We all have those bad habits which some of us may even call vices that can be extremely hard to break. These are things that might stray us from the righteous paths we are trying to walk and they could include harmful and untrue gossip, judgement of others, personal issues such as substance abuse, horribly broken relationships, excluding people just to make them feel bad, etc. Many of these issues bring us down to a darker level, depressing us and we find ourselves questioning why we keep doing what we’re doing and asking for forgiveness day after day.
Even though we all have our problems, I believe Christ calls each of us to live by example. We should try to do good works, be a decent person, know right from wrong, stand up for what’s right even in the face of persecution, ridicule, and rejection. I realize a lot of these things can be very hard to do, but as long as we try to do right I think God takes notice of us and each difficult decision we face. After all, none of us are perfect and the faults each of us have are things we simply need to work on.
Let’s take a closer look at the Church’s teachings on virtues and we’ll start off with some scripture.
Philippians: 4:8, 9
8) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
9) Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
What are virtues? Virtues are nurtured attitudes and efforts to do well and give the best of ourselves. They aren’t merit badges to be earned and worn to prove our goodness or for someone to say HEY, LOOK AT ME AND HOW GREAT I AM!! Rather, they’re dispositions that shape us into the people God created us to be.
Catholic teachings distinguishes between two types or (categories) of virtues which are Human and Theological. The definitions for each according to the CCC are below.
Human virtues (moral or cardinal) = We acquire the human virtues through our human effort in cooperation with grace as we try to live more like Christ.
Theological virtues – We acquire the theological virtues wholly as gifts from God.
While it is fantastic we have those definitions which are pretty straightforward, there is plenty of room to study both categories in greater detail, so let’s do just that!
There are a total of seven virtues which fall under one of these two categories. They are; Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Faith, Hope, and Love. For this entry or (Part 1) we will learn about the first four.
The Catechism reference numbers below sums up the human virtue category;
1804 Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.
The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.
1812 The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature: for the theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.
I previously mentioned there were a total of seven virtues in all so let’s look at the ones which fall under the human category.
The prudent person examines a situation closely, considers all options, and chooses the option that leads toward the greatest good.
How many times have you been in a tough situation and have to weigh the possible multiple outcomes which might occur based off a hard decision you’ve to make? Stepping down from being part of a large active group in church or perhaps in your personal life feeling like if you did, you’d let a lot of people down, maybe a tough financial decision such as buying a house, car, etc. even sending your kids to a certain school, changing jobs, or all the above and more.
We’ve all been in at least one of those situations, the prudent person MUST weigh each and every possible outcome whether the scenario plays out good or bad. Take a job for example… say you have been with a company for about 15 years, work is fine as long as you show up and do your job, but another job offer comes along and gets you to thinking about making a switch. HOWEVER, you quickly realize all of the bills you have and perhaps you may even have a single income family.
New opportunities are great, but the prudent person has to stop and think, what if it doesn’t work out? What if I take that new job and it lasts a month or the company is bankrupt after a year? Where would your family be? Could you sustain a loss of income until you found something else? Is the risk ultimately worth the gain?
Some people often mistake prudence for being overly cautious, but prudence guides and steers the other virtues by setting boundaries and standards that lead to the right judgement.
Justice is choosing the right action. It directs us to consistently and firmly give what’s due to God and our neighbors. There will always be some inequality, inconsistency, or disharmony, but perfect justice will come from God at the final Judgement.
Being just means being fair. Let’s look at the parable of the workers in the vineyard..
1) “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
2) After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
3) Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4) and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.
5) So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
6) Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
7) They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
8) When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
9) When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage.
10) So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.
11) And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner,
12) saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
13) He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
14) Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
15) [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’
16) Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Justice is really all about being fair to one another and yourself. How many times have you heard over and over again about the inequalities in our everyday life or perhaps those rich folks who look down their noses at people who have less than they do? Why? It is every Christian’s responsibility to help and to love one another in some way, shape, or form. That’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do…
36) “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
37) He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
38) This is the greatest and the first commandment.
