"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8)
In our fallen world, it is evident that our intellectual faculties often become subservient to our fleeting emotional states. This struggle manifests in various ways: anger leading to regrettable words, lustful desires culminating in sinful actions, or fear hindering our response to the Holy Spirit's guidance. Saint Paul encapsulates this internal conflict eloquently in Romans 7:15, admitting, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." This verse poignantly illustrates the battle between our noble aspirations and our fallen tendencies.
The remedy to this predicament lies in mastering control over our emotional impulses with our intellect and will, a process initiated and nurtured by Christ through sacramental living. This divine source enables us with the necessary grace to lead lives of virtue that transcend our natural human limitations. It enables us to choose the good, even when it contradicts the world. Why would one willfully choose fasting or endure any kind of self-mortification? Why endure minor sufferings compared to Christ's immense sacrifice, especially when such actions might seem irrational to the world? The answer lies in a deliberate choice to train ourselves, akin to a fighter enduring rigorous conditioning, to enhance our physical and mental resilience. The fighter's training enables him to freely choose those paths in a fight which are not only best but also hard.
The pursuit of virtue, therefore, is not merely about avoiding evil or fleeing from temptation. It is about consciously setting our sights on higher goods, cultivating a taste for what is genuinely beneficial for our souls, hearts, and minds. Virtues are about affirming actions, consistently engaging with choices that uplift and ennoble us. They allow us the freedom to truly give God our "yes" which sometimes may be the harder path. And a life rich in prayer, scripture, and the sacraments fortifies our journey towards virtuous living. To fully embrace a virtuous life, we must consistently focus on these seven virtues:
Prudence: The ability to discern the true good in every situation and choose the right means to achieve it.
Justice: The constant and firm will to give God and neighbor their due.
Fortitude: The resilience in facing difficulties and steadfastness in pursuing the good.
Temperance: Mastery over our instincts, keeping desires within honorable bounds.
These human virtues, honed through education, deliberate actions, and perseverance, are further purified and elevated by divine grace. They build character and ease the practice of goodness.
The theological virtues, infused by God, make us capable of acting as His children:
Faith: Believing in God and all that He has revealed and proposed for our belief.
Hope: Desiring heaven and eternal life, trusting in Christ's promises and relying on the Holy Spirit's grace.
Charity/Love: Loving God above all and our neighbors as ourselves for God's sake.
In conclusion, the journey towards a virtuous life, as outlined by Saint Paul and embraced within the Christian faith, is a testament to the transformative power of grace on virtuous living. It is not a path of mere avoidance of sin or evasion from temptation, but rather a proactive pursuit of higher, nobler goods that enrich our souls, hearts, and minds. By deliberately choosing to practice prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and by embracing the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, we align ourselves more closely with God's divine will. Ultimately, living a life rich in prayer, scripture, and the sacraments, and adhering to these virtues, is not just about personal sanctification; it is about actively participating in the divine life, bringing the Kingdom of God closer with every act of goodness, every decision for justice, and every moment of love. This is the true essence of living a virtuous life - a continuous, heartfelt 'yes' to God, a testament to the beauty and potential of our human existence, touched and transformed by divine grace.
Jeremy Lezniak — SFA Theologians Guild Member