I remember watching re-runs of Fulton Sheen’s Life is Worth Living (on YouTube, not cable. I’m not that old yet!). Cape, blackboard, and all—he was an image of the timelessness of the Gospel message.
In one episode, he has a memorable message about setting goals. He declared, “It’s abnormal for people not to have goals.”
As a Catholic life coach, I’ve come across some confusion amongst Catholics about goals.
Are they self-serving?
Are they inherently tainted with the vice of ambition?
Are they materialistic?
But, that shouldn’t stop us from pursuing them. Hear me out.
When pursued with God, our goals, even our materialist goals for fame, riches, and the corner office, can be incredible opportunities for virtue, specifically the infused theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
The key phrase is “pursuing goals with God.” Without God, our goals can put us on a trajectory for vice and despair. But with God, there is a big difference.
So what are some tips for making our goals an avenue for God’s grace?
1. Make sure whatever you are pursuing is truly something YOU desire.
A common question I ask clients to get them pursuing worthy goals is, “What do you want?”
What often follows is a Miss America-pageant style answer shrouded in virtue-signaling, justification, and inauthenticity. In other words—a lie!
Rather than answering the question, “What do you want?”, they are responding to the question “What should I want?”. This will only lead to hiding or denying our true desires.
So step one to virtuous goal-setting—answer honestly the question, “What do I desire?”.
2. You’re a sinner. Expect your goal to need some purifying.
It’s a real detriment to the spiritual life when we demand perfection of ourselves right now. It really is an unfair expectation. God doesn’t even have that expectation for us. Yes, Jesus says “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” but that’s not a demand for us to achieve God’s divine perfection. Rather, it’s a call to a perfection proper to our human nature. This human perfection on this side of heaven is better described as a persistent movement towards unity with God, only to be brought to fulfillment in the next life.
It’s completely normal to have a goal that’s tainted with some sort of vain glorious or materialistic ambition at the start. For example, you may want to start a business that earns you an income of $1M a year. Mixed in among the desire to create a great and valuable work might be the desire for a life of material comfort. Perhaps you have a powerful message that you want to share with the Church, but recognize that you want to have the fame of 100K Instagram followers and the affirmation of being invited to speak at the top Catholic conferences.
On seeing the vice intertwined with the purity of their desires (the weeds amongst the wheat), a lot of people choose to pursue nothing. They fear that the goal will only magnify their vice. They’d prefer a path that did not bring their vice to the surface.
But here’s the thing—that vice is already there. It’s doing damage to their soul. It does its worst damage when it is kept in the dark. Bringing it into the light gives us the opportunity to deal with it.
3. Pursuing your goal with God makes it a vehicle for sanctification.
True, your vice will grow if you pursue any goal on your own strength, but something completely different happens when you pursue a goal with God. That pursuit turns your goal into a vehicle of sanctification.
Why? Because when you pursue a worthy goal, you must become a new person. You must learn new things, believe new thoughts, and cultivate new behaviors and habits. Suddenly old habits of drinking five nights a week or binge-watching old reruns of Friends have real consequences. Your goal will demand temperance, prudence, and fortitude, and in so doing, reveal all your areas of intemperance, foolishness, and lazy comfort-seeking.
There is one action proper to discovering a vice or sin in our lives—repentance. Trust me, when you get serious about pursuing a goal that the Lord has laid on your heart, you’ll have a whole new list of sins to bring into the confessional.
Repentance has power. Repentance changes your body and soul. Repentance restores you to right relationship with God. Repentance opens you to an infusion of grace and virtue, by which you can start to pursue a goal for its proper end—for the glory of God.
Consider the alternative. We half-heartedly pursue a goal while turning a blind eye to the vicious ambitions and tell ourselves “AMDG, I’m doing it for God’s glory.”
Why not add lying and false humility to the list of hidden sins and vices. That will really bring glory to God.
I say this with a bit of light-heartedness. We have to laugh at ourselves a bit for our own silly attempts at self-perfection.
There is great peace and freedom that comes by allowing God to do His transformative work in us. We do not have the ability to perfect ourselves. St. John the Baptist preached a gospel of repentance. Jesus came and fulfilled the teaching of John declaring “repent [metanoia] and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus gives us the fulfillment of repentance, AND the grace to believe what is beyond our human capacity to believe.
This is the real gift of a goal—it reveals our hidden vice and sin so that we might offer God a contrite heart. God heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147: 3).
So, if you are serious about growing in virtue, start by setting a worthy goal—one that will demand that you become a new person. Allow the goal to reveal your vice and sin and repent. Jesus and His grace do the heavy lifting.
Author: Matt Ingold – Matt is the co-founder of Metanoia Catholic, a Catholic life coaching company that presents the best of personal development skills and techniques in cooperation with God’s grace and the teachings of the Catholic Church.