My eyes filled with tears when I peered into the large, glass globe terrarium. I was speechless, I felt as if I had somehow given birth! After two weeks of being enclosed in its jade-green chrysalis, the caterpillar's transforming housing had in the night, turned transparent so that the newly formed Monarch butterfly was visible through its walls. Slowly and very quietly it began to emerge from its metamorphic chamber. It was absolutely stunning.
The butterfly had to strive to emerge from its capsule of transformation in order to burst on the scene blazing with color. The struggle to get free was exhausting, but without the workout, the butterfly would never be strong enough to successfully engage all that it was about to encounter.
To think, this little butterfly was now about to take on the great big world. “Would it have what it takes?” I wondered. “Only by God’s grace” I thought, as I remembered that Monarchs are designed to fly up to two miles high and cover an average of 200 miles per day when migrating from North to South.
But before takeoff can happen, the Monarch does a very strange, but important thing. It hangs vertically, head toward the heavens and pumps its crumpled wings with life-giving fluid so that they can become fully extended and sky-worthy upon drying completely. It then repeatedly exercises them, making them strong enough to handle the long, often arduous, unknown 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and heartbreaking losses in our lives to be used by the enemy for our destruction—making us angry, bitter, resentful, withdrawn and worn out. Or we can turn heavenwards, surrendering ourselves to God. By his grace, God will “fill your wings” and make you stronger and wiser by staying connected to him and use even the struggle for His good purposes. Nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy. Through our struggles, we gain strength and 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 even after “cocooning” 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 out 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!
“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
YIPES! I feel I have gone through quite a lot, and now you seem to be asking even more of me. I come to you now asking for the grace to desire and the means to become a virtuous person. I confess, being JOYUL is not the first thing that pops into my head when life in all its fullness is thrown at me and I have to struggle to get through it, but that is what you say should be my response, as You are working in me to make me more resemble You. So dear Lord, I throw myself on your mercy, asking for the grace of more fully trusting in You, knowing that, “You got this.” Help me to orient myself heavenwards, allowing You to make me strong and “complete, lacking in nothing”…just like You, I pray.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.