Virtues for Lent
The Virtue of Temperance Every human being in virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God is endowed with an inalienable dignity and sublime destiny. God intended that we first experience and internalize this dignity within the context of the family and from there we assume the responsibilities we have towards our equally dignified fellow man. We call the man, family and society that consistently strives to act in this manner just, and unjust when responsibility is neglected or abdicated. Justice is the social and communal virtue- it’s other-oriented.
Fortitude and Temperance on the other hand, are the virtues that govern the personal emotional life of individual human beings. It involves the moral responsibility to govern ourselves. It’s ‘I’ centered, not in a selfish way, but rather in a selfless way.
We rarely, if never, hear the word temperance in our culture today. For a few, the word may be relegated to a distant past and conjure images of the prohibition era when the sale of alcohol was illegal. For some time now, the pendulum has swung to the opposite side and we’re bombarded with images and sounds not simply tolerating, but celebrating irresponsible impulsive pleasure.
Temperance- as the final cardinal virtue- aims to redress these excesses and to perfect (properly order) the appetites or desires for the bodily goods of taste and touch (food, drink and sex). The Creator formed man with a specific purpose in mind (heaven) and the goods of the earth were created as a means towards that end. As we know from daily experience, food, drink and sex are the most powerful desires because they are absolutely and essentially vital to the our individual and social preservation. Because they are so essential, they are the hardest to master.
Although man is similar to animals, he was not created primarily to satisfy his bodily desires like animals. With a spiritual nature, man is destined to be born into a family and create culture. The best moments in a family’s day revolves around the dinner table and one of the great manifestations of man’s creative spiritual quality is his culinary genius displayed in every culture throughout the world.
In matters of taste: Sobriety is the virtue that tempers man’s relationship to intoxicating drink. Abstinence is the virtue which orders man’s relationship to food. The goal is to cultivate self-control and curb the desire away from excess which leads to drunkenness and gluttony. What constitutes overindulgence in these areas is not the same for every person and depends on a few factors: We keep in mind that the standard and end of food and drink is our bodily health and nutrition. Second, each person is physically constituted differently, so what would be a gluttonous meal for one person would be moderate for another.
In matters of touch: Chastity and purity are the virtues which properly order man’s sexual desires. This desire was inscribed in man and woman primarily for the continuation of the human family, and all moral matters in the arena of human sexuality must be ordered in light of and also judged by the noble purposes of God’s plan for marriage and family. Virginity is the virtue in which a man or women make a vow to God, not to deny the good of sexuality, but to forgo the physical goods of marriage for the sake of higher spiritual goods.
God created man to be happy and the bodily enjoyments which stem from taste and touch were created by God as good and an essential part in for man’s happiness. The wedding feast – where food and drink are ordered to the celebration of the union of man and woman, is one of the happiest moments in the lives of families. Interestingly, Christ even compares the joys of heaven to a wedding banquet. But to get there, we need to cultivate the virtues and take to heart St. Paul’s words, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Scott Johnson- Director of Evangelization
Recommended: Catechism of Catholic Church 1803-18011 Looking for more books?
-The Virtue of Fortitude
The world is a dangerous place. Scripture tells us ‘Behold, I send you out as sheep amongst wolves.’ (Mt.10:16) ‘In the world you will have tribulation’ (Jn 16:33) ‘It is through many trials that we enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) “The life of man upon earth is warfare.” (Job 7:1) Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Pt5:8). However, the Creator so designed women and men that our powers for living are equipped to face the inevitable struggles and battles imbedded in life.
What’s needed to face the difficulties, setbacks, sorrows and hardships along the narrow way is the cardinal virtue we call fortitude. It comes from the Latin word ‘fortis’, which means strength. In modern parlance we call it guts, valor, hard work, bravery, courage, toughness, grit, or will-power. It’s the virtue that empowers us to prudently attack an obstacle/evil or to prudently endure an obstacle/ evil when these obstacles stand in the way of some good. To attack or endure is the question. The obstacle can be anything from an unpleasant feeling to any anxiety provoking situation all the way to the fearsome reality of death. We need fortitude in everyday life- to persevere in work rather than quit, to exercise when we’d rather binge watch Netflix, to pray though we don’t feel like it, and to give public witness to our Catholic faith when it’s unpopular.
The endurance of the Christian martyrs who shed their blood for Christ is the sublime height of the virtue of fortitude. I can think of the beautiful, but shy girl, who wishes to make friends but is anxious and afraid of the risk. Or the unconfident young man, who wants to court a girl, but flees the opportunity to ask her out when she’s in his company. The anxiety and fear of rejection, an obstacle judged as an “evil”, overwhelms the both of them from daring to squarely confront their fear and endure the possible suffering in the pursuit of the good of friendship and courtship. They cannot help being afraid, and understandably so. What’s needed to act is not necessarily feeling less afraid, but becoming more brave and to be brave is not the same as to have no fear.
