Reclaiming Virtue

virtueThe Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as: “a habitual and firm disposition to do good. It allows a person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” Within the virtues are courage, faith, humility, hope, charity, purity, and many other essential Christ-like qualities that affect every single aspect of our lives, our relationships, careers, education, and especially our happiness.

Society today seems to want to dismiss this concept of virtue as being outdated and unnecessary, while trying to promote the false idea that our outward qualities are the most important, as if being outwardly successful, attractive, and educated is all that you need to be happy, regardless of what is inside. In reality, in this world where God is often doubted and attacked, it is only through being a person of virtue that we have any hope of finding true happiness. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “Happiness is secured through virtue; it is a good attained by man’s own will.”

Society has two main traps regarding virtue. The first is to try to make us believe that only the virtues that are good for us are worthwhile. For example, it is great to be honest, but not if it means you can’t cheat to pass that test. Or it’s important to be modest, but not if it means that you can’t wear that oh-so-fashionable dress that objectifies your body and becomes an occasion of sin. In other words, virtues are only considered “good” if they are “good for us.” If they don’t go along with our desires, they are considered pointless and worthless. The second trap seeks to devalue virtues by making them out to be indicators of bad character rather than the opposite. For instance, chastity (the ability to moderate and control one’s sexual desires) is a virtue that takes great strength and patience, and yet today being chaste is often seen as a sign of being prudish, unattractive, or afraid. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Many men sneer at virtue because it makes vice uncomfortable.” We must not allow people or society in general to push us into either of these mistaken views of virtue.

There is so much pressure on young adults trying to live morally today. Speaking as a Catholic senior currently studying music at a public university, I am surrounded with an environment that often promotes bad behavior and discourages good. An example of this was last Valentine’s Day, when a member of a campus group handed out condoms to the unsuspecting students in transit through the student center. When asked about it, he told me, “It’s the most romantic day of the year. This is just to prepare everyone.” In the past, such a situation would have been seen as shameful, but now it is accepted and encouraged. Is it just that times are changing and we need to catch up, or is society slowly shutting off our consciences, while we gradually learn to accept more and more dishonesty, impurity, and immaturity? The truth is, virtues reflect the qualities of God, and are timeless; their value doesn’t change any more than any aspect of God does. Society attempts to present virtuous people as being unhappy and unable to live a productive or successful life, while people who are “brave” enough to make their own choices are truly powerful and free from “old fashioned” ideas. It says that virtue was good for then, but not for now. This is faulty reasoning, however, because if virtues are a reflection of God’s own perfection and He doesn’t change, how could their value change and decrease?

An inspiring film came out last year, “For Greater Glory,” which portrays the powerful story of Catholic Mexicans in the Cristeros War who fought and died to protect their right to practice their Catholic faith. It is so easy to watch such a film and say, “That’s a beautiful story, but that was all back then. There’s no need for that now.” But consider the controversy over the current Health and Human Services mandate that, for the first time in the history of our nation, puts our religious liberties at risk and requires Catholics by law to do something against their conscience. Doesn’t sound that different than “For Greater Glory,” does it? We may not be required to exercise virtues as dramatically as the Catholic Mexicans did, but we still need virtues and to be virtuous people just as much as they did. Virtues don’t have an expiration date. They will always be our door to choosing and finding true happiness in God. Don’t let society, your peers, or anyone in this world close that door to you.

Rebecca Smith

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Rebecca Smith is a music teacher at two Catholic elementary schools, and currently serves as an organist, choir director and cantor for two Catholic parishes. She can be reached at rebeccasmith.rcc@gmail.com.

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  • http://twitter.com/NatalieTrust Natalie Trust

    Thoughtful reflection over an important topic, Rebecca. Truly a reminder to cultivate internal virtues so that our actions are reflective of Christ in this world.

  • RamanieW

    A very good article. Thank you and God bless you.

  • Gretchen

    Thank you for such an inspiring article to reclaim virtue, and seek to be like Christ; which is our ONLY path to happiness.

    I appreciate your writing, you are very clear and should continue to write more. God Bless you. :-))))

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