What is a good goal for Advent? Here’s one: Aim to become the holy or whole person you ought to be in Christ. Aim to be a virtuous person. “Virtuousness” is not what the world is striving for! Rather- “vicefulness” might more be like it! A Dictionary definition of viceful says it is holding a practice or habit that is considered to be dark, evil, degrading, or immoral: 2. Or, it’s a state of depravity, or to be fallen into depraved conduct.
Conclusion: When we don’t strive to be virtuous, we do deprive ourselves of much. So, let’s define virtue and the long for it, as we go through Advent, to see what we can gain.
Is it a tall order for Advent? Sure it is! But think of the tall orders you once listed for Santa, as nearly impossible gifts, but here’s one you actually can get, if you’ll be humble enough to receive it. First, just simply ask God for the way to be virtue-led in this your Advent and Christmas season upcoming.
As a parish, we are using the 4 Cardinal Virtues to examine on how to be better persons, or even to be, virtuous persons for our Advent and Christmas plans ahead. Do you know the 4 Cardinal Virtues? They are Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice. Do you know their deeper meanings and calls? Have you heard of how the great St. Thomas Aquinas lauded these four as the path for high, moral living? We seek this quartet of high virtues because it imitates Christ Jesus, Who exemplified them in being fully and truly human. We shall cover the Four Cardinal Virtues, one weekend for each of them, as we go through a positive Advent theme here.
The virtues call out to us every day. Take, for instance, today’s Gospel reading as it urges you to “stand up…and not to become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness.” That’s a Cardinal Virtue call to temperance. The Epistle today says to “increase in love… and to strengthen our hearts.” That’s a Cardinal Virtue call to fortitude. The Old Testament reading today says that, in God’s plan for us, God did “raise up a just shoot” (for us to be grafted into) and He (meaning, the Christ, the Anointed One) is said to lead an example of how to “do what is right and just in the land.” There’s your call to justice, another one of the Cardinal Virtues. Today, though, we’ll start with the gateway Cardinal Virtue of Prudence.
The Scriptures today again call us to raise our game because we belong to Christ: We can be prudent people. Hear St. Paul and others leaders speaking to the community of Thessalonian Christian Greeks, saying: “we exhort you in the Lord Jesus…conduct yourselves to please God, and then do so even more, after that…” It means, you believers are encouraged to go much deeper in faith now, because you are “in the Lord Jesus” (and He is in you). that is, let Christ and His word inspire in you an exemplary conduct, because you have the Spirit of Christ.”
An exemplary conduct is the virtue of prudence.
Jesus Christ is a model of prudence. He comes and gives us that high virtue to the Christian to develop, too.
How does St. Josemaria Escriba see it in Our Lord? He says that prudence plays a fundamental role in the perfect life of Jesus, as He lets Himself be illumined by faith and informed by charity, and then takes that and orientates His person to seek and carry out what is good in a concrete way. Prudence is the exercise in action of infused and informed faith and love; in Jesus, and now for us to live. It is the exercise of an inner dignity that wants to put it forth in daily choices and actions. Prudence makes us want to act out in the good as much as possible. Think of how much good Jesus did in a day. Take any day we read about Jesus from the Gospels. He let truth be in His heart and He constantly let truths come out from within Him to touch and influence the world. He said to Pilate once: “I have come to testify to the truth.” In other words: I am a prudent man, virtue moves through Me, and the world is graced by it.
Pilate was perplexed by all of this talk and example of Jesus. He put it all away from him. The world will be perplexed by our striving for a high moral living in virtue, too, and in the darkness of their souls, they will be convicted even to share space near a person of Light in Christ. Why? Because they testify to the truth, and people caught up in sin prefer the darkness to the Light.
As we imitate Jesus, virtue needs to move through us. Prudence is letting God’s influence be a rule and measure for our actions. St. Josemaria Escriba emphasized in his book “Open to God and Men” of how indispensable prudence is: as he says that ‘we responsibly use God’s light to help us to judge correctly about life, in so we may get stronger in our good choosing, or of our loving correcting, or of our encouraging of others. Prudence just wants to exercise a life in the Light. Prudence wants to live as enthused by goodness.
