My Much-Needed Primer on Virtue My Much-Needed Primer on Virtue

Last month I was given two gifts!  The gift of the Eucharist during the Mass in a small private chapel of a very devout and humble nun, and the gift of spiritual wisdom shared graciously by that same Sister.

The experience left me with much to ponder.

First, the gratitude I felt (and still feel) for that very intimate encounter with Christ in the Mass, and second, the profound and central message of Sister’s talk afterward.

Her message immediately rose to the top of my ‘pondering list’ and has remained there all this time.  It was a statement regarding our children—mine and yours—that was at the core of what she wanted to impart.  She said, “What young people lack today is virtue.”

I am ashamed to admit it, but in my head I immediately (and indignantly) thought, “I know that!”

I have been lecturing on chastity and purity at home for years and years.  I have Catholic books, booklets and articles in abundance on the topic, all strategically planted around the house and in the car.  That boat has sailed and continues to sail with both my adult and non-adult children.  I thought with pride, “Already on it Sister!”

Well, guess who missed the boat? Me!

Sister was throwing me a life jacket, and I was too water logged at the time to know it.  I was thinking way too small.  She was talking BIG!  Sister wasn't talking specifically about chastity and purity; she was talking about all virtue.

Virtue is not limited to just one aspect, and I needed this reminder.  I had to give myself a little refresher course in what virtue is, and everything it entails, by turning to our handy Catholic reference book—the  Catechism of the Catholic Church.

According to the Catechism, “A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The goal of the virtuous life is to become like God.” (CCC, 1768)

God gives us exactly what we need when we need it, and this refresher course in virtue is just what I needed. Sparked by the words of an unassuming wise nun, I revisited the importance of the virtuous life.  I was reminded that there are different kinds of virtues, “theological virtues”, “cardinal virtues”, and “human virtues.”

The theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. They are infused by God into our souls—we cannot escape them no matter how hard we try! Here is what the Catechism says about these three virtues:

  • Faith is the virtue by which we believe in God.  By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God” (CCC, 1814). Note the word “freely”, implying a sincere and earnest attempt to know and do God’s will.
  • Hope is the virtue by which we desire the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life with God. We place our trust in Him. Hope “keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during time of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude” (CCC, 1818).
  • Charity is supreme over all the virtues and “is the virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC, 1822). Notice what charity is NOT; it is not for the sake of ourselves or for our own gratification—ever!  If our hearts and minds are transformed and happily moved toward God when we practice charity—that is indeed a grace-filled ‘side-effect’!  Make no mistake, “all good things come from God” and are quite intentional.

We are also given the four “Cardinal Virtues” of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance:

  • Prudence instructs and leads the other virtues in conscience and judgment.
  • Justice abides in consistent right thinking—not part-time (when it’s convenient or easy) right thinking.
  • Fortitude bolsters our resolve to resist what is tempting and can separate us from God, and aids us in overcoming sinful detours.
  • Temperance is the moral virtue that helps us refrain from following our “base desires” and our appetites for whatever may lead us astray.

Funneling down from these are the “human virtues.” God meets us where we live (so to speak) and provides us with what we need to live virtuous lives.  On the level of human virtues is where chastity, purity, friendship, integrity, gift of self, and the dignity of the human person come in! The Old Testament says, “The virtuous man is happy to practice them.”

Are we really happy to practice the virtues; or do we begrudgingly plod along behaving as though virtue is an albatross we must endure? To what extent do we even practice virtue? Do we model it consistently for our children and with joy? Do we foster it in our children by raising the ‘virtuous bar’?

As I said, there is much to ponder; much more than chastity and purity which are necessary human virtues. Virtue must be the blood that flows through our veins causing our hearts to beat for Christ, and for nothing else. Virtue is homage, and glorifies God.

Before you panic like I did, swallow your pride, do not let that sinking feeling rise, and quickly ask our Lord to strengthen the innate virtues of your soul, and restore in you what is required to do His will. If you are overwhelmed by your own failings or those of your children, then just start small. Pick just one virtue—whether it’s one of the theological, cardinal, or human—and simply choose methods of living it and modeling it. No self-deprecation, no lectures, just joyfully live it; and one will lead to two, and so on.

We have to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we can run. Racing toward God is infinitely better that running away! Thank you Sister Agnes.

Copyright 2013 Cris Seidel