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District Superior's
Letter to Friends & Benefactors

January 2008

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and many blessings for the New Year.

At this time of year it is not uncommon for people to take or at least consider taking New Year’s resolutions. Some do so to improve their physical health, others hope to overcome some weakness in their character, while still others hope to improve their surroundings. Some actually carry through with their resolutions, but many more find them too difficult and give up soon after starting. Nor is this an uncommon occurrence in life–whether it be New Year’s resolutions, retreat resolutions or simply the promptings of conscience to lead a better life–we find them difficult to put into practice.

The reason why we have such difficulty is that the dispositions of our powers of intellect, will and passions are not properly ordered in relation to our human nature. We have allowed certain bad habits to form which have caused disorder among these powers, preventing them from harmoniously working toward the same goal. As habits they are difficult to overcome.

Because our tendencies have a character of universality, we are not only capable of but we need habits for efficient action. Our mind seeks all truth but because we do not possess it as God does we can choose which truth to seek. Our wills seek all good but because we do not possess it as God does we can choose which good, real or apparent, we will seek. Likewise our sense appetite tends towards all the pleasures of the body. In order to act efficiently in the attainment of any truth or good we require a certain ease in the direction of our powers. A child trying to be generous with his toys will look anxiously from the treasured possession to the other child, to his mother and back again, all the while struggling with the desire to keep it to himself. He hesitates then slowly hands it over and often as not quickly snatches it back or begins to cry. If every free decision in life required as much effort it would be quite an intolerable burden for us. Habits help us to avoid being frequently frustrated in the face of the multitude of truths and goods that surround us by making our free choices easy.

Therefore before we can efficiently choose to do good in any and all circumstances we must acquire habits. If a farmer tried to irrigate his fields with a bucket, his efforts would not only be highly inefficient but most likely his fields would never produce the abundant harvest he hopes for. But if his initial labors are spent digging a ditch or laying a pipe, he will efficiently provide a path which will allow an abundant flow of water to his fields. Habits (specifically operative or active habits) are like an irrigation ditch which easily directs the powers of our intellect, will or sense appetite to a definite kind of action. Thus, for example, if someone wants to tell the truth in any and all circumstances he must acquire the habit of truthfulness.

Because habits are the key to efficient action it is important to know what causes them. There are basically three causes of habits: nature, human activity and God.

Our human nature helps us to acquire active habits by either providing certain knowledge through our senses or by providing the beginnings of habits through our appetitive powers in the way of certain dispositions or temperaments. Good eyesight or hearing can help us to easily acquire knowledge. Specific temperaments may give inclinations to patience, purity or anger. Nature gives man his first push towards natural virtue.

Usually when we speak of God as the source of habits we speak of the infusion of the supernatural habits of Faith, Hope and Charity, which elevate our natural powers to be capable of leading the divine life. But it is also possible to find natural operative habits which have been infused by God. Such would be the case of someone obtaining the intellectual habit of a particular language which they have never naturally learned.

The principal cause of operative habits on the natural level is human activity. Repeated acts of the same kind form habits. Each act is another shovel full of dirt forming the ditch which helps the power of our will flow easily in the right direction and difficult to flow any other way. A truthful man easily tells the truth but finds it hard to tell a lie. And just as the ditch can be widened or filled in, to increase or decrease the flow of water, so habits can grow or diminish. The former is done by more frequent and intense acts of the habit already established while the latter by either acting contrary to the habit or by ceasing to use it.

However, efficiency in action is not our only concern in life since we can just as efficiently wreck our lives as make them successful. Habits differ in morality. If a habit inclines us toward a morally good action it is called virtue. Virtue helps us to move efficiently towards God by properly ordering our powers of intellect, will and sense appetite. This perfects our humanity and increases our likeness to Him. If a habit inclines us towards a morally bad action it is called vice. Vice wounds our humanity by putting disorder between our powers. This decreases our likeness to God and reduces us to the level of beasts.

Since we lose or attain our true happiness by our human actions, our habits and their morality are of great importance to us. We should take serious the formation of virtue in ourselves and in the children God has placed in our care. The apparent lack of virtue today’s youth is evidence that many do not take it seriously (e.g., the lack of respect, responsibility and resourcefulness name a few). If we do not help our children to form good habits the tendency will be for them to form vices, which will only help them to move efficiently away from God.

This formation must start from the cradle and continue throughout our lives. We should take the time to reflect on our activities and the habits being formed by them in ourselves and our children. Some people turn a deaf ear when their priest speaks against television, video games, modern “music” or immodesty. But what habits do these actions form in us? Can we truly say that they help us to form virtues that perfect our intellects and wills? Or that they help to bring our passions into control? Do they help us to move closer to God by helping us to become more God like? The evidence proves they do not and is the reason they are often spoken against.

If we wish to live a truly human life, virtue is necessary. On the natural level to help perfect us as men, while on the supernatural level to perfect us as children of God and heirs to heaven. Because the world is built on truth and filled with goodness we are offered innumerable opportunities for knowledge and love. Virtue allows us to use our human powers properly to embrace these, perfecting the same powers and enabling us to successfully act in conquering the world for ourselves and ourselves for God. This alone can lead to true happiness.

Sincerely in the Holy Family,

Fr. John D. Fullerton

 
 

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