By Father John P. Cush, STD
As we continue to read from the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, we hear him proclaim, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Now, is this true in our daily lives? Sure, spiritually, we all know that prayer helps! When we turn to the Lord in our need, he listens; perhaps not right away, perhaps not in the way we expect, but always in the way we need.
And we know that when we go out of ourselves to help others when we recognize that life is not all about ourselves, in losing ourselves, we truly find ourselves and, ultimately, Christ. But how does Christ strengthen us to accomplish all with, through, and in him?
Perhaps we might want to turn to the concept of the virtues. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1803, a virtue is “a 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.”
Virtues remind us of the ultimate final goal of our life, what is called in philosophy our ‘telos,’ our end — to become like God! Put everything else aside — all of our temporary desires and preoccupation, for what is important is our destiny. We have forgotten in so many ways the four eschatological aspects that we need to have at the forefront of our mind: death, judgment, Heaven, and hell. When we lose our eschatological edge, we become fuzzy Christians who don’t remember what our purpose is in this life.
The theological virtues all have God as the “origin, motive, and object” (CCC #1812) and they are the very bedrock of the Christian moral life. They are called theological virtues because they all come from God (in Greek, ‘theos’) and connect us back to God. In the Catechism, we read: “They [the theological virtues] are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being.” (CCC # 1813.) These theological virtues are faith (we believe in God and all He reveals for He is truth itself and all that the Church proposes for our belief) [CCC # 1814]; hope (we seek first God’s kingdom, eternal life, and rely on trust in God’s mercy) [CCC # 1817]; and charity, also called love (we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves) [CCC 1822].
The human virtues, also called cardinal virtues, (coming from the Latin word “cardo” meaning “hinge”) is what we hang our daily life as Christians around. They are the good habits of the mind, intellect, and heart through which we can practice the good. What are these cardinal virtues? Prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Every person is required to grow in these virtues to live a moral life.
With this in mind, how have we grown in the virtues this year so far?
Have we grown in the virtue of faith, opening our hearts and minds to the Truth who is God, and what is expressed magisterially by his spotless Bride, the Church? Have we made progress in the virtue of hope, relying not on ourselves and in our own merits, but the grace of God? Have we developed in the virtue of charity, needed above all in this unpleasant age of ‘ad hominem’ attacks in all areas of social media? Have we grown in the virtue of prudence, that St. Thomas Aquinas describes as “right reason in action”? How about our growth in the virtue of justice? And fortitude? That cardinal virtue that helps us persevere in our pursuit of the good. Finally, what about that moral virtue of temperance, that allows us to control our inordinate attraction to pleasures and to find moderation and balance?
Yes, we, like Paul, can do all things in him who strengthens us! And the way the Lord strengthens us is through the virtues — praise God for his gifts to us.
Readings for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5,6
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14 or 22:1-10
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College, Rome.