A lot of people think that they are virtuous in this world, and some probably are. Many think that being virtuous equates to being a nice person and never offending anyone. They think that there is but one virtue, tolerance. But is there more to it than that? What exactly are some of the virtues which we should be trying to attain? Let’s examine some specific ones, namely, the cardinal virtues, the theological virtues, and the capital virtues.
The Four Cardinal Virtues
These four virtues are called cardinal because they are primary virtues, as all of the other virtues are grouped around them. These virtues may be attained through human effort, with the help of God.
Prudence ‒This is the virtue that we use when we discern true good in all things, and ascertain the right way to accomplish that good. An example of prudence is to know how and when to speak up about an issue, and when to keep silent.
Justice ‒ This is the virtue that declares that we give to God everything that is His, and to our neighbor his due. We should always keep foremost in our thoughts that God is rightly owed our obedience, our love, praise, honor, and worship. Our neighbor is owed dignity, human rights, and everything for which he has worked and is rightly his.
Temperance ‒ This is the virtue that moderates our desires in created things. We use temperance when we only eat and drink what is necessary for nourishment, and give up what is solely desired for pleasure. Fasting is a great way to accomplish this virtue.
Fortitude ‒ This is the virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good. It is also known as courage. For example, it is very courageous to witness for Christ in the face of ridicule from secular humanists. We also exhibit fortitude when we keep on doing God’s will in the face of adversity, because we know that God is with us, and He will never let us down.
The Three Theological Virtues
The three theological virtues are straight out of the Bible, and can only be acquired as a free gift from God. To attain these virtues, it is necessary always to pray for them. God pours these virtues into our very being through sanctifying grace, which we all know is obtained through the seven sacraments. They are also called supernatural virtues. They are as follows:
Faith ‒ The theological virtue that is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” our firm belief in God and all that He has revealed to us through Holy Mother Church. Faith is an intellectual as well as a spiritual virtue, and if we are true to ourselves, we will always know that God is infallible. He will take care of us. He cannot be deceived, nor can he deceive us. We then know that He has revealed all truth in His Church, and we will not deviate one iota from the Church’s teaching on faith and salvation in our actions. Faith manifests itself in how we handle our day-to-day lives, how we treat others, and in our Catholic devotions. It is written on our hearts, and all of our actions are the result of our faith. One of the ways we know we have true faith is if we are very afraid of offending God in anything, and are very anxious to please Him in everything.
Hope ‒The theological virtue that allows us totally to trust in Jesus and to desire eternal bliss in heaven with him, forever. As Catholics, we hope in God’s good things that are currently unseen. Hope is a virtue of the will, and it helps us to keep going in the face of adversity, mockery, and dry times. We know how it will all come out in the end, and it always helps to ask ourselves this question, “Where will I be in a hundred years?” And when we answer with “HEAVEN!” everything else seems rather small and insignificant, especially when we meditate on the Passion and what Jesus went through.
Charity ‒ The theological virtue of love for God over all other things for His sake, and our love of neighbor as ourselves. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that love is the greatest of the three theological virtues, even greater than faith. Jesus left us two commandments ‒ To love God with everything we have, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do these two things, then charity toward everyone, even our enemies, becomes second nature to our wills. So if you haven’t told God that you love Him today, now is a great time to do so.
The Seven Capital Virtues
The seven capital virtues are the virtues which overcome the seven deadly sins of lust, greed, gluttony, envy, anger, pride, and sloth. Most other sins like murder, for instance, begin with one or two of the seven deadly sins. And once we let one of these sins take over our lives, the other six are only too happy to creep into our lives as well. By praying to obtain all seven of the capital virtues, we can put a stop to Satan and his plan to destroy our lives. These virtues can also be obtained through human effort, with the help of God. The seven capital virtues are:
Chastity ‒ Overcomes the sin of lust. Chastity is certainly a virtue everyone could use more of today, as we are all bombarded with sexual images from TV, movies, billboards, the Sunday paper ads, etc. Chastity not only moderates our desire for physical acts of sexual pleasure, but also helps us to overcome the thoughts which precede these impure actions. The Bible says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, but how many of us defile our temple through lust? God made our bodies to be holy, not Satan’s pleasure palace. When one prays for and receives the virtue of chastity (the daily rosary is a GREAT way to ask Mary for this gift!), the wandering eyes and the lusty talk all of a sudden start to ease up. Because Jesus was blinded by his sweat and his blood on the way to Calvary, just so, we should avoid being blinded to His love by looking at things that are impure.
