Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
I taught moral theology in the major seminary for two decades. One of the sections of studies was the virtues. A virtue is a good habit, which enables us to live rightly according to faith and reason. A virtue enables us to do the right thing, which reflects in us our fulfillment as a created child of God.
There are three types of virtues. They are the theological, or supernatural, virtues of faith, hope and charity. We hear them invoked when St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians (13:13), states, “And three things shall endure: faith, hope and charity, and the greatest of these is charity.” There are also the cardinal (“cardo,” which means hinge) virtues. They are courage, temperance, justice and prudence. These are sometimes referred to as the natural virtues, since our very nature depends on the development of these qualities.
The last virtue is the intellectual virtue. This virtue is the recognition of the perfection of a discipline, but not necessarily the perfection of a person. This last understanding of virtue helped me to understand how a person could master a particular skill, but not embody perfection in his or her own personhood.
An example of this would be a great concert pianist whose performance can lift the spirit of the audience, while his or her own personal life is selfish and decadent. This especially helped me when I was in college – to understand that I could be in the presence of a great professor whose knowledge of a discipline would produce amazement, but whose personal choices were awful. The professor possessed intellectual virtue, but not the cardinal virtues.
I mention this reflection on the virtues because we have paid little attention to the virtuous life in our modern society. In fact, there are certain instances which our popular figures have even rejected the virtuous. Mention a person dedicated to chastity (virtue of temperance and faith), and it is perceived as a waste of one’s life (tell that to St. Teresa of Calcutta). Or the person who practices justice at their own personal expense, such as returning an excess amount of money received in change for the purchase of an item (a sucker is born every minute).
I have especially come to appreciate the virtue of wisdom (prudence). I have experienced very smart individuals who are not wise. In just the opposite, I have experienced individuals who were not necessarily well-educated, but who made tremendous personal life choices. My mother did not graduate from high school, but her level of wisdom was always exceptional. What was most important in life was to be a good person, making the most out of one’s God-given talent, and helping others. Every piece of advice I received from her was always, at its root, fulfilling what God desires of a person.
Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” It’s obvious Twain grew in the wisdom his father already possessed.
We have lost the sense of virtue in our modern society. Ideologies, self-interest and power manipulations have replaced doing the right thing for the right reason. Wisdom tells us we need to get back on the right track, put aside the angers, and live the life God has entrusted to us.
Prayer helps us to keep in contact with the movement of God in our lives. It’s a foreign thought to a secular society, but life-giving and perfecting to believers. We should all be preparing for a life to come by living the virtues and acknowledging our relationship to God. God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son. With confidence in His love, we LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the April 25, 2018 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.