How to Find the Narrow Gate (and What to do When You Get There)

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matt 7:14


Bonus Part Three in the Seven Signposts on the Highway to Hell Series.



“Guess I’ll have to find a wider, easier path.”

What if you do remember whizzing past some of the signposts covered in the previous posts? A suggestion was put on the table for consideration, “Turn around.”

Yes, turn around, or as we learned, convert. What happens if you turn around? You may find you have some baggage to unload. Stuff that you might really want to keep. Stuff that you may feel you can’t live without. What do you do? Well, don’t do what the guy in the picture is about to do.

Consider this: The Seven Signposts are all Vices. We fight Vices with Virtues. The Virtues you will have to find. Where do you look? I’d like to say they are on the other side of the Seven Signposts, but, that would be too easy and it would be untrue. Why untrue? Because this is not some sort of Yin Yang duality with these virtues and vices in some perpetual dance that is essentially harmonious. No, they aren’t written on the other side of the Signposts. They are not two sides to the same coin.

The virtues are to be found on the narrow path. That means when you turn around or convert, you have to be looking for what you missed while cruising at 70 mph on the Highway to Hell. Yes, slow down and look around-evaluate and assess. It specifically means that you get off the Highway.

What is a vice and what is a virtue? (Ed: see note at end regarding a distinction made regarding virtue and habit.) At the root, they are both habits of behavior, habits of thought. And habits are a function of the choices we make– the consequences of decisions made consistently over time. In essence, a habit that conditions us to be what God intended is a virtue. A habit that turns away from God in favor of ourselves is a vice. There are habits, vices and virtues, that are in opposition. They don’t dance in harmony. One overcomes the other.

Aristotle, in the Nichomachean Ethics, notes in Book Two, Moral Virtue 1, that,

The virtues, then, come neither by nature nor against nature, but nature gives the capacity for acquiring them, and this is developed by training.

He goes on to note that what he calls ‘powers’, for example our senses, we get by nature, the power of sight for example, and then we put this power in act. In other words, we have the power and then use it, we do not gain the power by the use.

But the virtues we acquire by doing the acts, as is the case with the arts too. We learn an art by doing…we become builders by building and harpers by harping. And so by doing just acts we become just, and by doing acts of temperance and courage we become temperate and courageous.

This fact swings both ways though. By robbing we become robbers. If we stop robbing, then we stop being a robber.

It should be clear that one type of habit can drive out or replace another kind of habit. Virtues drive out Vices and Vices drive out Virtues. What are these virtues? Here is a handy chart:

[table id=Virtue /]

From the chart, we can see that the habit of Lust is driven out by the habit of Chastity.

Now, one may wonder, “Can it really be that simple? Just replace a bad habit with a good habit?” In theory it is that simple. In practice, as can be attested by those who have attempted to give up smoking, no, it is not that simple. Other factors come in to play, particularly the phenomenon of addiction. I am not qualified to comment on addiction, so all I can say is that it is clear that addiction can be overcome. I know this because I know people that have quit smoking. One thing that I can categorically state is that I don’t know anyone that quit smoking cigarettes by continuing to smoke cigarettes.

This may sound trite, but in every case, one of the factors involved in quitting smoking involved quitting smoking, that is, they stopped putting cigarettes in their mouth and lighting them up and taking a drag. They may have used some help-perhaps they used nicotene gum, or Chantix, or weaned off by ‘vaping’. Or maybe they simply quit ‘cold turkey’. Regardless, it seems evident that the physical addiction was ultimately overcome by not feeding the addiction.

So, one of the factors involved in say, not continuing the vice of lust by committing adultery would be to stop committing adultery, that is to say, by exercising chastity. To break the vice of pornography, one of the required steps would be to stop viewing pornography.

As noted, in theory, yes, it is that simple. If you are not viewing pornography, or not committing adultery, then you have started on the path of doing away with the vice of Lust. Not doing lusty things is an exercise of the virtue of Chastity, in other words, the virtue and the vice are mutually exclusive.

As noted, the doing is not so simple. But that it can be done is evident. And so in the next post in this extended series, we will look at these virtues and talk about what it all means. (Editor’s note: The actual next article in this series is really my response in a combox to a couple of questions posed by someone that used the screen name of “gay catholic”. After responding, I realized my response was related to this article series, so it became the next article. I will follow up in a fifth article in this “two part” series that has expanded beyond my expectations.)

(Editor’s Note added 6/4/205: Reading in a book titled The Noonday Devil, Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times, I found this distinction. Aquinas called virtue a habitus, and this word is the root of habit, but it also a fuller meaning. A Father Servais Pinckaers, O.P. wrote a study titled Virtue Is Quite Different from a Habit. He makes the point that while virtue and habits are both acquired by repetition of acts, virtue is acquired by the repetition of interior acts and as such becomes “an extraordinary inventive capacity that enables us to carry out excellent acts that are profoundly in conformity with God’s will. It is a stable disposition to do good.” (The Noonday Devil, p 76.)

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