Moral Theology & Ethics
Anyone who wishes to please God should desire to excel in the virtues.
Virtue is the habit of doing good, and vice is the habit of doing evil. An act, good or bad, does not form a habit; and hence, a virtue or a vice is the result of repeated acts of the same kind. (Baltimore Catechism, Q. 463)
Therefore, to be virtuous requires that we develop the habit of doing good actions and avoiding evil actions.
Being a virtuous person requires modifying our behavior (words and actions) and improving our disposition (intents and desires) over time.
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. (1803, Catechism of Catholic Church)
I am reminded of a wise saying a Hindu once shared with me — work is worship. What we do has everything to do with our relationship with God. Even fundamentalist Protestants who claim we are saved only by our faith usually teach we must live a life of virtue to please God.
In this article I hope to inspire the reader (myself included) to live a Holy Spirit-enlivened life of virtue.
Three Theological Virtues|
Seven Capital Sins
Peace Prayer of St. Francis
Four Cardinal Virtues|
Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Fear of the Lord
The Three Theological Virtues from the Catechism of Catholic Church:
Faith is a Divine virtue by which we firmly believe the truths which God has revealed. (465, Baltimore Catechism)
Faith requires we know of God's revelation and firmly believe it. This implies that the source of this information is trustworthy and authoritative. I feel sorry for those non-Christians who watch certain Christian television programs and are turned off by the distorted gospel which they hear — how can we expect them to believe this false gospel?
Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief. (1814, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
The Catholic Church teaches that the source of authoritative revelation is the Catholic Church; that it is not enough for us to individually pick up the Bible and interpret it for ourselves, nor for us to believe the interpretations of those theologians, teachers, or preachers who deviate from the teachings of the Catholic Church; and that for those who reject the teachings of the Catholic Church, their very salvation is in jeopardy (if they know it to be true and wilfully reject it).
I dispute the claim that the Catholic Church is the source of all this but certainly we must accept the Church as our authority on spiritual and moral matters.By "Church" I refer to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles passed-downto subsequent generations.
Hope is a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust that God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it. (466, Baltimore Catechism)
The theological virtue of hope allows us to trust in God; to trust in Jesus. This is the essence of the Catholic devotion to Jesus as The Divine Mercy.
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. (1817, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
We hope in God and in eternal life. This requires we sincerely believe we have been adopted as children of God; that we have entered into the kingdom of God. When we possess the theological virtue of hope, we have confidence and trust in God.
Charity is a Divine virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (467, Baltimore Catechism & 1822, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Jesus stressed we must love God and neighbor. If we don't love our neighbor we don't love God.
That being said, we are under no obligation to let unrighteous and sinful people take advantage of us or harm us. Tough-love is often needed, especially with those who have chosen to destroy their lives through drug addiction and a commitment to living a life of depravity. As an example, I feel no obligation to give money to street-people so they can buy drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, but I do donate to Catholic charities so I can be certain the people I am helping are truly helped. I can't help all of the billion truly needy people in the world so I must be content in choosing which ones I will help.
I often hear it said that Charity means serving and helping others.
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40)
This is true, but charity also refers to living virtuously ...
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Following this verse, 1 Corinthians 13 contains a list of virtues ...
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
The four cardinal virtues from the Catechism of Catholic Church:
Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. . . . With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid. (1806, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Without prudence we will be unable to do good because we won't discern what the good even is. In order to do good, we must know the good from the bad.
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. (1807, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. (1808, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. (1809, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
The chief sources of sin are seven: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth, and they are commonly called capital sins. (295, Baltimore Catechism)
We must avoid these to be virtuous.