Generosity ‒ Overcomes the sin of greed. This virtue can involve donating money, or giving up our free time and talents for the less fortunate, or even giving our possessions away. It is a great way to detach ourselves from the things of this world, which is exactly what Jesus told the rich young man who asked him what else he must do to gain eternal life, over and above keeping the Ten commandments. Generosity is NOT philanthropy out of our surplus wealth or government welfare programs. Generosity involves our own personal sacrifice, and it should cause a reliance on God’s providence for tomorrow’s sustenance. The widow in the bible gave her last two pennies in the synagogue, and Jesus said that she gave more than the rest, who, even though they gave a larger amount, gave out of their surplus wealth. She is a good model to follow in our generosity to the poor.
Temperance ‒ Overcomes the sin of gluttony. This is also one of the Cardinal Virtues. Temperance is the internal virtue that helps us to control our love of pleasurable things. Whereas the virtue of fortitude helps us to keep going in the midst of adversity, temperance, on the other hand, helps us to stop in the midst of enjoying pleasures. This is also a virtue for which we need to pray, as most people today “go for the gusto,” and never even think about moderation. For example, “all-you-can-eat” buffets are the bane of a lot of people today, and they cause a lot of people to fall into the sin of gluttony. Temperance would lead one not to enter that type of restaurant in the first place.
Brotherly Love‒ Overcomes the sin of envy. This virtue involves being genuinely happy at everyone’s success, even those who we don’t particularly like. We know we have this virtue, if we do not ever badmouth someone who has obtained something that we think we deserve. One should acknowledge that it is God’s will that a particular series of beneficial events occurred in another person’s life instead of in ours, and for a reason. God could be temporarily blessing that person now, on earth, while He may have plans to give us burdens now, on earth, so that we will later be blessed forever in heaven. It’s important to remember that death entered the world because of the envy of the devil.
Meekness ‒ Overcomes the sin of anger. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meekness is the virtue that controls resentment at others, and cultivates patience. Angry outbursts at the smallest thing are characteristics of someone who does not have the virtue of meekness. Angry words drive so many families apart, and is totally useless in the long run. When Jesus was confronted with an angry mob who tortured Him and killed Him, he not only didn’t open His mouth, He prayed for them instead, and that is our model for how we should approach difficult situations as well.
Humility ‒ Overcomes the sin of pride. Humility is the virtue that recognizes our 100% reliance on God for all that we have, or ever will have. Everything on earth is on loan from God, including our good looks, our money, our house, etc. Those who think that they got all of these things on their own are in for a big surprise upon death. The devil fools some of us into thinking that we got these things due to our hard work, or our talent, or whatever, when in fact, God gave them all to us. Pride is the devil’s great sin, and he wants us all to think that we are gods too, like he wishes he was. But by being humble, we beat him every time, because humility comes from the heart, and the devil does not have a heart. In Christianity, the bible says that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. God always humbles the proud and exalts the humble. If we always put Jesus first, others second, and ourselves third, then we know we have the virtue of humility.
Diligence ‒ Overcomes the sin of sloth. Diligence is the virtue that tells us to fulfill our duties in life, even if they get to be tiresome. These duties include doing things for our work, for our home, for our country, for our church, and for our families. Too many times people just want to escape when trials come to bear, like a sudden death, or when a hard-to-get-along-with spouse becomes unbearable, or when the boss demands too much. Prayer is the key here. Never forget that when you die, all of the sacrificial diligence that you showed in your lifetime toward your loved ones, your enemies, and to those whom you didn’t love so much, will be rewarded a hundred fold.
It’s important to remember that “tolerance” is not listed anywhere as a virtue, especially tolerance of sin. Tolerance of evil is never a virtue, but instead, is a great vice.
So, let today be the day that you start praying to the Holy Spirit to acquire in abundance all of the virtues listed above, and to lose all of the vices, which you have in your life. The reward for acquiring all of the virtues is truly, truly, out of this world!