The Life of Virtue

Today’s reflection is for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 19, 2018.

This weekend I was blessed to have been asked to lead the Catholic Men’s Fellowship retreat at Old Oak Ranch Conference Center, in Sonora. I met a number of Catholic men on fire for their faith and eager not only to learn more, but also to pray, sing, eat, and grow in holiness!

Starting Friday evening, I began to share the Church’s teachings on the Life of Virtue, guided by the Catechism #1803-1845.

In today’s second reading, St Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” EPH 5:15-20

In this passage St. Paul urges them to watch carefully how they live. He tells them to live “wisely,” and as we see in the first reading from the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom delights in sharing herself in abundance! “She [Wisdom] calls from the heights out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” PRV 9:1-6

The virtuous man or woman seeks to passionately pursue wisdom! But wisdom without practical application serves neither God nor neighbor, and so, is practically useless! In fact, wisdom unapplied isn’t even wisdom at all, but is instead just knowledge! Wisdom is defined as the practical application of knowledge. That’s where virtue comes in.

Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows us not only to be good or do good, but to give the very best of ourself. In point of fact, the only goal of the Christian life is to daily grow in holiness; to moment by moment and day by day grow in greater unity with the Lord, Jesus Christ. No wonder St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” We should be talking about virtue much more than we do! Teaching them to our children, and proclaiming them in the workplace!

The Human Virtues are informed and given life and strength through God’s gracious and generous gift of the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, and are seated in the human will. They are those qualities that correct and improve our character, steel our spine, strengthen our resolve, and help us to better and more consistently choose the good in the concrete situations of life.

The virtues are not particular to Christianity though–nor are they even particularly religious. Nowadays it is common to hear about “Core Values,” or “Character Traits,” or even “Civility Programs.” These, one and all, are simply repackaged euphemisms for what men and women for millennia called Virtues.

The Romans, and Greeks predating Christianity–and certainly before St. Thomas Aquinas, were particularly concerned about Virtue. “What are those qualities that make one great?” they would ask. “What characteristics might one expect to see in a great society?” There are over a hundred virtues by which we might live. You probably remember you mom or grandmother reminding you that, “patience is a virtue,” or “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” or even that you should be more trustworthy, creative, courageous, or purposeful–all virtues.

All of the human virtues, it seems can cleanly fall into four categories, namely, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortified–the so called cardinal virtues. Because all of the human virtues hinge upon these four they are aptly called “cardinal,” which stems from the Latin word for hinge, cardo.

The Roman statesmen, orator, lawyer and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero (63bc) repeated Plato and Aristotle when saying, “Each man should so conduct himself that fortitude appear in labors and dangers: temperance in forgoing pleasures, prudence in the choice between good and evil: justice in giving every man what is rightfully his.” (De Fin., V, xxiii, 67; cf. De Offic., I, ii, 5).

The human virtues are stable dispositions of the intellect and the will that 1. govern our actions, 2. order our passions, and 3. guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith. Below are the Cardinal Virtues explained.

Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.

Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due.

Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.

Temperance moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods.

St. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi teaches, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) I don’t know about you, but I think we need to seek wisdom and get back to virtue in our families, in our communities, and in our nation.

The virtuous life is a humble one and requires great perseverance. It’s a life that is marked with passion and intensity to dedicate oneself to daily growth in being, as Matthew Kelly often says, the best version of oneself. Let’s get back to virtue education in our homes! Our family has two amazing books that teach virtues through stories–and we haven’t even begun to crack them open, I’m quite embarrassed to say. I will start first thing tomorrow when I return from this amazing retreat.

The rest of Ephesians reads, “And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father,” all of which we did over the course of these three wonderful days. If you’re reading this from home…you missed out. Just sayin’.

Today Jesus said to the crowds: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”JN 6:51-58 If we pursue the life of virtue today, we have the gift of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist to nourish and strengthen us and bring us to eternal life. God thinks of everything! Eat up! We’ve got work to do.

For reflection,

Do I commit myself daily to being better than I was yesterday, and what is my measure for growth in holiness or virtue?

Do I attend Mass weekly, if not daily, to receive the Bread from Heaven, my food for the journey?

Are you willing to learn more about the human virtues by reading up on or buying a book?

God Bless, Stephen

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Do You Believe? Obey.

Today’s reflection is for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 5, 2018.

Today’s readings speak of the amazing mercy and love of God who not only desires that his children be free, but also provides for them daily while they struggle in their journey through the desert. That’s encouraging to know and comforting through difficult times but it also comes with an expectation, namely, that we believe. Jesus said to those that were looking for him after feeding the five thousand, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)

One of the world’s favorite verses is John 3:16, where John (the evangelist) teaches us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Wow! That’s pretty amazing! God sacrificed his only son for me and all I have to do is believe! Easy day! I got this!

