Skip to main content

Virtue: the habit of doing good

Yesterday was an extraordinarily trying and frustrating day. I worked very hard to prepare and be ready for it to run smoothly. Yet, no matter where I turned, there was a glitch in the system. I had all paperwork filled out and neatly organized for my son's camp physical. Yet when I went to pick him up from school I found that he had forgotten to carry his military ID so we had to return home and retrieve it. This resulted in an alternate route to the military base. Since we were short on time I decided to detour around the major construction projects. I trusted my GPS. This meant we followed a route that went straight through the middle of Washington D.C. and up Wisconsin Avenue to Bethesda. The GPS claimed we would be there in twenty-five minutes. I realized this route would take us an hour. I tried to call the clinic to alert them to my traffic woes. All phone calls were being routed to Walter Reed because of training. The recording said Bethesda would resume receiving calls at 13:30. It was 14:30 and there was still no way to reach a live person. I left a recording and pressed on. Fortunately, a doctor was still available to see my son. Unfortunately, this meant we left Bethesda and headed for home in the midst of rush hour. I was supposed to give a presentation on Catholic Social Teaching to the RCIA class. This was part of the post-Easter mystagogy to help those who just entered the Church continue their growth in understanding of Catholicism. I knew I would never make it home and back to church on time. I drove straight to the church and had my daughter bring my laptop and the cables I needed to connect to the parish AV system. As I am connecting, I realized I have no HDMI input on my cables. Another phone call to my daughter and she once again rescued me with the needed technical assistance. Then I waited for the class to arrive. And I waited. And I waited. The only people who showed up were the two lovely ladies who bring food for the class each week and one of the RCIA sponsors who thought his confirmand was going to be in attendance. I guess not wanting all my preparation to go to waste, they asked me to give the presentation anyway. Patience is a virtue and I must admit that by the time I arrived at home I was not feeling very virtuous. Is that bad?

When I was studying for certification in Catholic health care ethics, I attended a conference that addressed the issue of selling human organs. The ethicist explained that one of the reasons to object to this practice is that it removes an opportunity for virtue. He further asserted that even an atheist could accept this argument. Now there are many reasons to reject the concept of selling human organs. It exploits the poor and vulnerable. It demeans the human person by reducing the body to a collection of commodities. And I certainly agree that selling body parts does rob one of the opportunity to practice the virtue of generosity. However, I am not convinced that virtue in and of itself is universally seen as a desirable attribute. I listen to many pragmatists that argue results are what matter. If the supply of organs for transplant increases, why should we worry if the reason for the increase is the enhancement of wealth for the donor?

Fr. Araujo at Mirror of Justice
offers an eloquent discussion of virtue and its role in citizenship.

So what is it that is so important about the virtuous citizen? He or she treasures the freedom about which the President spoke, but this person also recognizes that the rights and claims that attend this freedom must surely be accompanied by a healthy understanding of responsibilities and obligations to all others who have the right to make and perfect the same claims.

The virtuous citizen, I suggest, would be cognizant of this. The virtuous citizen would know that what has made the rule of law established by the “alliance of shared values” so admired in many places throughout the world is the recognition of what is authentically just—to each person his or her due, and the further recollection of what is justice—right relationship between and among all members of the human family. The virtues of humility, prudence, courage, hope, fidelity, wisdom, and others make this recognition and recollection essential elements of human existence and the actions which ensue from this existence.

The President did speak of the importance of human dignity to the shared values and ideals. But this dignity must be founded not on what powerful and influential pressure groups say it is but rather on what right reason establishes it to be. Sometimes this conclusion is contrary to what the culture insists. Illustrations of this point are found in human history associated with these shared ideals. But, the examples of Thomas More and John Fisher quickly come to mind. As Jacques Maritain defined it in 1943, human dignity is that which is due the person simply because he or she is human. With this point about dignity in evidence, the virtuous citizen would acknowledge that the core of the shared values of which the President spoke must necessarily incorporate the non-derogable right to life and continued existence by every member of the human family if human dignity is to have substantive meaning; moreover, these values must come to the aid and protection of the fundamental unit of every human society, viz. the nuclear family.

Without recognition of these points, the shared values of which the President frequently mentioned can be negatively influenced by human whim and caprice as I have already stated. The circumstance where these values are compromised by human fancy would be the very sort of thing of which Blessed John Paul II taught can make a democracy a thinly disguised totalitarianism. The President appeared to acknowledge something about the beliefs of the virtuous citizen when he said, “It has been the values that we must never waver in defending around the world – the idea that all beings are endowed by our Creator with certain rights that cannot be denied.” The virtuous citizen knows from where his or her being originated and that he or she is not the only one who was so created.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines human virtue:

Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.
The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love. (CCC 1804)

Because they are habits, virtues must be practiced and strengthened by repeated use. They are difficult because of our fallen human nature. However, with God's grace, they are attainable.

It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ's gift of salvation offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.(CCC 1811)

Perhaps today it would be good to reflect on the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Perhaps I will also think about patience. It is far more important to say my walk through life was a virtuous journey than to say it was a materially successful venture. And truthfully, no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to guarantee a glitch-free day. So a little patience needs to be packed in my purse right next to my organizer.


Popular posts from this blog

Parent Letter from a Catechist

I am going to be teaching seventh grade CCD this year. We do most of the preparation for confirmation during this year since Confirmation is usually scheduled for the fall of the eighth grade year.I have composed a letter to the parents to try and keep them active in their children's religious education. I thought I would post it here and get your feedback before I send it out in a couple of weeks.

I am privileged to be your child’s seventh grade CCD teacher for the 2006-2007 school year. This is a very important year. We will focus on your child’s preparation for confirmation. Of course, you have already been preparing your child for this sacrament for many years. You are the primary catechist for your child. You show how important your Faith is by making Mass attendance a top priority and by family prayer.

Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of Initiation. It is a beginning. It is not a graduation. This year we will work to solidify the foundation of your child’s Catholic Faith.…

Dispelling the Myth of the Travel Dispensation

One of the fun things about having a site meter on my blog is I can see which posts garner the most attention. I can also see how people find my blog. One of the most read posts from my two years of blogging is this one that discusses finding Mass while traveling. I would like to think this post is so popular because it is so well written. The truth of the matter is that it generates so much traffic because I use the words “travel dispensation for Mass”—as in “There is no such thing as a travel dispensation for Mass.” I would guess that nearly a dozen times every week, someone googles “travel dispensation for Mass” and finds my blog. I wonder how many of these folks are poor souls trying to assuage their Catholic guilt with evidence of a justification for missing Mass while on the road.

I know that when I tell my seventh grade CCD students that attending Mass every Sunday is a commandment (one of the top ten!) and not just a pretty good idea they are amazed. Missing Mass has become so …

United Breaks Guitars

This guy is really talented and what a creative way to get your message across. I think he captured the "indifferent employee" perfectly. They don't just work for airlines. I think I ran into them at Walmart on Friday!