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What can I do to increase the strength of my will to resist temptation and grow in holiness? – Part II of II

August 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Mortification, Spiritual Development

resist temptation and growQ: I would like to ask you for a piece of advice. Since my will is not so strong as it should be; what are the exercises to practice that important element of spiritual formation?

A: In our first post we talked about some of the foundational ideas required to begin an effective effort toward strengthening our will. In this post we will talk about a few secrets and tips to making solid progress.

The Secret of a Schedule
The best tactic to employ for sure, even if slow, progress in this area is by establishing and following a weekly and daily schedule that reflects your priorities and duties. If at any given hour of any given day you know what you are supposed to be doing, you give your willpower a huge advantage over your raucous appetites. When your appetites want to abandon your duty or commitment, you will recognize it immediately, because you can look at your schedule and see what your own, freely chosen life-priority is right here and now. If you are supposed to be working on your thesis and your appetites want to take a trip to a museum, you can look at your schedule and make an act of self-governance with your will, training your appetites: “Well, okay, the Borromini exhibit is indeed worth seeing, but right now I can’t just abandon the office – I have some deadlines to meet. But I have scheduled a time for some recreation on Saturday morning, so I can go to the exhibit then.” That’s self-governance; that’s forming your will so that you are liberated from being a slave to your appetites. Coming up with your weekly and daily schedule may not be easy for you, especially if you have a spontaneous temperament. But with the help of a friend (someone who likes to plan and organize things), or even with your spiritual director, you can do it. But then you will have to watch out for another pitfall: becoming a slave to your schedule! That will only cause you to be frustrated and tense all the time. The schedule is a tool, a means to an end, but it can’t foresee everything, so you have to maintain a certain flexibility. Balancing your freedom between the two types of slavery – to your whims or to your schedule – is the proper job of the virtue of prudence. And you will grow in this virtue only if you try, make mistakes, identify them, and keep on trying. For that, the daily examination of conscience can be invaluable.

Top Tips
Be sure to schedule your weekly day of rest, and honor that. Be sure to schedule free time to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends. We are not robots, after all. Be sure to schedule your times of prayer. Be sure to try and follow through on your commitments and decisions; exercising constancy is key for building willpower. If you want to make adjustments to your schedule or commitments, try to do so during your weekly review and planning session, not just on a whim.

Another spiritual discipline, penance and mortification, also aids in the formation of the will, although those disciplines have other primary goals.

Don’t forget that forming your will is a long process – in fact, it’s something we can never stop doing. Like a muscle, if we stop exercising, consciously, our willpower, it atrophies. Don’t worry if you don’t see much progress right away; don’t worry if you keep falling back into slob-blob mode; just keep begging for God’s help and plugging away, confident that you are glorifying God and building Christ’s Kingdom just by making a decent effort to serve him better: “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Finally, remember that discouragement never comes from the Holy Spirit. Rather, it’s a trick of the evil one. We know that, because, as Scripture assures us, “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), and “His mercy is everlasting” (Psalm 11:5).


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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently resides in his Order’s General Directorate in Rome, where he is continuing his writing apostolate. His blog contains questions and answers on the spiritual life at His online retreats are available at

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  • Mary@42

    Thank you for the Top Tips.  Exactly the advice my Spiritual Director gave me during  our last Session last month.  The Mandatory Rule you give us is exactly what he told me to always keep in mind  : “Discouragement never comes from the Holy Spirit. Rather, it’s a trick of the evil one.” That had been my constant Cross until he put my mind at peace.  God bless you always

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this, I was waiting for it. God Bless.

  • G1j

    Great words. Both installments have proven quite helpful.

  • Marie

    Great article!  Thank you!  God bless…

  • Susan Bailey

    Thank you, this affirms what I only just figured out after dealing with a dry and lifeless prayer life filled to the brim with distractions – that using my will to apply discipline to it is life-giving. I changed the way I pray to a much more structured approach to combat the distractions and it’s helping (for example, praying a scriptural rosary with a verse before each Hail Mary, listening to and praying the Divine Office, listening to the mass on CatholicTV each night when I go to bed). This is making me appreciate much more the wisdom of the Church in having so many structured prayer forms. She knew we’d stray!