Pride is an excessive love of our own ability; so that we would rather sinfully disobey than humble ourselves. . . . What effect has pride on our souls? Pride begets in our souls sinful ambition, vainglory, presumption and hypocrisy. (296 & 297, Baltimore Catechism)
Covetousness is an excessive desire for worldly things. . . . Covetousness begets in our souls unkindness, dishonesty, deceit and want of charity. (298 & 299, Baltimore Catechism)
Lust is an excessive desire for the sinful pleasures forbidden by the Sixth Commandment. . . . Lust begets in our souls a distaste for holy things, a perverted conscience, a hatred for God, and it very frequently leads to a complete loss of faith. (300 & 301, Baltimore Catechism)
I'm surprised the word "excessive" is used. I would think any desire for adultery would be considered lustful.
I prefer to define lust as an attraction for that which is forbidden. Thus, we can enjoy the beauty of the world which God created including the beauty of people but we should not, must not entertain any thought which, when followed to its natural conclusion, would lead to adultery or fornication. Thus, just as Adam and Eve were not to eat of the forbidden tree nor to even touch it (or even think of touching it) we are to flee from even the thought which leads to sin, especially sexual sin. Our modern culture is very accepting of sexual freedom and expression but as Catholics we must reject these ideas.
What is the sixth Commandment? Thou shalt not commit adultery. . . . We are commanded by the sixth Commandment to be pure in thought and modest in all our looks, words, and actions. (1281 & 1282, Baltimore Catechism)
Sexual purity is the virtue we must seek.
Anger is an excessive emotion of the mind excited against any person or thing, or it is an excessive desire for revenge. . . . Anger begets in our souls impatience, hatred, irreverence, and too often the habit of cursing. (302 & 303, Baltimore Catechism)
To understand how we are to act when under stress, consider a slave who is regularly starved and beaten; who is verbally, physically, emotionally and psychologically abused; whose human freedoms have been taken away; whose spouse and children are abused; and who is not given the dignity all humans deserve.
I can imagine that such a person would have many strong emotions welling up from deep inside. I suppose there are a variety of strategies they could adopt to cope. Some might rebel defiantly and as a consequence suffer torture and threat of death. Others might hold their tongue and learn to say "yes sir" for every provocation. Some might lose the will to live and become passive.
What is the proper response for one who wishes to grow in virtue? Certainly the strong emotion of anger will well up with every lashing of the whip; with every injustice done. This anger must be dealt with properly.
Christ suffered such sufferings and indignities and he certainly did nothing to deserve them. In our daily sufferings we should unite our sufferings with Christ's sufferings; we should remember the injustice done to him and seek to adopt the same attitude toward it as he had. We should call out to God and even ask that this cup of suffering be removed if possible. But in the end we must resign ourselves to the fate God has given to us and to direct our worship and prayer from the anguish of our souls to him.
We are to love even those who harm us, even our enemies. Certainly we don't wish them to continue in their wickedness; rather, we should sincerely wish their hearts are opened to the ways of God and they become converted to living a virtuous life.
If we fail to do this we will become bitter and hateful, and will eventually begin to hate even God.
To conquer vice we must practice the opposite virtue. We should pray for our enemies and go out of our way to show them kindness. We should struggle throughout the difficult and sometimes agonizing moments of the day to occupy our minds with prayerful and devotional thoughts and images. For us who are not slaves we have the luxury of practicing virtue in a less hostile environment. But there may come a day for us all in which we get sick, or become imprisoned, or suffer the loss of a loved one, or are forced to endure many other kinds of suffering.
There is a teaching going around in fundamentalist Protestant circles that righteous anger is not a sin. Perhaps the word anger should not be used for this. From the Bible we certainly see that Jesus included characters in his stories who were angry (for example, Matthew 18:34;Luke 14:21)and that Jesus himself is spoken of as being angry (Mark 3:5).
When speaking about the characteristics of love, Paul indicates that those who practice the virtue of love will not be easily angered (1 Corinthians 13:5)and that outbursts of anger (2 Corinthians 12:20)are very undesirable. We are to get rid of rage and anger (Ephesians 4:31).There are plenty of other passages such as these (Colossians 3:8;1 Timothy 2:8;James 1:19, 20).
