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All Good Things
February 16, 2024

Replacing Vices with Virtues

The author Ellis Peters wrote the Brother Cadfael Series of 21 Books from the late 1970’s through the 80’s. Br. Cadfael lived in the Monastery of St. Peters and St. Paul outside of Shrewsbury, England. I loved reading these books. You may have seen adaptations of some of the books on PBS.

One book in particular still sets with me because it gave me an insight on human behavior and how even at our most virtuous, we still can miss the mark. In the book, The Raven in the Foregate, a new priest, Fr. Ailnoth, has come to be the pastor of the parish church in the town outside the walls of the monastery. In a very short time Fr. Ailnoth manages to alienate nearly everyone in town and in the monastery.

After Fr. Ailnoth leaves a contentious interaction with Abbot Radulfus of the monastery, the abbot. Makes an important insight. He describes Fr. Ailnoth as, “A man abstemious, rigidly upright, inflexibly honest, ferociously chaste… A man with every virtue, except humility and human kindness.”

The university students I work with often ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?” When St. Francis of Assisi speaks of penance, he connects penance with humility. Francis connects humility with relying totally on God and not on our possessions which would include our own bad opinions of others or feelings of superiority, especially spiritual superiority.

In recent decades it seems as though our society has been organizing itself around superiority – I am right. You are wrong. I have the truth. You are full of lies. Sometimes like-minded individuals band together and say, “We are right and you are wrong.” As Dr. Phil would ask people on his TV show, “How’s that working for you?”

Civility has taken a back seat to self-righteous and even violence. St. Francis especially warned his brothers not to be seduced by spiritual pride. Spiritual pride is when our egos fuse with our personal spirituality and blinds us to our short-comings. We begin to forget that any spiritual progress we have made is by God’s work and not our own. Francis even goes so far as to warn, “Be careful not to be angry or disturbed by the sin of another for anger and disturbance impede charity in themselves and others.”

Lent is a time of penance, to turn back to God. We are asked to rend our hearts and not our garments. Francis noted several forms that spiritual pride can take and noted that when turning to God for help with these ego-based short-comings or vices, they can be replaced by virtues. Here are some examples:

Vices Virtues

Let’s pray then St. Francis’ Prayer for guidance, to discern what our next steps will be as we go through our spiritual journey of Lent:

Most High and Glorious God,

Bring light to the darkness of my heart.

Give me right faith, certain hope,

And perfect charity.

Lord give me insight and Wisdom

So I might always discern

Your holy and true will.

Br. Kevin Kriso, OFM
Mt. Irenaeus, West Clarksville, NY

St. Francis Praying

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