After about two weeks of being enclosed in its chrysalis, the newly formed Monarch butterfly is now ready to emerge from its metamorphic chamber and get on with life. The butterfly has to strive to emerge from its capsule of transformation and burst on the scene. The struggle to get free is exhausting, but without the workout, the butterfly would not be strong enough to successfully engage all that it is about to encounter.
It is now about to take on the world. The Monarch will fly up to two miles high and cover an average of 200 miles per day.
But before takeoff can happen, the Monarch does a very strange thing. It hangs vertically, head toward the heavens and pumps its crumpled wings with life-giving fluid so that they can become fully extended. It then repeatedly exercises them, making them strong enough to handle the journey ahead.
Are you going through a struggle? Do you feel it is too much to bear? Do you even feel that God has turned away from you?
God promises in Romans 8:28 that he will use all things in our lives for his good purposes—even the struggles. God is not through with you yet. We can allow the challenges and heartbreaking losses in our lives to be used by the enemy for our destruction—making us angry, bitter, resentful, and withdrawn. Or we can surrender ourselves to God. By his grace, God will make you stronger and wiser through it. Nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy. Through our struggles, we learn virtue.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this: “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God” (1803).
We see our spiritual parallel in that the butterfly is being partially formed outside in the world. Again and again, it repeats the movement of its wings until the motion becomes second nature.
We also learn virtue through practice as we encounter difficulties in the world. Some virtues are God-given at Baptism—faith, hope, love—but others require repeated action until they become second nature.
Sadly, the language originally used for many of the virtues is now a bit outdated. (When was the last time the words prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance rolled off of your tongue?) But these are qualities we all long for not only for ourselves, but for our children and the world in general.
What if we called prudence, “pausing”—taking a moment to think about the consequences of our actions instead of rushing in without a thought as to how it would affect our future or others?
What about justice? Can we call it “fair-mindedness” or “respectful”? Who doesn’t want to be treated fairly, morally, and impartially?
Then there is fortitude. Can we call it “courage,” “grit,” or “backbone”? All the things, by God’s grace, that we need to muster when the going gets tough. God does not want us to be easily toppled. Pray for this!
And, lastly, temperance. What a shame this one has lost its shine! Can we call it “self-control” or “moderation”? In our more-is-better world, this one definitely needs to make a comeback.
Remember, though, the goal of practicing them is to make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4) so that we can begin to look more like our heavenly Father.
The fully formed adult stage of a butterfly is called imago, which means “image.” It is, at last, what it was imagined to be when it was first created. As we practice the virtues, we too become more and more Imago Dei (the Image of God) resembling he who made us.
Practice makes perfect! Ask God to give you a desire to live virtuously, to become stronger in and through the circumstances and struggles. And as you do, you will be strengthening your wings. So get ready, because you were born to soar!
This is part four of a six-part series. Read the full series here: