Religion and Will-Training


Strength of Will by Rev. Edward John Boyd Barrett, 1915, Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur

The only will-training which the plain man undergoes is the will-training which the practice of religion affords. This is, of course, a very variable quantity. Nevertheless, in the case of a man who faithfully adheres to his religious duties it is not inconsiderable. It will be our duty now, as far as possible, to estimate its nature and extent.

In Catholicism, for it is the religion we contemplate, there are many factors which tell for the education and improvement of the will. There is, first of all, the earnest striving towards the Summum Bonum, towards God, which is the central fact of religion, and the great, supreme work of the will.

There is next, the principle of asceticism, via., that given a good intention in a moral act, the more strongly and whole-heartedly we will, the more value the act will have—for willing, as we know, can be more or less intense.

There is, thirdly, the discipline of regularity and fidelity in religious exercises; and, lastly, the practice of internal and external mortification, which is boldly and uncompromisingly insisted upon by the Church—”unless you do penance you shall all perish.” Two principles on which Catholic asceticism to a great extent reposes have close reference to the will.

(1) In acts of worship the most important element, the element whereby we merit, is will and intention.

(2) In attaining virtue and self-perfection, our chief aim should be to go against ourselves, that is, to utilize our will in overcoming passion. The Catholic religion calls for great regularity in worship. There are yearly, and weekly, and daily duties. There are vigils of feasts and long periods, Lent and Advent, to be kept in the spirit of penance. There are duties, hard and severe for the human heart, to be undergone.

Confession, and fasting, and weekly Mass. In all things the spirit of order prevails–even in the smallest details. How and when to use Holy Water, how and when to recite the Office—in all particulars there is perfect method. The discipline of the whole system is faultless.

There is no disorder, no uncertainty. Nothing is left to chance. The will submits to rule, and in embracing religion it embraces order and regularity. It seeks to form for itself good habits, and finds therein the foundation of virtue.

It finds, in fact, that in practicing virtue it is learning to will well, and that in willing well it is practicing virtue. As we shall see later on, one of the best exercises for the will is to put before itself a clear, well-defined task which is not too difficult and to set itself in all earnestness to accomplish it. Now, this is precisely the kind of exercise that religion affords the will.

Let the task be to attend Mass next Sunday, or to fast next Friday, or to make restitution on such a date for something stolen. In each case the duty is clear and well-defined. Seriousness and earnestness in the accomplishment of the duty are in each case evoked by the consideration of the moral gravity of neglecting it.

The will has to brace itself up, to face the task bravely, and to fulfil it completely. An effort is called for, and that effort is good for the will.

But further than this, religion improves the will by calling for reiterated efforts. An isolated effort is of little significance in will-education, whereas regularly repeated efforts mean very much.

Now religion calls for the methodical expenditure of effort. Let us take the simple case of morning prayers. It is not enough to say them occasionally or fairly often. We are asked to say them every morning. That is, we are asked, every morning, to make an effort.

So it is for nearly all the duties of religion. They recur. They demand reiterated efforts. The will is not suffered to lie fallow. It is kept constantly at work. No doubt, habit smoothes away the harsh shock of effort, and automatism comes to our help, but nevertheless there is always the fundamental necessity of making efforts.

One of the points in which religion does most for the will is its regard to resolutions. To make and keep a good resolution is a power that every faithful Catholic has to acquire.

Now to resolve is an act of the will. It means that the will chooses a bonum, an end or object, and aims at its acquisition. It wills, seeks, strives for, and desires that bonum with more or less intensity.

Now, as our whole moral good frequently depends on the making and keeping of a good resolution, the Catholic Church has taught us through her ascetic writers how to do so. Further, she aids us in every way to make and keep good resolutions, thus doing an inestimable work for the education of the will.

It may perhaps be well to dwell on this point, so as to bring out clearly the part of religion in will-training. Catholic ascetics teach us, in this matter, first of all to have a clear and definite view of the object we propose to ourselves—let us suppose that it is to overcome the passion of anger.

Now the resolution “not to give way to anger” would be far too broad and too great. Applying the principle, “divide et impera,” we con-tent ourselves with resolving “not to give way to external manifestations of anger.” But here again, our resolution is too broad and too great.

We again apply the principle, “divide et impera,” and resolve “not to give way to angry retorts.” This resolution is pointed, definite and intelligible—it means that cross and peevish remarks must not occur.

A time limit may now be added in order to make the resolution still more well-defined. “Until the last day of this month I will not make an angry retort.”

Possibly, it might be advisable to limit this resolution still more, by conditions of place or circumstance, adding “in such a place or to such a person, or during such a ceremony,” but we shall suppose that to be unnecessary.

The resolution being now well formulated, the task of making it begins. Merely to say it over or to promise it in a feeble way is absolutely useless. The whole will, with the whole force and energy of the will, must be brought into it.

Not only that, but the whole living strengths of the will must be literally hurled into it, not once or twice, but again and again each day, right up to the very last day of the month. The resolution must be meant.

We must be able to say, “Yes! before God, I mean that! I mean it as intensely and really as I can ever mean anything! I will keep that resolution. I know I can and will keep it because I mean it. Further, I will take every precaution to keep it alive and vigorous within me by re-making it again and again.”

Needless to say such resolutions should not be lightly made, nor should they be trifled with. In them the credit of the will is at stake. It is a serious thing to make a serious resolution, and it is a bad thing to break one, bad for the will and bad for self-respect.

The early verbalizing, the magic and romantic lyricism of love letters, and long, late-night telephone conversations — all of these are left behind. Even the constant repetition of the words of love finds husband and wife admitting to each other that words do not express what they wish them to express. Thus, verbal symbols give way to a thousand variations of concrete symbols: a surprise gift, a note on the refrigerator, an evening planned totally for the other — always designed to unlock in the other that secret closet of joy. In creating their masterpiece, truly “their life’s work”, husband and wife each look to the other’s needs. -Father of the Family, Clayton Barbeau https://amzn.to/2tnTeJO (afflink)

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With his facile pen and from the wealth of his nation-wide experience, the well-known author treats anything and everything that might be included under the heading of home education: the pre-marriage training of prospective parents, the problems of the pre-school days down through the years of adolescence. No topic is neglected. “What is most praiseworthy is Fr. Lord’s insistence throughout that no educational agency can supplant the work that must be done by parents.” – Felix M. Kirsch, O.F.M.




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