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Desire Liberated in Virtue
As we enter into training transformation, we can learn to participate with God, working together to free our desires from vice
This week we pick up where we left off in my previous post, Desire Trapped in the Vices. That post ended with the affirmation that even though our desire is conflicted, it is inherently good, and not only is it inherently good, it also points to a greater good. What is that greater good? That’s what we explore today.
Some of the first Christians to name the inner conflict within us were called the Desert Fathers and Mothers, a revolutionary band of followers of Christ who not only sparked a new way of living for their generation, but have continued to inspire generations after them. Many of their stories and sayings offer practical insights into the spiritual struggle I’ve encountered in the Purgative way.
It was as these men and women entered into their own form of training transformation that they began to notice their vices weaken, and something new emerging.
These new things were called virtues.
So, what is the greater good our desires point to? Virtues.
Virtues are ordered desires fixed in a habitual state.
They’re what love looks like settled in our character. Like the vices, virtues are automatic reflexes, instinctive ways of being, but instead of being self-focused, they are others-focused. In other words, they’re habitual ways of expressing love toward God, ourselves, and others.
If you have a virtue, you find it easy to do something good.
There are seven principal virtues from which all others develop: Temperance, Chastity, Diligence, Kindness, Gentleness, Generosity, and Magnanimity. These virtues are resurrected in place of their corresponding vices.
So, in summary:
Vices are disordered desires
Virtues are ordered desires
Vices are what desire looks like perverted
Virtues are what desire looks like perfected
Vices restrict freedom
Virtues broaden freedom
Vices diminish love
Virtues incarnate love
This is the goal of the Threefold Way, not to rid ourselves of desire, but to desire differently. In other words, to train with Christ, to work with the Spirit, to partner with God to transform our desires from vices to virtues.
This is our human telos, the goal of transformation — love habituated.
We were made for love, it’s the aim of our lives, the reason for our existence, the only thing that will ultimately satisfy us.
As we enter into training transformation, we can learn to participate with God, working together to free our desires from vice. With God’s grace and our wise effort we can move away from self-fixation. We can learn to direct our desire appropriately — which always means lovingly — toward God, ourselves, and others.
In short, we can become like Christ.
He was, after all, the one who embodied the virtues more than any other person: He was able to enjoy food and fine wine without enslavement to Gluttony. He was able to have tender relationships with women, without using them as objects of Lust. He was able to channel his anger into just ends, without being dominated by Wrath. He was admired, cheered, and sought after almost every where he went and yet he was able to reject Vainglory and live a magnanimous life. His soul was a living symphony, and he played it over the earth. He was and is the complete and robust human being, the perfect picture of ordered desire.
When we see Jesus, we not only see the very truth about God, we see the very truth about ourselves. We see how human beings were created to live — Jesus not only shows us the love of God, he shows us how to love like God.
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