  • Totus2us

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post.

    I found this from “Whispers in the Loggia” blog helpful ( :

    “Nothing is more practical thanfinding God, thanfalling in Lovein a quite absolute, final way.What you are in love with,what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.It will decidewhat will get you out of bed in the morning,what you do with your evenings,how you spend your weekends,what you read, whom you know,what breaks your heart,and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.Fall in Love, stay in love,and it will decide everything.”
    –Pedro Arrupe SJ (1907-91)28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus

  • Canefan007

    Maybe this will help someone…I am a stay at home mom who goes to mass 7 days a week. I get up at 5:00 a.m. every morning. This gives me time to pray my Rosary,pray and read my bible and devotionals. I then go to my morning mass.After mass,I clean,do laundry and whatever I have to do for my family.It is all done early and I get everything else done as well later on. If you work 9 to 5,get up a hour or two early and get it done in the morning.I have found out God,prayer and sripture help me make it thru the day.

  • jakobjoe

    This was an amazing post. Just what I needed. Linked to the first post and found that VERY HELPFUL as well.  I printed off a copy and shared it with a young lady after Mass.  She asked if she could borrow it.  I gave it to her.  I am sharing the links with others who I know will benefit from and appreciate it.  Thank you!!!

  • StrongerInHim

    This was helpful, thank you. I am in my early 50′s; always was a Catholic, went to Sunday School in youth (not always with full understanding of its importance as most youth of the day would attest to, but because mom and dad said to)

    His will be done. I hear it all the time. I say it in the Our Father. “thy will be done” but forget the entire context of those words. God’s will be done. We ‘hear’
    God is first ‘person’ of the trinity. We hear God’s will and ‘person’ and believe that God’s will is some ‘set apart ways’ apart from anything we humans want to do. But that’s not really the case, as I read this article. God wants to be ONE with us. The Father and the Son were ONE in Spirit (Trinity Father Son and Holy Spirit) Father – Creator; Son – Redeemer, and Holy Spirit – Comforter and Counselor.  But… in context to The Son and the The Father and that Jesus could do nothing except what the Father did… in order to do things in God,
    Father’s will  1. We have to be holy (perfect) as the Father is holy (perfect.) We are not perfect, not one human is – apart from Jesus.  2. So, if we wish to be
    ‘perfect’ … we need the Son. (no one comes to the Father except through the Son) This is the reason for the Mass and consecrating our weak selves to the Son ‘at the bread come down from heaven’ – we give all that is weak in us
    to the Son (at the sacrifice of the Mass) Surrender our weaknesses that
    may bring us ‘to sin against a HOLY God’ – in faith) Now, assuming we did
    such sacrifice sincerely… a transformation begins.We become a bit more
    thoughtful to others, we try to give our best at what we do, as the article
    alludes to, we follow ‘a pattern or schedule of routine’ – going to work and on
    time, we take our work seriously; as Jesus did – asking questions if we need
    clarifying (rather than being childish and sulking or griping we communicate
    with others with ‘authority’ – even if not ‘authority’ per se; we speak and ask
    with authority (confidence) so as to show a knowledge. We ‘show up at
    work’ in body and mind and spirit – of Christ (shhh the boss might not
    see but we know) We take a scheduled lunch break and depending on
    circumstances; we try to engage and come to know those others like us,
    or not like us, so we have a bond with our co-workers. Laugh with them,
    listen to them, encourage them as Jesus would have when he ‘ate with
    sinners’ / it gives ‘human-ness’ to the job at hand to know those we are working with. It’s not all about us and our wants and desires. And then, we go back
    home to rest, spend time with family, eat with them find out about their day,
    and what mattered to them, we help if we can or we just listen. We don’t always need to give an answer. (did Jesus?) No. Sometimes all He did was
    be there with them. (as when He was asleep on the boat being tossed by the storm, and the others were so afraid and woke him ‘not knowing what to do’
    He was showing them but they missed the message. Relax, go to sleep and
    worry not. “oh ye of little faith”  (what could happen to them if He was in
    their midst) How many of us ‘toss and turn’ at night (like that boat did) trying to fiigure out what to do… and all we have to do is ‘turn it in’ to Him and go to

