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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Olympic Virtue


John Clark shares this surprisingly simple advice from a holy priest on how to take a virtue that you already possess to new heights and change your life.

Last year in this space, I wrote a column about Father Frank Papa, a good friend who passed from this life far too soon.

If Father Papa had lived to be 100, it still would have been too soon for those who knew and loved him.

There was just so much more wisdom he could impart—so much more wisdom that I needed to hear. A few weeks ago, as I was making my weekly Holy Hour, I was thinking about some of his wisdom.

Wisdom that can change your life

It was something he used to advise his penitents. Especially for you graduates, and all of you who are moving on to new phases of your life, I wanted to pass that wisdom on to you—because it can change your life.

Father Papa’s advice was to get better at your best virtue.

This requires some explanation.

For reasons that are often unclear, many of us have one virtue—whether it’s chastity, charity, empathy, faith, patience, kindness, hope, forgiveness, or humility—that seems incredibly hard to practice.

Happily, on the flip side, many of us have one virtue that is more easily practiced than the other virtues.

Some combination of nature, nurture, temperament—and of course, grace—combine to make that one virtue achievable without tremendous difficulty. Father’s advice was to get better at that one.

It seems a bit counterintuitive to work on what you are already good at, and the logic of it took me a while to figure out myself.

But I think what Father was saying was this: if you can take your strongest virtue to an Olympic level, it radiates outward to positively influence all the other virtues.

For instance, if you excel at kindness, the virtue of chastity becomes easier to practice. If you excel at chastity, kindness becomes easier.

In fact, all the virtues become easier—including that stubborn one you’ve found difficult to practice your whole life.

Father Papa believed we all had that one special virtue that we should foster.

Try to determine your strongest virtue. This is a spiritually healthy exercise. Making a daily examination of conscience is good and helpful, but sometimes you need to focus not only on what you’re doing wrong, but what you’re doing right. It’s good to think about the fact that your practice of that virtue makes you very wonderful.

Practice Your Best Virtue

Be honest with yourself when you think of this virtue. Pick the one you are truly best at—not the one you’d like to be best at.

Remember, you’ll get better at that one, too; that’s the point. You might even consider asking your husband or wife which virtue that is.

They will give you an honest answer—even if it’s not the one you are expecting.

Then, with that virtue in mind, get better at it—like gold medal better. And don’t just try to get better. Hunger, thirst, reach, strive, will, work, crave, and desperately desire to get better at it.

Father Papa will be proud of you, which is pretty cool, since he’s either in Heaven right now or in Purgatory passing out M&Ms (“Melts in your mouth, not in Purgatory”) on his way to Heaven.

As I said, I was in the Eucharistic chapel a few weeks ago thinking about Father Papa’s advice, and the following thoughts came to me like a whisper from an old friend.

Help your Virtues Grow Stronger

Perhaps these ideas will help us get started in the process:

If you are kind, be kinder. In an envious world, rejoice in the true happiness of others.

If your strength is listening, listen closer. Hear not only the words, but the heart who speaks them.

If you are good at alleviating pain, heal more. Adopt the pain of another and suffer together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

If your strength is forgiveness, forgive more. Teach others to forgive and forget. And to remember the mercy of God.

If you are good at giving away money and material possessions, give more. Don’t give till it hurts. Go beyond that—give till it doesn’t.

If you are good at devoting your time, give away your watch. Anticipate a place where there are no timepieces.

If you are good at making Holy Hours, make more hours holy. Grow in intimacy with Jesus and bring others to Him.

If the only strength you have is the will to get up again today, get up again tomorrow. And keep going. And in the process, help everyone else get up again, too.

Thanks Father!

About John Clark

John Clark is a homeschooling father, a speechwriter, an online course developer for Seton Home Study School, and a weekly blogger for The National Catholic Register. His latest book is “How to be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford a Decent Cape.”
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