Lately, I’ve been trying to read something about the “Saint of the Day,” or a particular Saint that pops into my head when I wonder how on earth someone could be “saintly” when they dealt with war, poverty, or death of family members. Usually, or rather, in every case, I read that they were virtuous or was raised by a person of virtue. I made the general assumption that “virtue” was another word for “good.” Little did I know there was a lot more to it than just being good.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only the ability to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.” (CCC 1803) I can’t remember the last time I truly gave the best of myself to something. If the saints are virtuous people, that means they are giving the best of themselves ALL THE TIME. Boy, do I have a long way to go; but I guess that is the goal, to lead a virtuous life so, we can become saints and be more like God.
The Catholic Church says we have basically three types of virtues: Human, Cardinal and Theological. All of these Virtues have Gifts and Fruits – things we receive from them and things we see working through us, as a result of attaining these virtues. Within the Human Virtues, we have Moral Virtues and these are basically achieved when one does morally good acts and allows us human beings to use all our skills and senses to be in communion with divine love; after all, God is the moral law giver. Our human effort is required to obtain these moral virtues, and anyone can do so. It makes you wonder why Atheists are moral, if the creator of Moral Virtues/Law is God, and they have no belief in such a being; but then again, we call ourselves Catholic Christians and sit in churches all the while lacking in Moral Virtues and steeped in sin. But I digress, all I know is that morality exists outside of humanity and it was created by God who wants us to be more like Him in all things.
Cardinal Virtues are virtues all other virtues are grouped around. There are 4 Cardinal Virtues which are: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. In layman’s terms I’ll attempt to define them.
Prudence is allowing our reason to discern true good in every situation and to choose the right way of achieving it. Basically, using our conscience to guide us in moral principles and others virtues by setting up rules and guidelines which will help us avoid evil.
Justice is a moral virtue that requires a man to respect the rights of others and to treat each other justly and fairly. Also, to “Give God justice through the ‘Virtue of Religion.'” (CCC 1807)
Fortitude can also be described as courage and it requires one to have a firm resolve during difficulties in the pursuit of good. It helps us in the big and small trials of life and allows us to resist temptations, overcome fear, face persecution and even death in defense of a just cause.
Temperance allows us the ability to resist desires of pleasure and to moderate our appetites and maintain levels that are good and honorable.
The more we practice virtues, the more we are purified and elevated by God’s divine grace. “The virtuous man is happy to practice them.” (CCC 1810) We receive God’s grace by Christ’s gift of salvation. We should ask for this grace to be able to be more virtuous and if we are more virtuous, the more graces we shall be granted! I can attest to this. Once I started practicing ( often getting back up and trying again) to be more virtuous, I noticed the “fruits” of the gifts of virtues being given to me.
The last of the virtues are Theological Virtues which are Faith, Hope and Charity. Those of us Catholics recognize these three words as we pray for an increase of these virtues every time we recite the Holy Rosary. We find the very foundation of a Christian’s moral life must begin with these virtues because they directly relate to God. One cannot claim to be a Christian without believing in God, believing all He has said, and doing His will through the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
We have to remember that being a member of a “Religion” which only believes in one of these Theological Virtues, or separates the virtues into individual categories without the need of uniting them, is a false religion. You cannot have faith alone or hope alone or charity/love alone – they must be intertwined.
To clarify, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “If faith is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.” (1815) For “By Faith, man freely commits his entire self to God.” (CCC 1814) “Service and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation.” (CCC 1816) You might recognize this as the beginning of the Faith and Works disagreement we have with our separated brothers in Christ. They often are taught that Faith alone is sufficient for salvation and are diminishing the necessity of the virtues of Hope and Charity.
The virtue of Hope is when we desire eternal life in the kingdom of heaven and place all our trust in Christ’ promises. We cannot rely on our own strength to achieve hope eternal and that is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us. Through the graces given to us by the Holy Spirit, we aspire to happiness through the virtue of Hope and can have faith in Jesus’ preaching, promises and love for us. We nourish our hope through a relationship with Our Lord through prayer, charity and doing his will.
Charity 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) The Apostle Paul often spoke of the virtue of Charity and said, “Out of the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, the greatest of these is Charity.” ( 1 Cor 13:13) “Charity binds everything all together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:14) Charity helps us to love one another as God loves us. It is the command that Jesus gave to us when He implored us to love our enemies rather than just those who love us in return. “We experience a purifying of our human ability to love and raise it to the supernatural perfection of Divine love” (CCC 1827) when we reach this goal of Christian life.
We are so lucky that our Catholic Faith teaches us these concepts of virtue and how they should be woven into our daily thoughts, feelings and actions. I feel that those outside our faith aren’t told about the necessity of infusing the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity/Love together into their lives. For those who are taught that all they need for salvation is Faith alone, they aren’t able to rely on the Spiritual freedom we receive from God when we practice these virtues so, they often use the Calvinist theory of being hidden (from the wrath of God) by the blood of Christ in order to be “saved.”
“If we turn away from evil out of the fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we measure the enticement of wages, we resemble mercenaries. Finally, if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands it, we are in the position of children.” (St. Basil) “If children, then heirs, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:14, 17) Thus, there is no need to be hidden in the sight of God. God is love itself. St. Augustine once said, “We enjoy the “fruits” of Charity which are joy, peace and mercy. Love is itself fulfilled in all our works. There is the goal; that is why we (Catholics) run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.”
Saints really get it. Often, they have gone through both physical and spiritual trials and without the Holy Spirit to strengthen them, they might not have made sainthood. We are given the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” to help us complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. Those “gifts” are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. “When we receive these gifts, we can achieve perfections which the Holy Spirit from in us through ‘fruits.’ These ‘fruits’ are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.” (CCC 1832)
As we practice the virtues of a moral life, we may begin to notice the “gifts and fruits” of the Holy Spirit and grow in holiness. For some of us, it may take longer than others; however, if we persevere, we shall surely be rewarded when we stand before our Loving Father and hear the words we long to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matt 25:23)