Many years ago when I was a student in college, I was meeting with my spiritual director, who was a wise and learned Benedictine monk. I expressed to him that I was getting so excited about my faith and because of this I had been getting involved in all kinds of study groups, church groups, charity organizations and community activities. I told him how from the time I got home until late into the night, I could not stop reading Scripture, works of theology, the saints and Church history and that these just filled my heart and soul with love for the faith.
His response to me forever changed the course of my life. He said that these are indeed good and worthy things, but then added vividly, “But don’t let the devil tempt you into doing something good to keep you away from what you should be doing.”
I shamefully admitted to him that in doing all these things, I was neglecting my studies and letting my grades drop, that I was slacking at the menial desk job that I was working to help pay for school, that I was not taking time to be with family and friends and that my prayer life was lacking. Indeed, I was emptying myself into things—good things no doubt—but in doing so, I was ignoring or perhaps covering up to others and myself my neglect of what I should have been doing, that is, the duties of my state in life that God had entrusted to me to fulfill.
God, through Jesus Christ and His Body the Church, calls us to holiness and to live out this holiness increasingly through faithfulness to the duties of our vocations. This is more than just “time management,” more than just equal time to equal things. Rather, this is constantly seeking to order our lives so that we can give proper emphasis to proper things in the proper order.
The famous Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand crafted his whole study of the moral life in this perspective, saying that we are to give the proper “response to value” to everything, meaning that our time, energy and moral choices are to be based on responding appropriately to the reality of the things and the persons whom God has entrusted to us.
Of course, God, as our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sanctifier, comes first. Thus, the Sacred Liturgy—especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—the sacraments, and prayer are to be constants in our lives.
Our beautiful Catholic tradition teaches that we are all called first and foremost to holiness, that is, to live in an increasing covenantal relationship with God. From this, God calls us to and we discern with him the state in life in which we can best live this out in his body, the Church. With each state in life comes rights and duties—duties so that we can remain faithful to what we should be doing, regardless of what temptations may come to act otherwise; and rights so that we can be allowed to accomplish those duties that God has given us.
Our adversary the devil, at times the roaring lion of 1 Peter 5:8 and at other times the cunning whispering serpent of Genesis 3, entices us to neglect these duties so as to derail us from the track to holiness. His temptation is to cause us to fall in spectacular and scandalous ways. However, more often than not, he entices us to do things that are good (or at least morally not bad) in order to take us away from doing our duties and thus produce the same result of neglecting what we should be doing. For all of us, this plays out most vividly in everyday life through our faithfulness to our vocations. To resist this temptation and to live our vocational duties faithfully is to live a life of virtue and growth in holiness.
Steadfast love of God is a virtue best seen not only in those moments of heroic sanctity or grand actions but more especially in those everyday moments when we habitually and firmly dispose ourselves to choose and do the good, to do those things and all those things that are in accord with our vocation, that is, to do what we are supposed to be doing. In this way, we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and then all these other things shall be added, or shall flow from this relationship with God (cf. Mt 6:33).
There may be times when we will be called to do extraordinary, spectacular acts of love and sacrifice for the faith, such as martyrdom, public ridicule, etc., but how we respond to those should be outgrowths of our everyday holiness and habitual will, not just one-time actions where we force our wills to it. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that a good act done out of habit is more virtuous than one done as a singular forcing of the will. More often, the path of holiness is found in the daily rhythm of life, in our everyday “yes” to the duties of the vocation that God has entrusted to us. God does not want “one-hit wonders” choosing him only in the times that count. He wants faithful, covenantal sons and daughters who love him every day and in every action, even in the seemingly mundane things of our quotidian duties.
This is what true virtue is (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1803). This is what St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was getting at when someone asked her how do we change the world. She allegedly answered with the now famous response, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
The greatest good that we can do is to live and practice the faith and to be faithful to our vocations heroically, firmly, habitually and with great love—every day, in every action and in every thought.