Last month, I touched on the three great THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES. They are called theological because they directly connect us with the theos, with God. They are, of course, faith, hope and charity and each of these has as its goal the drawing of us closer and closer into the inner life of God. This is made possible in our daily lives by having been baptized and then walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
Actually, I think I jumped the gun by going straight to the theological virtues. I really should have started with the four key human virtues. These four virtues should play a key role in our lives and are called cardinal because all other virtues are grouped around them. They are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.
Would you like to be called imprudent? Of course not. We all respect horse sense. We all respect the person who has the quality of good judgment. The implicit human virtue that makes for good judgment, makes for right decisions, makes for living their lives orderly and properly in line with God’s law is the virtue of PRUDENCE. Prudence is the virtue that directs practical reason to discern true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. On the street, we also call it “horse sense.” Prudence is a wonderful asset in day-to-day living but it doesn’t fall from the sky. We have to work at it by learning to think critically of the situations in which we find ourselves, consider the various possible outcomes of various choices, and make the judgment always on what is best for everybody involved.
Let’s hear it for prudence!
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I find it interesting that most of us are rather comfortable with the word “vice.” We know exactly what it means. We read about it frequently in the newspapers. Our cities have vice squads and newspapers remind us that certain neighborhoods are filled with vice. On the other hand, virtue, the opposite of vice, is a word that leaves some of us a little uncomfortable. We describe a person as being a virtuous man or virtuous woman but we don’t know exactly what that means. When we use the word virtue, we are really referring to the fact that it is a quality in a person that provides a habitual and firm disposition to do good. Vice, of course, is the opposite.
During these holy days of Lent while we are trying to develop certain qualities in our spiritual life, such a patience and empathy, what we are really trying to do is to become virtuous in that or some other aspect of our journey towards God.
Earlier in the week, I mentioned the theological virtues. It seems somewhat less clear than the natural virtues, such as generosity, empathy, self-control, etc., etc. Natural virtues direct us towards some aspect of our day-to-day life in the natural area, whereas theological virtues are centered on God. When we call faith a theological virtue, we are saying that if we believe in God that we center our life on him and that the theological virtue of faith is one of our strongest underpinnings.
Tomorrow, let’s take a brief look at hope.
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Most of us are very conscious of the interaction that we have with the people with whom we are sharing life. We talk, we communicate, we get angry, we step forward to help, we step back in shock. There are so many emotions and responses in the people around us and oddly enough if we stop to evaluate those relationships, we might put one or another under a good heading. We might even call one of them a virtue!
A virtue is simply the facility in doing a good thing easily as opposed to a vice, which is a tendency towards more easily doing something that was wrong. We think of ourselves as being patient, impatient, kind, hostile, generous, selfish, etc., etc. We are familiar with those expressions because they neatly tab all these actions that we have with others and we evaluate them as we look inside ourselves and try to see how we are doing in our moral journey.
Then out of the sky comes the theological virtues. I may be judging others on the basis of my own shortcomings, but I have to honestly admit that although while I am intellectually conscious of the theological virtues, they are not always at the top of my list as I examine my conscience; they are not always goals to which I set myself as I continue my Lenten journey. There are only three of them – faith, hope and charity. Tradition tells us that these three virtues of the foundation of all Christian moral activity are animated and give it special character. On the basis of our baptism, these virtues are infused by God into the souls of the faithful and they make us capable of acting as his children and meriting eternal life (Catholic Catechism #1813).
As a favor to myself, I am going to take a little time and begin to think about these three awesome gifts. I know that if I develop the virtue of faith, if I cling to the virtue of hope, and if I allow the virtue of charity to pass through me, my spiritual life will be greatly enhanced. I also know that if I neglect them, I will be spiritually damaged.
As we reach the midpoint of Lent, I would encourage you to do the same thing.
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