A Primer on the Virtues In Our Troubled World

Father John Cush, a Brooklyn priest who serves in Rome as the Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College, was asked what the most important thing that people needed to know theologically.

Without a pause, he stated it was the theological virtues.

What are the virtues? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1803, a virtue is “an 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 virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.”

The theological virtues all have God as the “origin, motive, and object” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1812) and they are the very bedrock of the Christian moral life. They are called theological virtues simply because they all come from God (in Greek, theos) and connect us back to God.

The human virtues — also called cardinal virtues (coming from the Latin word “cardo” meaning “hinge”) — are what we hang our basic daily life as Christians on. They are the good habits of the mind, intellect, and heart through which we grow and are, ultimately, able to practice the good.

What are these cardinal virtues? Prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Every human being has these human virtues and every person is required to grow in these virtues so as to live a moral life.

Father Cush said the virtue which was most important today was the virtue of hope.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1817 tells us: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.’ ‘The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.’ ”

Have we made progress in the virtue of hope, recognizing in all things that God is God, we are not, and thank God for that, relying not on ourselves and our own merits, but in the grace of God? Have we recognized that God is in charge, not us? Do we see that all of history is a moment of grace, that free and undeserved gift of God, and that God is the victor?

Yes, there are problems and difficulties in our world. We would be fools if we did not recognize them. We would be liars if we did not acknowledge them. And yet, the light of Christ has conquered.

Things will be better. Things will get better temporally, please God; with vaccines, with a growing understanding of the Coronavirus, we can begin to return to a more normalized, if not newer, style of life. The world is fallen, but it is redeemed. Jesus Christ is the King and Victor of all of history — the past, the present, and the future.

Hope is that virtue that teaches us this, and hope is the theological virtue we need the most.