Trial by Virtue

Along the lines of my last post, I would like to point out a simple truth of the spiritual life, for those who may not already know this little rule of thumb. If you are trying to gain a particular virtue, you will be tried in that virtue. How else will you know if your prayer has been answered and you have gained the virtue in question?

For instance, if we desire faith, we will be tried in our faith with doubts and fears that we have perhaps been wrong. If we desire hope, do not be surprised if you are tried with a bout of hopelessness in your life. Likewise, for the theological virtue of love: you may experience being reviled and ridiculed or left feeling abandoned by those whom you care about most. And so it is for all the other virtues you can name.

These trials or tests occur only when the soul is ready for them but many, who mistakenly take pride in thinking they can easily withstand them, often fail the test. It is a two-fold reveal: first that find that they do not yet have the virtue they thought they had possessed and secondly, they found out that deep in their heart they were harboring elements of spiritual pride. So it becomes a beneficial barometer of our spiritual life. If used properly, we will pick ourselves up off the floor and begin again, a bit more humbly than before.

For the saints, their tests were often the most excruciating, but for the average spiritual soul they will usually be far less severe; though the severity increases with the soul’s increase in obedience to holiness. The closer they get to God, the more painful even the slightest misstep that might cause pain to God. There is an increased sensitivity to their souls.

God will always give sufficient Grace to endure the trials that He sends but we don’t always feel that way. Many succumb on the way to sainthood to their fears and to their doubts. Some become mere pew sitters or side-liners instead of the spiritual warriors they were meant to be. That is why it is important to pay close attention to how we begin our spiritual life. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had a saying that he often repeated to his novices: “If thou beginnest, beginnest well.”

So as you move to perfection one must prepare for the journey as much as is possible. Learn Holy Theology if possible or make sure you have access to an advisor who is adept in these studies. Read the mystical saints and the theological examinations of the spiritual life as they will help you identify what to the uninitiated appears to be of no value. The saints get the nectar out of the driest fruits; fruits that most of us could not recognize.

Learn of dark nights, consolations and desolations. Expect them and then welcome them as a means for growing in faith and holiness. Failure is common and there is no shame in being wounded in battle. You heal and you head on back to the front for another engagement. It is the way of the Spiritual Warrior and your Lord, for Whom you fight, will not forget you; not here nor in His Kingdom. A heroes welcome awaits all who fight the battle well.

Can Dogs Go to Heaven?


I must admit I don’t have an answer to this one and theology does make it seem like an impossibility. But as doubtful as it is, I’d love to think that they do because one thing is obviously certain to me. Dogs can teach us more about living the Christian life than most people. Now dogs have different personalities and natures, so this does not pertain to every dog. However, I have been blessed with some truly remarkable pets throughout my life.

What is it about dogs that I admire? What have I learned from my dogs that I would do well to emulate in my own life?

First of all, loyalty: for the loyalty of a good dog is something to be admired and rarely found among our peers. You can mistreat a dog, forget to feed him or walk him, or ignore him and yet he persists in being faithfully attached and would never abandon your home for another person who offered him better food and treatment; as his loyalty is built on love and trust.

Also, patience: for the patience of a dog is amazing. They wait for their owner to pay them some attention, to play with them, etc. and never give up hope that the hour will come – if not today, maybe tomorrow or the next day.

Obedience is another admirable trait. Some dogs surrender their will to you entirely. They only want to be pleasing to you. Though they do not understand our motives or the outcome of our commands they are only happy to promptly comply with our wishes – no back talk, no hesitation.

An attitude of self-sacrifice is present in many dogs; willing to give their very lives to protect their family and to come to their aid. They do not weigh the odds or ponder the possible failure of their action – they just defend what they have come to believe in, which is us. Their love is agape love or self-sacrificing love and is of the highest order.

Cheerfulness and joy is the normal disposition of a dog that has been properly raised and socialized. They always lift your spirits by their show of happiness and joy at just seeing you after a short absence. Leave the house for 5 minutes and upon your return your dog will greet you like he hasn’t seen you in months.

Long-suffering is another trait that truly amazes me.  They live in the moment with no thoughts about past sufferings or future uncertainties. I have seen dogs on the verge of death lying on an operating table at the vet. At their first sight of a familiar family face they express pure joy by wagging their tail even if they have lost the ability to sit, stand or roll over. When hurt, sick or dying, they suffer in silence without so much as a whimper. They simply go silent and suffer in silence.

A dog may be mans best friend on a number of levels and we might learn more from our dogs than they do from us. I can teach a dog many silly tricks but a dog can teach me to practice the theological virtues of faith, hope and love in a most profound way. An entire book could be written about many other admirable qualities of these fine animals but these will suffice.

If I could only live a life that expressed my love for God in such a manner I might become a saint. Dogs may not go to heaven but they just might help some of us get there by setting a wonderful example. All we have to do is apply it in our lives and thus mimic their behavior in acts of unconditional love for God. That might make them more than man’s best friend; they may be our soul’s best friend and spiritual director as well.

P.S. Wally, dog on the right, went to his reward about 1 1/2 years ago. Fred, on the left, has taken up Wally’s role as spiritual director and seems capable of filling the paws of his predecessor.