The passions, the tensions, the outright distrust – if not disgust – following the latest Presidential election have brought this post from 2015 back to mind:
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
Challenging words, those.
We rush through the days, harried by our jobs, by our families, by our all too many daily obligations – many of which we may not even remember undertaking.
Who has time to contemplate the things in our lives which are pure, or lovely, or excellent? And are there, in fact, such extraordinary things in our lives?
Yet we recognize – perhaps coming from a place deep within us – that we are made for so much more.
That we’ve, in some sense, already donned our wings.
That our lives can touch greatness.
Or as St. Gregory of Nyssa put it: “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.”
No, not in the way that the serpent falsely promised Eve. But rather, in a way that mirrors Him. In a way that sees what He sees, reacts how He reacts, loves how He loves.
So how do we get there?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) reveals the four main – or cardinal – virtues of humanity: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. CCC 1805. All other human virtues are grouped around these four.
The CCC makes clear that all moral virtues are “acquired by human effort.”
In other words, they require hard work, attention, and never-ending practice.
Many are instilled with a desire to find and emulate God – but none are gifted with these moral virtues without effort, education, perseverance, and deliberate acts. CCC 1810.
And all are in need God’s divine grace.
So just how are these four virtues defined?
Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it . . . it is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation . . . it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. CCC 1806.
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor . . . [it] disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. CCC 1807.
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good . . . the virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. CCC 1808.
Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods . . . it ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within limits of what is honorable. CCC 1809.
Now, these human virtues are rooted in the three theological virtues which “adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature.” CCC 1812.
The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. CCC 1813.
For our purposes here today, let’s circle around the third theological virtue, that of charity.
Charity is the way that we love God above all else, and our neighbor as ourselves. CCC 1822. It’s Christ’s new commandment, and the way that we can imitate God and abide in his love. CCC 1823.
“If I . . . have not charity,” says the Apostle, “I am nothing.” Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, if I . . . have not charity, I gain nothing.” CCC 1826.
The practice of these virtues is “animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’.” CCC 1827.
When we act with charity, we produce the fruits of joy, peace, and mercy:
Charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion. CCC 1829.
Now here’s my focus for today –
All of these virtues are superfluous and meaningless unless we sincerely seek them out and actually put them to work.
Perseverance, practice, and prayer are lifted up as the keys to making that happen.
And in the end, there’s a payoff in the here and now.
As we put this virtues into practice, we are assured of the certainty of several gifts from the Holy Spirit.
In fact, the Church lists twelve specific gifts that arise when these human and theological virtues are integrated into our lives: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. CCC 1832.
Just think of the direct and substantial impact on our world if these virtuous gifts were bestowed on even a minority of us:
Our families would experience joy, our workplaces an explosion of harmony.
Neighbors might strive for unity, while political factions could hunger for peace, and governments thirst for justice.
Even our culture of death and disunity might be reversed.
But none of this is going to happen without each and every one of us in the game.
We – individually and as a body – need to take concrete steps, each day simply moving even just one foot forward.
We can begin, perhaps, by taking some quiet time to seek out something – anything – in our lives that is true, or honorable, or pure, or lovely, or gracious, or excellent.
Perhaps it’s our families.
Or maybe the love of a dear friend.
It may even be the very obligations that keep us stressed beyond all reason.
Can we find some good in those?
And, in the end, recognize that we just may be able to bring about the change that we seek if we can simply make the time to think about these things.
Image Credit: Pixabay
* Originally Titled: Of Virtues and Gifts and Peace
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