way we dress, speak, the way we look at one another, or the lustful images we turn away from), become habits leading to the virtue of “chastity” or “purity”.
What constitutes modest dress or lustful glances is another discussion. The point here is to make clear these virtuous states don’t “just happen”. In fact, when left to nature, the opposite happens. Lust grows, not purity. Lies, not truth. Selfishness, not generosity. It’s part of our fallen human nature that this tendency exists.
It can only be remedied by “habits of love”, actions of reverence for others and ourselves motivated by the knowledge of who we are . . . God’s beloved children. And this friends is the way to JOY.
Everyone of us, God’s Children – no exceptions.
Bless your heart.