39) The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40) The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Fortitude enables us to endure and overcome the difficulties we face in our lives.
Fear of doubting oneself my tempt us to abandon a just action or peer pressure could sway us from choosing what’s right however in all cases, the person of fortitude will persist and overcome in the pursuit of good.
Think about all those times in your life where the thought of rejection by others or what other people would think should you make a certain decision or act in a certain manner. Think about all the times you knew what was right but peer pressure persuaded you otherwise. I’m not afraid to admit that I know there have been many times in my life where I’ve dropped the ball I am sure I will again, but we all have our flaws and we all make mistakes. The important thing is we try to learn from them. We try not to be persuaded and are willing to accept the positive and/or negative consequences of our, what we believe to be, justly actions.
31) they that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.
Temperance is quite simply a good balance or moderation. Temperance asks us to measure carefully our use of created goods, not to avoid them entirely. We are called to the reasonable use of material goods, money in particular. A lack of balance often leads to consumerism, materialism, and amassing possessions while missing life’s deeper purpose.
How many times have you heard people say if they had millions of dollars, their life would be perfect? On the flip side of the coin, how many millionaires claim to have nothing or no joy in life because people are always after them for their money, using them, then when they are broke, everyone’s gone. We all know those folks who always seem to brag about having more than others, but are they really happy inside? After all, when you die, you can’t take any of it with you so what good is trying to live just to have more than the next person?
An excerpt from the catechism states the beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love.
I have heard the old saying money is the root of all evil many times, and while it is true, money is surely needed in this day in age. The question then becomes are you satisfied with what you have, or are you always wanting more and if you got more, would it really be a blessing in your life or would it be a burden?
In my younger days I used to think I wanted to be a rich man, millions of dollars in the bank and all I had to do was come up with that next big thing no one has, but everyone wants, they just didn’t know it yet…. However, as I grew in my faith and becoming more of a family man, I realized I am already rich in every way that really counts. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I don’t have any difficulties, but God has provided a roof over my head, an awesome family, a great church, a good job, and a few of those creature comforts I sometimes take for granted. I’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t need all the money in the world to be a happy person when you have faith and trust in God.
While prudence and justice guide the reasoning process, fortitude and temperance help us follow through.
I must say the more I studied about living the virtues, the more each virtue reminded me of the beatitudes. We can find the beatitudes in the Gospel according to Matthew 5:1-12 which Jesus reveals to us during The Sermon on the Mount. Let us look a little closer at these scriptures as well as what the catechism tells us.
Matthew 5:1-12 says;
1) When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
2) He began to teach them, saying:
3) Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4) Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5) Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
6) Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
7) Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8) Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
9) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10) Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11) Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.
12) Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Now let’s see what the catechism tells us;
1716 The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching. They take up the promises made to the chosen people since Abraham. The Beatitudes fulfill the promises by ordering them no longer merely to the possession of a territory, but to the Kingdom of heaven: See Beatitudes above.
1718 The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it:
We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated.
How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.
God alone satisfies
1719 The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to his own beatitude. This vocation is addressed to each individual personally, but also to the Church as a whole, the new people made up of those who have accepted the promise and live from it in faith.
1721 God put us in the world to know, to love, and to serve him, and so to come to paradise. Beatitude makes us “partakers of the divine nature” and of eternal life. With beatitude, man enters into the glory of Christ and into the joy of the Trinitarian life.
1725 The Beatitudes take up and fulfill God’s promises from Abraham on by ordering them to the Kingdom of heaven. They respond to the desire for happiness that God has placed in the human heart.
1729 The beatitude of heaven sets the standards for discernment in the use of earthly goods in keeping with the law of God.
Which road will you take?
In part two of this entry, we’ll look at the other three theological virtues (faith, hope, love) in more detail.