The topic of anger illustrates the danger of each person interpreting the Bible for himselfwithout reference to apostolic teaching. How many Christians sincerely think anger is not a vice, but a virtue?
Gluttony is an excessive desire for food or drink. . . . What kind of a sin is drunkenness? Drunkenness is a sin of gluttony by which a person deprives himself of the use of his reason by the excessive taking of intoxicating drink. (304 & 305, Baltimore Catechism)
The sin of gluttony is not just concerned with food. I am shocked by how many Catholics regularly consume alcohol to excess and think nothing of it.
Envy is a feeling of sorrow at another's good fortune and joy at the evil which befalls him; as if we ourselves were injured by the good and benefited by the evil that comes to him. . . . Envy begets in the soul a want of charity for our neighbor and produces a spirit of detraction [harm to someone's reputation], back-biting and slander. (309 & 310, Baltimore Catechism)
Sloth is a laziness of the mind and body, through which we neglect our duties on account of the labor they require. . . . Sloth begets in the soul a spirit of indifference in our spiritual duties and a disgust for prayer. (311 & 312, Baltimore Catechism)
We must use Prudence to discern which duties we are obligated to perform. Certainly the virtue of Justice will guide us in knowing what we owe God and neighbor. The gift of Knowledge will enable us to learn of God's will in our activities. Once we discover our duties, we require Fortitude to strengthen us to perform tasks which may be difficult or unpleasant. At all times we need the gift of Counsel to keep us focused on the goal of pleasing God in all we do.
There may be people and situations in our lives that make us feel we must over-achieve to do our proper duty. For example, there may be an employer who makes us feel like we are not doing enough, that we are not doing our share of the work while in reality we are being exploited. Or there may be a spiritual leader who expects too much from us and we associate their role with God's will — in other words, if they say we must do more, it must be the word of God. Or a family member may expect always more work from us to prove our love for them.
Perhaps we can use our prayer life as a guide. If we neglect prayer then we are likely neglecting other duties as well (or at least we are being slothful in prayer).
When Christ chose to endure his Passion for us he modelled for us what it would look like to have victory over Sloth. He chose a very distasteful course of action and followed it with a firm resolve because he desired to sacrifice his own experience of comfort and pleasure out of Charity on our behalf because it was God's will to save us.
What virtues are opposed to the seven capital sins? Humility is opposed to pride; generosity to covetousness; chastity to lust; meekness to anger; temperance to gluttony; brotherly love to envy, and diligence to sloth. (317, Baltimore Catechism)
This prayer highlights how we are to develop the habit of virtue. Instead of vice, we do good. Instead of doing evil actions, we do good actions. We must reflect on all the evil and destructive things that occur and seek diligently to turn them into good — after all, this is what God does. We look for the bad and try to find a way to turn it into good.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Note: St. Francis probably did not compose this prayer.
The gifts of the Holy Ghost are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. (699, Baltimore Catechism)
We receive the gift of Wisdom to give us a relish for the things of God, and to direct our whole life and all our actions to His honor and glory. (707, Baltimore Catechism)
We receive the gift of Understanding to enable us to know more clearly the mysteries of faith. (706, Baltimore Catechism)
We receive the gift of Counsel to warn us of the deceits of the devil, and of the dangers to salvation. (704, Baltimore Catechism)
We receive the gift of Fortitude to strengthen us to do the will of God in all things. (703, Baltimore Catechism)
We receive the gift of Knowledge to enable us to discover the will of God in all things. (702, Baltimore Catechism)
We receive the gift of Piety to make us love God as a Father, and obey Him because we love Him. (701, Baltimore Catechism)
We receive the gift of Fear of the Lord to fill us with a dread of sin. (700, Baltimore Catechism)
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land.
3. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
4. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be filled.
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
6. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
8. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (708, Baltimore Catechism)