Pain: A Path Leading to Virtue

Learning such a love does not necessarily come easily. Indeed, the acquisition of virtue is often—if not always—a painful process.

by Rev. Jeff Loseke

When a child is brought to be baptized, the  parents and godparents are reminded over and over again by the Church’s minister of their responsibility to teach their son or daughter Ste-therese-on-deathbedhow to love God, how to love their neighbor, and how to constantly practice their faith.  These exhortations always remind me that, because of our fallen human nature and the inclination to sin (i.e., concupiscence), the love to which God calls us must be learned and practiced over time.  Learning such a love does not necessarily come easily.  Indeed, the acquisition of virtue is often—if not always—a painful process.

For those engaged in the practice of Christian love and virtue, it is not uncommon to experience painful emotions such as shame, shock, anger, discomfort, confusion, and so forth.  As an example, think of the person who goes on a mission trip for the first time.  His or her encounter with poverty, injustice, suffering, and other evils can be difficult to process at first.  The experience of negative reactions and emotions, however, should not be interpreted as a bad thing or as a moral evil.  Rather, this painful path is more in accord with Aristotle’s theory that those being schooled in the virtues do not actually enjoy practicing them.  Nevertheless, the path of pain leads a person to see things more clearly and to recognize what it true within oneself regarding his or her complicity in the injustices and sins of the world.  In reflecting upon the path of virtue through pain, I am reminded of something C. S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain: “Pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”.

While the process of growing in virtue—especially in the virtue of justice—may be painful or uncomfortable, I firmly believe that it should not be avoided.  The challenge to parents, educators, and all who guide others, however, will be to provide the tools and the resources to help learners process their painful experiences in order to grow from them.  As a spiritual director and confessor, I often have to challenge my directees and penitents to delve more deeply into the shadows, the brokenness, and the pain in their lives in order to arrive at the deepest level of truth about themselves.  Walking with them in order to help them face those difficult emotions, feelings, and spiritual realities is part of my ministry as a Priest.  Even more, it must be part of our lives as Christians.  Jesus reminds us in the Beatitudes that we are blessed when we mourn or suffer pain.  He also reminds us that we are blessed when we work to alleviate such pain by working for a more just world.


The Reverend Jeffery S. Loseke is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha and is currently the pastor of  St. Charlccn_father-les Borromeo Parish in Gretna, Nebraska.  Ordained in 2000, Fr. Loseke holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is working to complete his doctoral degree (Ed.D.) in interdisciplinary leadership through Creighton University in Omaha.  In addition to parish ministry, Fr. Loseke has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, taught high school theology and college-level philosophy, and has been a presenter for various missions, retreats, and diocesan formation days across the country.


Art: St. Therese de Lisieux on her Death Bed by Anonymous, 1925 (Wikimedia Commons)

Lent – Where the Body Meets the Soul

Have you given anything up this Lent?

It seems everywhere I turn this year, I have found recommendations about “doing” things for Lent. I’ve seen flyers taped to church doors, I’ve received videos from Catholic chocolateapostolates, and I’ve heard discussions via Catholic radio. They don’t suggest that we not attempt a physical discipline; but while they encourage us to engage in spiritual reading, help the poor, perform the corporal and spiritual works for mercy or spend more time in prayer, they say virtually nothing about restraining our appetites in any way.

This “do something positive” trend seems to have increased in recent years. But while  the above suggestions are all laudable activities, we should remind ourselves that the saints would not have separated living out their faith in a positive way from disciplining themselves via abstinence, fasting and mortification. In fact, they considered the spiritual life to be deeply connected with the physical. They recognized that when we lack discipline in our physical lives, our spiritual lives suffer.

Here are just a few comments from the saints on physical discipline (or a lack thereof) and its relationship with the soul:

Do you not know that fasting can master concupiscence, lift up the soul, confirm it in the paths of virtue, and prepare a fine reward for the Christian? -Saint Hedwig of Silesia

Irrational feeding darkens the soul and makes it unfit for spiritual experiences. – St. Thomas Aquinas

As long as a single passion reigns in our hearts, though all the others should have been overcome, the soul will never enjoy peace. – St. Joseph Calasanctius

It is almost certain that excess in eating is the cause of almost all the diseases of the body, but its effects on the soul are even more disastrous. – St. Alphonsus Liguori

The more we indulge ourselves in soft living and pampered bodies, the more rebellious they will become against the spirit. – St. Rita of Cascia

Yes, of course we should engage in activities that help others or increase our spiritual knowledge and time with Christ. But we shouldn’t allow those things to excuse us from taming our passions and appetites.

Unfortunately, many times we allow our sacrifices to become ends in themselves. Perhaps this explains the “upswing” in recommendations for other Lenten activities. After all, things like prayer, spiritual reading, or even practicing works of mercy  directly impact our relationship with The Lord, whereas giving up cake could seem like a random and inconsequential activity. But the fact is that our faith is not either…or; it should be both…and.

We will not have a fruitful Lent just because we declare that we are “giving up _____.” Rather we should remember that those physical sacrifices are not ends in themselves. The end of all discipline must be love. We give up chocolate, – or whatever else – to remind ourselves that this world is fleeting. It is an expression of love that we lavish on Our Lord, passionately declaring that this television set, this candy bar, this ice cream, this cake, these cookies – any and all things which we enjoy in this life – are but nothing compared to Him.

This is the time of year when, as individuals united with the entire Church, we encourage ourselves to walk through the fires of discipline and denial for Our Beloved! This is our time in the desert. This is when, by God’s grace, we face the temptation of X, and we declare,

Man should not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the Father’s mouth. – Matthew 4:4.

It is when we look over all creation and remind ourselves,

You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. – Matthew 4:10

There is great power in knowing that by Gods’ grace we can be in control. That our appetites do not rule us. Provided we always keep in mind the ultimate end of self-control:

The purpose of asceticism, self-denial and mortification is the growth in charity or love of God. Christian self-denial is not based on the idea that the world, or the flesh are intrinsically wicked, but on the conviction that God is intrinsically good. – Archbishop Fulton Sheen

We release the chains of this world so we can bind ourselves more closely to Christ. Doing so will help us to live our faith more fully. God’s grace helps us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked or visit the imprisoned. And that grace flows abundantly when one of His children demonstrates a commitment to God, the Father, in heaven over the material gods of the earth.

So – What have you given up this Lent? There’s still time…


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