One thing that is sorely lacking today is a proper understanding and appreciation of virtue. 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 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 — to become like God! Put everything else aside — all of our temporary desires and preoccupation, and what is most important, in the end, is our final destiny. Yes, we have forgotten the four last things in so many ways, those four final eschatological aspects that we as Christian people need to recall and have at the forefront of our mind — death, judgment, Heaven, and hell. As the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965) reminds us, we need to be grasped by our “area of ultimate concern.” If that is not God and the things of God, then we have a big problem. Developing our virtues, both natural and supernatural, can be a great aid in rediscovering our one, true area of ultimate concern.
The human virtues, also called cardinal virtues, are what we hang our basic daily life as Christians around. 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.
So, midway through this annus horribilis, 2020 — the year of COVID-19 and protests, when the harsh reality of racism and intolerance has been in full view but also lawlessness and looting for the sake of looting — how are you doing in growing in these cardinal, these moral, these human virtues? This is a question that only an individual can answer for himself or herself.
Have we grown in the virtue of prudence this year, that virtue that St. Thomas Aquinas describes as “right reason in action”? Have we acted at all times with prudence?
How about our growth in the virtue of justice this year? This virtue, according to the Catechism, is the “constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.” It is also called the virtue of religion because this virtue demands our giving to God the worship that he is due.
What about fortitude, that cardinal virtue that helps us persevere in our pursuit of the good. Even when we are faced with discouragement and setbacks, have we shown real and true fortitude?
Finally, what about that moral virtue of temperance, that great human virtue that allows us to control our inordinate attraction to pleasures and helps us to moderate and balance our use of the goods we have or are given, even when we were in lockdown?
Yes, all too often, the cardinal virtues are forgotten and, with this absence, we can forget our area of ultimate concern. We are seven months into 2020. Let’s be sure to grow in the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance so we can reach our ultimate destination — life in the Lord.