    So… to be HOLY we need to really know Him. If our ways are ‘of the good way’
    ie it doesn’t bring harm morally or spiritually to us; we can be assured we are
    in His will. The moment we begin to worry whether we were kind enough, listened enough or gave the wrong advice – as the article states – take it not
    to anyone else; who is like us (human) they may want to push us to do their will and way and that will ‘make us untrue to who we are’

    To be HOLY is to be true to our Christocentric self. Kindness to others,
    balance listening and talking, don’t probe others but show sincere concern,
    make other more important – and that other will if of same spirit, do likewise.
    and if connected to such person – Congratulations – God sent us a friend to
    grow in Holiness with – because God knew – without Him we can do nothing)

    One or two friends ‘like Him’ … brings us to grow in holiness.

    • Mary@42

      This is splendid, StrongerInHim.  Your Post is so inspiring and illuminating. We sure learn such insightful lessons as we share and grow every day on this Website and enrich one another immensely.  God bless you

  • Claire from DE

    Several months ago my spiritual director advised making a weekly schedule.  I’m retired and I find it’s been difficult both to remember to make and to keep to a schedule.  Daily Mass is the first thing I put on the schedule, then other commitments.  But I find I can only accurately plan a couple days in advance as my plans are often dependent on someone else’s since, being retired, I’m the one who’s able to be flexible.  And every trip and task seems to take much longer than scheduled.  I was getting discouraged but this article helped me to realize the value in doing this and encouraged me to keep trying.  Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    “…don’t worry if you keep falling back into slob-blob mode; just keep
    begging for God’s help and plugging away, confident that you are
    glorifying God and building Christ’s Kingdom just by making a decent
    effort to serve him better: “….

    slob blob mode: (Ok, Obviously this priest is reading my soul.) I think it is interesting that Father focuses on the prudent use of time as a means for the discipline of self control. Of all the aspects of self control to choose from , I am really intrigued by this- maybe it’s because it’s the macro -level starting point, and from there you work your way inward to mastering other significant areas- like the eyes(and the keyboard or screen mouse control digits), the tongue, the thoughts etc.

    I definitely need this counsel- as a mother, subject to the needs, and often to the whims of others it is easy to default to a reactionary mode in a sense of survival- with little to no plumb line to reorient oneself as soon as things get out of control- and frankly with alot of little kids that happens fast and furiously.
    To be able to infuse a recovery strategy with an hourly ‘rule’ if you will, and find the Lord in that practical  structure is helpful. Knowing that going back to the schedule can have a restorative aspect – a let’s begin again dimension-that feeds hope instead of looming in the background like a silent condemning witness to how far off the rails that day can get.

  • Sjm

    This is very helpful, esp in overcoming addictive behaviors…I only question one phrase at the last, that discouragement is from the devil.  It can also come from a family of origin in which nothing was ever good enough. That judgement from others at the earliest age, becomes an attitude toward myself in later years, unless directly challenged.  Refusal to confront our past leads to excuses in our present life, and all the bad habits that undermine the spiritual life…Trust me! I know!! Having been often recently the slave to my past. I have also experienced life in the Spirit. Sometimes it’s not always to clear how to fight my way back. This post is very helpful in that regard. Thank all of you for your prayers!!

  • Mike

    Sometimes I am tempted to just give up on trying to help share the goodness of God and our Church with others.  Comments and questions sometimes are difficult, often times impossible, for me to respond to.  Am I too closed minded to try to share the greatness of our Faith with others?

  • Anonymous

    Dear Friend: Apart from Him, you can do nothing – with Him you can do all He desires of you and all that your love for Him inspires you to do.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps this is a nudge from the Holy Spirit for you to learn more about our faith so that you can answer the questions that are asked.

    I think most of us have been in this situation at one time or another.  Pick up the Catechism and start learning!!  :)