The virtue of fortitude presupposes the virtue of prudence which entails a deliberation and judgment of reason and this must first occur in the mind. We could help foster in the person a greater love of the good they desire to attain, acknowledge some hope of success, to convey they are stronger than they think and have what it takes to face the problem despite the dreadfully anxious feeling or anticipated results. These judgments can encourage a person to act – to patiently accept the anxious feelings, to risk the possible rejection and endure it if it occurs. There is something in the person that contends to these kinds of challenges and causes one to be stronger and flourish as a consequence. We don’t always become less afraid – we become stronger and braver.
To unnecessarily expose yourself to dangerous situations without the guidance of prudence and justice is rash and reckless. Conversely, to flee from fearsome and dangerous situations when you ought to either endure or attack the evil is cowardly. Both extremes are to be steadily corrected, as we strive to cultivate the virtue of fortitude. Think of Christ driving out the money changers in the temple with a whip (John 2:13) or St. Paul stating “Be angry but sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). It’s prudence and justice that tells us when, where and to what degree we should practice fortitude.
As mentioned before every cardinal virtue includes “integral parts” – parts which are necessary for the full expression of the virtue- much like a house must have walls, a roof, and a foundation to properly be called a house. The integral parts of the house of fortitude are magnanimity, magnificence, patience and perseverance.
Magnanimity, or ‘greatsouled’, is a virtue by which we seek great and honorable things for their own sake. The great-souled person is driven to endure great hardships for the sake of noble goods. They’re generous to a fault. It’s not to be confused with ambition or vainglory.
Magnificence is about making great things with your time, talent and treasure. It surmounts the fear of threat to our bank account, overcomes any excessive attachment to money, expresses our gratitude for God’s blessings, and further conveys a trust He will continue to provide for us. Think of the time, effort and expenditure it took in order to create the great and magnificent medieval cathedrals. It’s not to be confused with wastefulness – spending enormous expenditures on projects that that aren’t honorable.
Patience is our ability to endure suffering without becoming inordinately sorrowful or defeated. The virtue enables you to preserve a serenity of mind and even a cheerfulness of heart to sustain you from being struck down by sadness or grief. Think of Our Lady of Sorrows under the foot of the cross.
Perseverance enables one to endure to the end and moderates our feelings of fatigue, weariness and enables one to begin again after every failure. Christ emphasizes the absolute necessity of this virtue: “But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.” Mt. 24:13 and “By your perseverance you will save your souls.” Lk 21:19
In our day to day lives there are countless opportunities to practice fortitude. We begin with the little things – bearing the little hardships patiently, facing the manageable fears, enduring the nitty gritty grind of daily life, giving a little more of our time, talent, and treasure ‘until it hurts’ as St. Teresa of Calcutta remarked. And with each act we steadily build up the virtue, and God willing, by being faithful in the little things, we’ll be faithful in great things!
“Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with you; he will never fail you or forsake you.” Dt 31:6 ~
Scott Johnson, Director of Evangelization
The Virtue of Justice (Column #3 in Building Virtues for Lent)
Last week we addressed prudence, the first of the four cardinal virtues. The word cardinal means ‘hinge’ like a movable joint on which a door swings. The door depends on the hinge to move appropriately and easily. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, there are at least 64 virtues which are ‘hinged’ upon prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. This week we will give a very brief aspect of the virtue of justice. There is simply no possible way I can justly treat of justice here. I really encourage you to take some time and look at the recommended reading this week. If you don’t have your own catechism, you can access one for free online.
Justice is the virtue that inclines one to ‘render to man what is his rightful due.’ It’s the virtue that properly disposes us to act virtuously in our dealings with our fellow human beings. It’s the religious, familial, social, and political virtue. Whereas the last two remaining cardinal virtues of temperance and fortitude relate to perfecting our own personal individual disordered desires and emotions (me-centered), the virtue of justice aims to perfect our moral obligations which we rightfully owe to each individual (other-centered).
The Creator designed men and women in His own image and likeness. A “Trinitarian stamp” of His Trinitarian communal life is reflected in our very body and souls, and because man is made in this Trinitarian image he is a social creature and possesses inalienable rights. We call this the dignity of the human person. In light of this dignity, certain rights or claims are inalienably due to every man, woman and child from conception to natural death. Consequently, it imposes upon all of us the moral obligation and absolute duty to give each other this due- no more or less. The dignity of the human person is one of the greatest ideas of Western Civilization.