Just to make sure I was good though, I looked up “believe” in the dictionary so that I could be sure I punched that card correctly! (I don’t want any hanging chads!) I found out that to “believe” was to hold to something as true. According to Webster, it is more of an intellectual endeavor. Again, I got this!

And in the Johanine epistles (1-2-3 John) he tells us quite plainly his only intent for writing anything at all, “I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13) Again, we see that belief equates to eternal life, and according to my friend and yours, Mirriam Webster, belief happens in our head. But does it? Scripture teaches otherwise.

Today we see that the Israelites not only had to believe (in their head) that God would provide for them in the desert, they also had to follow his instructions (with their hands)–to the letter! Exodus teaches, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.'” (EX 16:2-4, 12-15)

Okay, so according to Scripture, belief happens with the heart and the hands! We believe and then we do. We’ve got to follow God’s instructions. We’ve got to go out daily to gather our portion. No wonder Jesus refers to belief as work! In fact, Jesus tells those who followed him that they were working for all the wrong reasons! Work is assumed, but work for the right reason is what Jesus demands.

He told them, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (6:27) I think it can be very easy to work for things that perish! In fact, unless you live in a monastery, most of us spend the lion’s share of the day working for things that perish! Sadly, I know in our home we’re cleaning out the fridge all the time! We buy fruit, vegetables, bread, and a whole host of other things with our hard-earned money only to see it go bad within weeks! It doesn’t take long for the bananas to begin to turn and the bread to mold!

The truth of perishable items is all around us. We work and work and work, and it seems that nothing seems to last! Not our food, not our clothing, and not our toys either–made in America or not! Evidence of corruptibility is all around us and still we labor as though any of it is going to last forever. Our very good friend, who lives in Redding, was on vacation in Santa Cruz when she discovered that her house and everything in it was destroyed in the fires that have been burning there! Praise God that none of her family was hurt. As the fires burn in California, more and more people are discovering the truth of the futility of storing up treasure on earth.

Can you even imagine?! I work by butt off day in and day out for our home, shoes, food, our trailer, and many other toys–and just like that, it could all be gone. I’m not following Jesus’ advice very well, am I? How about you? Jesus tells us that if we’re going to work, we should work for those things that never perish! He says that if we store up our treasures on earth we will always be disappointed, and he demands that we instead store up treasure in heaven (MT 6:19)…now that’s good work!

The work that we must be about is work that endures–acts of kindness and compassion, love and sacrifice. We ought to spend our time visiting those who are incarcerated, and those who are infirm. We need to spend our time and treasure in food kitchens, in women’s shelters, and in refugee camps. In other words, we need to spend our time in the trenches of human suffering and misery! That’s were Jesus was in his day, and if we wish to find him, it’s where he is still today.

Jesus tells his listeners, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” If we really do believe in Jesus, “the one that he sent,” then we must do the work that he did! In other words, belief = obedience to Jesus’ way of thinking and acting. Belief for Christians automatically assumes action. Our actions can and should be an indication of what is happening in our head. Imagine that! Our thoughts, words, and actions should be consistent. Harder and harder to find that in our world today, I’m afraid. Proof positive that Christians have an important job to do in restoring worldly affairs!

God will give us our daily bread. God is going to provide for us–believe that. God’s mercy and love will always pour over us–believe that. The world needs Christ and Christ-ians doing good work daily in the midst of human suffering that is never far from us–go there. It’s time to roll up our Christian sleeves and provide evidence that we believe. Do you believe? It’s time to go to work. Below you will find a number of informational websites as well as opportunities to provide evidence of your belief. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good place to start, and start we must. If you are aware of others who are also doing good work and need hands, post them here. If you know of opportunities to serve feel free to post the website or opportunities to serve.

Click here to find and volunteer for many Catholic Charities programs within the Stockton Diocese.

Click here to find out more about Catholic Charities in the U.S.A.

Click here to find out how to be more involved with supporting legislation that reflects Christian belief and values.

Click here to find out more about faithful citizenship.

Click here for a number of resources on Catholic Social teachings.

Some questions for reflection:

To what degree are my actions consistent with what I say I believe?

How much of my time, talent, or treasure is used in a way that gives glory to God by helping to alleviate human suffering?

Does my attitude toward sinners, the marginalized, the addicted, the homeless, and the incarcerated reflect Jesus’ own actions and attitude toward the same?

How is God calling me to serve him by serving those most in need?

Have a great Sunday!

By Deacon Stephen Valgos