God is goodness. Jesus is good. He wants us in this gift.
As the Catholic Catechism guides us: Prudence is that reasoned discernment with the informed mind, of when a growing person will see circumstances and then try to apply or act in a way as to be in the Kingdom of God new life, acting upon with what they know.
Prudence starts as a virtue within. “The Kingdom of God is within you,” said Jesus. He said, too, that “viles things proceed from within a person and come out in badness.” Then, by Prudence’s path, the Kingdom is our matter of daily living and probing for the way to God. Can we pray for more of this in our own selves? When a scholar came to Our Lord, in his seeking to figure how this lay rabbi Jesus could set such superb groundwork of one’s loving God and loving neighbor as taught as on the same path. Jesus remarked to him: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” He said it because the scholar was clearly trying to use some prudence there. Jesus liked that. We should want to surprise Jesus ourselves with prudence.
Prudence is a virtuous view of life, with a process going within you of seeking new and daily ways to find the right means to show honor to God, all by manner of your choices in life.
St. Thomas calls prudence the “charioteer of all the virtues” (the auriga virtutum) because it’s the main guide for our choices. Think of all the choices Jesus made for good. Think now of all the choices for good He wants to inspire in you to do, and keep doing, even as better doing (until your life ends at the Second Coming or in your own death). The virtuous person will have a wondrous finish and re-start to their lives in the transcendence to Heaven. How so? The prudent purpose runs to be in the arms of the Lord, for they have learned how to live in a transcendent manner regularly and they have learned sometimes to even instantaneously respond to a virtuous and good choice. They are ready to leap into the Lord’s arms, and that is one of the joys of the virtuous path, as it has the benefit of a great feeling or inner joy and also of an inner knowing, when so as to choose the good over the viceful in this world. The prudent person, then, has a conquering spirit to their life. They are learning already how to be an overcomer—by goodness exuded via them.
Some of you may not feel as to be a very good person. I am saying that God is already the goodness in you, and you need to let the Good God in you to permeate your life. Virtue is a choice, and God is the Ultimate Good you choose.
Can children, with their short attention spans and developing character traits, sit still long enough to practice prudence? Yes they can, says St. Gertrude School in Cincinnati. Their principle says they have a new virtues program with their sixth-grade students and families. Dominican Sr. Bernadette says: ‘Our children learn that prudence is so essential, it affects every decision we make, and it is so rewarding to see the young students grasping the concept of prudence and understanding the difference between it and of basic common sense.’ She says that prudence led the class’ list of virtues of what the youth wanted. They wanted goodness to lead them in their choices, especially while seeing so many peers in America get duped by sinful inclinations rather than the highest actions and inspirations by God. The pre-teens were looking for a model in a saint who valued prudence.
St. Joseph is a great model. I would have led them to him. Instead, how about I finish my homily on prudence by touting his example to you? Joseph is the man of discernment in the Christmas story. He discerns that Mary and he have to go to do the census, and in finally getting to Bethlehem, then he has to discern the overcrowded situation of his little ancestral town and where he can find shelter for Mary, as she is far along with child. After this birth, and in taking many lessons in the Magi’s visit, and angelic messages, Joseph choose the good of fleeing to Egypt with the Holy Family, and to only return to Israel when the conditions are safe. St. Joseph was a good chooser, and good guardian, therein. His virtue of prudence is rooted in his faithfulness to God and to his wife. Together, they put deep trust in God’s providence which empowers Joseph to take risks and to make the right choices, knowing that God happens to be ultimately in charge anyway. The Christmas story is wonderful is a way just simply because it is full of extraordinary acts by ordinary people. Virtue can be had by anyone who lets it come to them, by self-denial and acceptance of the Kingdom of God experience to a greater degree.
Next week we will look at Temperance in our study of virtue, as by the great four Cardinal Virtues. ###