Deacon Blog August 6,2019
I find myself revisiting an idea that runs deep to the center of our Faith. I have written of this viewpoint in various ways and I feel the need to address it again. Part of this desire grows from a personal insecurity that I have not done adequate justice to such a foundational belief. Please bear with me as I make yet another stab at un-packing the “doctrine” of Virtue. We don’t hear this term very often in the secular lexicon, not to mention experience it in our daily lives. I’m not so sure we discuss it enough in the Ecclesial life we share with each other. But I would like to change this. As soon as you have time, Google “virtue”. It was really eye-opening and uniquely linked to the “ability to act”, flowing from a “code of ethics” engrained in our souls.
Is it possible to agree on the premise that as the promotion of a Virtuous life has decreased, the proliferation of immoral behaviors has exploded? Especially in popular culture (Here I refer mainly to music, movies, television, and video gaming)? Maybe. I truly feel every generation experiences some form of “growing pains”, for sure in this era of technological explosion. What determines behavior, actions, or words viewed as positive contributions to society? Understanding this establishes the baseline for the opposite behaviors. How do we get there? Who guides us to this place? It is popular today to verbally attach ourselves to principles of honesty, fortitude, kindness, and compassion… and not express it through our behavior (essentially not giving credit to the “author” of such behavior). As if the “universe” created moral thought. If this were so, human cruelty would not be so prevalent. As these traditional values of the Church have contracted in use, the opportunity for human depravity has increased. Christ introduced and modeled the virtues of LOVE… forgiveness, sacrifice, compassion, empathy, kindness. These were not wholesale behaviors prior to HIS Passion. For centuries after, Christianity sought to embrace these qualities as “cornerstones” of a virtuous life in Christ… but it feels as if this attitude is receding.
While society has struggled to accomplish this goal, it at least sought the positive effects of virtue in whatever circle of influence was available. You could almost call Virtue the “foot-steps” along a path aimed at Heaven. We stumble at times and fall short, but we require these strides to move forward. Without these steps our journey is “wandering” in a desert landscaped with despair, cruelty, and hopelessness and fueled with self-centered desires. Are Virtues needed to create a better world? Are they gifts or the result of habits formed by dedicated effort? Are we willing to conform our lives to Christ’s values… values that hold the power to transform our world for good? We will only know “in the fullness of time” as the LORD says often, but in the interim I prefer the pursuit of Holiness. Logic, statistics, and common sense give me this perspective. Poor behavioral habits can only produce poor behavioral results. Sacred scripture lays out for us behavior that produces Holy outcomes. Knowing the “right” thing to do is a process the Church has short-cut for us. Psalm 105 says “Your Word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path”. There are virtues of moral value and virtues of intellectual process, but both are oriented to improve life shared with and for the world around us. The moral virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Justice, and Temperance, or what we call the Cardinal Virtues are the habitual efforts of people who seek to be Christ-like. They are condensed concepts provided by the Church based on Jesus’ words and actions. Jesus transformed the world with a life based on these habits. One man. Imagine what 2 billion-plus engaged Christians could do?
Once again, we experienced tragedy in America, in El Paso and Dayton. Once again, our leaders scurry to “voice” solutions as they always do…some focusing on legal actions like more laws or stricter gun access. We should all know by now that a heart bent on hate will find a way to hate. We’re all familiar with the effects of human trafficking, domestic abuse, road rage, racism, etc. etc. The number of people affected by these actions, sadly, dwarfs the number of victims of mass shootings. Jesus warns us that cruel and demeaning words are the same as murder. Our focus should include changing hearts, but sadly any public conversation about morality and virtue is omitted for fear of offending others. I argue that mass shootings are more offensive. Evil has sought to silence the voice of LOVE for two thousand years, and our society is slowly choosing to cooperate. Today is our opportunity to apply our “voice-over” to a public debate about what is good and holy. The people who commit these shootings are about hate. Some seem persistent in their focus on mental health, but that isn’t fair to the millions who resist violence, despite mental challenges. Some blame the proliferation of the gun industry and the access to certain ideas through the internet. Others target misogynistic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and white-supremacy groups as the problem. These ARE real problems, but they are merely symptoms and tools of a world (these are world-wide issues) that contains a growing contingent of people bent on acts of hatred for others. You name it, there is a group to hate it. All that is needed for this hate to express itself is a population ignoring evil in its midst. We can call it apathy, we can call it a sense of helplessness, but the reality is that our society has decided to abandon the discipline of virtue and we’re living the results. The curious part, for me, is the complacency and silence of over two billion Christians. A group fond of saying “What would Jesus do?” Read scripture, study the Church’s Apostolic teachings and this question is answered. We should advocate for virtues. The moral authority of the Church was the real target of evil in the abuse scandal. All that was needed were some clergy who surrendered their vocation and identity as “Persona Christi”.
For me, this is a rallying cry. Our chance to respond to GOD. LOVE does not terrorize public venues (or any venue), LOVE does not bully or discriminate, LOVE does not ignore injustice. Scripture, despite our efforts to the contrary, is concise on purpose. We are to Love others as ourselves. The Virtues are THE platform to build this reality.
PAX CHRISTI, Deacon Mike
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