This is a very challenging concept in our post-modern individualistic world. The idea that we have certain duties, responsibilities, obligations, and debts which we are morally bound to render to each other appears to be no longer clear or even known by your average person. If we happen to hear ideas discussed in the news or in the gym or at work about ‘rights’, we might ask what makes it a ‘right’? G. K. Chesterton once said, “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” He alludes to the idea that there is a distinction between a legal right (which are not always morally binding) and moral rights (which are always binding). Prudence will help us here. Not only that, we find the idea of justice challenging because quite frankly- it’s hard. It’s hard because of the restraints it imposes on our own self-interest.
Below is a list of virtues that hinge upon the virtue of justice for you to consider this week. What can I do to gain a better understanding of them (reading, studying, asking your pastor) and apply them to my life?
Religion: It is our debt of honor, worship and gratitude for all that God has given us. It is not primarily concerned with the personal benefits it affords me.
Piety: Giving our parents, family members, teachers, and authorities of the Church and government their rightful due and respect.
Patriotism: Rendering to our country the respect and honor that is due to it. Restitution: The habit by which a person pays back what they owe.
Obedience: To obey all legitimate authority, whether one’s boss, our pastor, parents, teachers, and police.
Diligence: Fulfilling one’s duty (work/school) according to your ‘state in life’ (married, single, celibate).
Gratitude: Giving appropriate thanks for benefits received from a benefactor with our words and deeds.
Truthfulness: The habit of telling the truth. We are not always obligated to speak the truth, but we are always obliged not to lie.
Affability: A friendly sociability: polite, hospitable, kind, gracious demeanor, courteous, thoughtful of others.
Scott Johnson Director of Evangelization
Feel free to email me with any questions comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recommended: Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph # 2401-2503)
The Virtue of Prudence (Column #2 in Building Virtues in Lent)
How do I tell the truth and yet keep confidences? When annoyed or insulted by family or friend how do I temper angry feelings and also reasonably express them? When confronted on my morning commute by the hand gestures of an angry driver should I respond in kind or ignore it? What do you do? What guides your thinking in these situations? Your feelings? Your wounded ego? Or principles like the virtues of justice, temperance and fortitude?
The virtue of prudence is the first of the four cardinal virtues. The word cardinal means ‘hinge’, something upon which other things depend, like a door hinge. All the other virtues depend on the cardinal virtues. The virtue of prudence is the most important because it perfects our intellectual habits of deliberating moral matters in order to then judge a course of action. How do we apply moral principles and especially how do we apply Gospel teachings into the unique particular circumstances of our daily life? Prudence.
Due to original sin our intellects have suffered a wound of ignorance. Our intellect and our powers of judging accurately- what is the morally good thing to do- is severely weakened and we are prone to error, prejudices, and misjudgments. We don’t see the world, people and events as they are. We experience this all the time.
However, our intellects still retain a fundamental ability to know the truth and orient our actions in accordance with that truth. Doing so we will flourish as a human being, grow in holiness, contribute to the happiness of others and make our lives a bit less difficult.
Prudence is regarded as the first and most important virtue because it guides and illumines the rest of the virtues. It’s called the ‘charioteer of all virtues’. Like practicing temperance when we’re angry- do I keep quiet or speak my mind? How do I justly treat the homeless man or woman I encounter at a stop light- do I give money, do nothing, or give them a gift card? How do I bravely stick up for the kid who gets bullied at school- tell someone or get involved and stand up for them? How do I justly discipline this child for disobedience- the velvet glove or iron fist? Depending on the circumstances in each of these scenarios my prudential judgment can and will change. Prudence guides one to know how to act, given a set of circumstances guided by universal principles, and then acts.
A principle is a universal norm of action. For example: do good, avoid evil. Everyone knows they should abide by this. It’s clear. But life in its concrete reality is manifold and complex- never exactly the same from one person’s circumstances to another. How do I do good and avoid evil today, in this place, with this person, at this time? Our unique circumstances- time and place- require a habit of reasoning and judging and acting in order to apply the universal principle to these particular and unique contexts situations. Prudence!
