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

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