St. Thomas Aquinas explains that every virtue is composed of integral parts- parts that must be present in order for it to be a perfect act of virtue- much like every house to be called a house must have a foundation, walls and a roof. Prudence has eight integral parts. Memory- to learn from my experience what is to be done or avoided in this instance. Understanding- is this action lawful or unlawful, morally good or evil, fitting or unfitting. Docility- willingness to seek the advice and counsel of those who have experience if I’m lacking experience. Shrewdness- ability to act immediately when the time and circumstances are urgent. Reason- thinking logically and reflectively. Foresight- projecting into the future the long term effects of an action, not just the short term results. Caution- potential dangers, obstacles, or personal weakness in a given action. Circumspection- circumstances of time, place, and person. It’s wise to consider what parts I could work.
As Catholics we are not simply called to practice the natural virtue of prudence. All women and men are called to be virtuous. Simply being a good person is not our calling nor how we will be judged by Christ. Due to our baptism we also have been given a supernatural destiny. Our calling is holiness. Our life is to be modeled after the life and death of Christ and the teachings of the Church. It’s a much higher vocation and demands a conversion in our thinking and acting. St. Paul says, “Put on the mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5). In other words: What would Jesus do? What lives of the saints am I modeling my thought and behavior after? Lastly, it’s prudent to evaluate all of our actions in terms of our destiny: what does this profit me toward eternal life?
– Scott Johnson, Director of Evangelization
– Catechism of the Catholic Church #1776-1811
‘How to Think Like Aquinas: The sure way to perfect your mental powers’ by Kevin Vost ‘
50 Questions on the Natural Law’ by Charles Rice.
Week 1 – Prudence
There’s a Latin phrase used in the Lenten Season: ‘sub specie aeternitatis’ which means ‘under the light of eternity’. This phrase reminds Christians of always keeping the long view as guide for our actions and circumstances in the present. How will my present situation look in the context of death and eternity? How will this cross, problem, sin, temptation, or present situation look at the moment when I stand before the Lord at my Judgment? Depending on our daily habits and due to the busyness of life, it’s quite common to lose this eternal perspective and the seriousness our life. We hear frequently in the gospels, Christ’s encouragement to his disciples to ‘stay awake’ and ‘keep watch’.
Lent is a season to remind ourselves of this perspective and our final end- union with God for all eternity- and on the means to that end- conformity to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This conformity to the life of Christ demands a conversion of life- a ‘repentance’ – a more intentional and sustained effort at focusing on the areas of our soul and personal lives ,where sin has become a habit. It demands fortitude. Just as any professional has spring training to get athletes back into shape by rooting out bad habits and cultivating good habits (exercise and diet), so too Lent is a season of spiritual training to work on the fundamentals of the spiritual life (prayer, fasting, almsgiving). Also, we need to work on our character by a closer look at the virtues (good habits) and we need to cultivate the vices (bad habits), which we need to root out.
Virtues are important because they are the aim of the moral life (the pillars of good character) and they lead to human flourishing (our happiness). They are also the call of Christ to us: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is Perfect”. For example, young people ask what kind of character is needed to have a happy marriage? What elements of a good character will lead to greater chance of happiness?
The cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude are the foundation. For example: Temperance (self-control) is necessary in order to stay faithful to one’s spouse. Fortitude (courage/guts) is needed in order to face the challenges, setbacks, losses together and to persevere. Justice orients a husband and wife towards caring for the other’s needs and those of their children. Prudence (good-decision making) is also needed in work, financial problems, and raising children to have good character themselves. The virtues are good habits (repeated choices) which perfect the powers of the soul (intellect/will) and bodily passions (emotions/feelings).
There are virtues which perfect your intellect’s ability to reason wisely – to make proper judgments in light of your final end. There are virtues which help you to be more self-controlled with the emotion of anger and tempering the excessive desire for food and drink. We need fortitude/courage to persevere in doing what’s good when it’s difficult and just (giving your neighbor their proper due).
There are also virtues that specifically apply to your relationship with God, hence the reason they are called theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity). In the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus one of the titles invoke says: “Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues.” In contemplating Christ’s Passion during this Lent, we see the greatest display and example of all the virtues which we should aspire after and pray to cultivate. Hence the need for more prayer and meditation to ask the Lord for the grace to imitate the virtues of his Sacred Heart.
It’s important to remember that virtues are cultivated by our repeated choices until they become second nature. It’s also wise to have someone or something to keep you accountable (coach, priest, friend) because ridding one of old habits and creating new ones is hard. Frequent sacramental confession can also be a great source of grace to conquer bad habits and sins.
During the next six weeks we are going to focus on the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues. We’ll give an explanation in the bulletin and a virtue card describing the nature of the virtue and then practical tips at how to grow in this virtue. We’ll also provide links, books or articles to help you further explore the topics if you want to learn more, which we encourage you to do.
May God bless your Lent,
Scott Johnson, Director of Evangelization