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A Christian is the one whose behavior and heart reflects Jesus Christ. Christian virtues are the practical attitudes and habits in obedience to the principles in conformity to the message of Jesus Christ. They are associated with salvation resulting from the grace of God. Virtues are qualities which dispose one to conduct oneself in a morally good manner. Virtue means strength or power. They connect us to God. They are the essentials of Christian life.
If we desire to cooperate with the actions of God who wishes to make us like Himself, we should apply ourselves with great zeal to the practice of the virtues. St. Teresa of Jesus says that the life of union with God urges us to practice virtues. She says, “You must not build upon the foundation on prayer and contemplation alone, for unless you strive after the virtues and practice them, you will never grow to be more than a dwarf”.
We shall become Saints only in the measure in which we practice virtues. To live the virtues, we must have sufficient courage to persevere a long time in the struggle against our faults, and in the efforts to acquire the opposite virtues. The Lord who has created man in his own image and likeness wants us to be holy as He is holy by saying, “Be ye holy because I am holy” (John 17:14-16).
From this week, for few weeks to come, I will be writing on different virtues that will help to change our attitudes and make new habits. It will enlighten us if we cooperate with the grace of God. It is my prayer that God may help us rapidly in the path of virtues.
Gratitude is a quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation to God and to every person, and to return kindness. We acknowledge a kindness by showing gratitude to the benefactor. God is our benefactor and all that we have and are belongs to God. There is nothing that we can claim as our own. It is all because of God’s infinite generosity and goodness. “In all things give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all” (1 Thes 5:18). When Jesus cured 10 lepers, only one out of them returned to thank and show gratitude. Jesus asked the one who returned, “Where are the other nine?” (Lk 17:17-18). See the irreparable loss of the nine lepers who, not returning to give thanks, forfeited the joy of the leper who heard Jesus say: “Thy faith has made you whole” (Lk 17:19).
St. Bernard says, “Ingratitude is the enemy of the soul, the destroyer of merit and virtue, causing the loss of favors. It is a burning wind which dries up the fountain of piety, the dew of mercy, the torrents of grace”. Gratitude attracts new graces, new gifts. Gratitude should be sincere and cordial to all the gifts received, whether small or big. Gratitude flourishes only in a heart that is humble.
Prayer: O my God, give me a grateful heart, that I may sing Your praises forever.
Perseverance means persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Our motto is to be holy and be united with God. It is not enough to be courageous, patient or have other Christian virtues. We must persevere to the end of our lives without fatigue or discouragement to achieve holiness. It is only in perseverance that we can become holy. Unlike the angels who have only the spirit, we unhuman beings have both body and spirit and hence, we are unstable and changing. Though we make resolutions in our mind, we are weak to keep the same by nature. Our bodies get tired, and our minds are too disturbed to keep our promises.
God always calls us to holiness, but not to perfection. God never asks impossible things from us. Perseverance does not mean that we need to be perfect, but rather constantly beginning again as soon as any failure is recognized. Our failures should make us humble and start again by correcting our faults. Only by the continual intervention of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, can we completely overcome our weakness and faults and persevere in holiness. We need continual practice of the virtue of perseverance in order to be holy and be united with God.
Prayer: Grant O Lord, that by Your grace I may persevere unto the end.
Generosity is a willingness to give without selfish motives. It is the virtue which teaches us to spend ourselves without counting the cost, without ever saying, “It is enough”. It teaches us to give ourselves completely, and to work with the maximum of love, not only in great things, but also in little ones, even the least. Generosity means to have a desire to always do more or something extra. It is giving ourselves to God as a gift.
To be generous, we need to detach ourselves from the worldly desires and forget ourselves to serve God and our neighbor. Generosity is a total gift of self. To love is to give. God does not give Himself wholly to us until He sees that we are giving ourselves wholly to Him.
Selfishness is the enemy of generosity. What all we have, time, talent and treasure, are the generous gifts of God to us that we may share. Let us be generous in all that we have and give to God and our neighbor in service.
Prayer: Fill my heart with Your spirit of generosity, O Lord, so that I may know how to give myself wholly to Your service.
Simplicity is the state or quality of being simple. It excludes duplicity and complications stemming from egoism and self-love and directs the soul to God to live for Him alone, to please Him, and to give glory to Him. When the soul is purified from worldly desires and passions, it is reduced to simplicity.
The end of simplicity is God with no other motives or intentions. Hence, one has to carefully watch over even the secondary intentions of our good actions, which slowly like poison can sometimes destroy the soul. Our good intentions are contaminated by some secondary intentions. That is why St. Francis de Sales says, “My God, if I know that even one fiber of my heart did not beat for You, I would tear it out at once and throw it far from me”. Purifying our intentions makes all our actions simple. It fears nothing because it is seeking God and His approval alone. The simple soul goes straight to God like an arrow. Jesus gives us a child as an example of simplicity. Let us be simple like children in our hearts and in our relations with one another.
Prayer: O Lord, give me a simple heart, free from duplicity and deceit, a heart which goes to You with childlike simplicity.
Humility means freedom from pride or arrogance. It is the condition of being humble. It is recognition of self in relation to God. Humility is to charity what the foundation is to a building. Humility is the firm bedrock upon which every Christian should build the edifice of his spiritual life. St. Teresa of Jesus says to her daughters, “Each of you must try to be the least of all”. Humility forms the foundation of charity by emptying the soul of pride, arrogance, and disordered love of self, and by replacing them with the love of God and our neighbor. Jesus says, “Whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised” (Lk 18:14).
St. Bernard says, “It is not hard to be humble in a hidden life, but to remain so in the midst of honors is a truly rare and beautiful virtue”. God raised Blessed Mother Mary above all other creatures, yet she was so humble and lowly, thus she says, “I am the handmaid of the Lord”. We need to imitate our Blessed Mother Mary in humility. Humility is the fertile ground in which God’s gifts fructify. Recognize your nothingness before God, take refuge in Him, keep yourself closely united to Him, for only from Him will you draw the fruitfulness of your works.
Prayer: O Jesus, You who were so humiliated for us, teach me how to practice true humility.
Sincerity means being sincere: honesty of thought, action and freedom from hypocrisy. No one can really have a true relationship with God and neighbor without being sincere in his thoughts and actions. First of all, we need to seek to possess and follow the truth in the depth of our hearts. We need to accept the truth even if it reveals our own faults and humiliates us. We need the courage to recognize the faults and negativity in our own lives and confess them humbly and frankly.
Sincerity does not excuse the faults, but accuses the person. It is no matter, small or big, it exposes all that is not truth and accuses the person, never blaming circumstances. To be sincere, our words must correspond to our thoughts and actions. Everything that we think, do or say or keep in silence should correspond with one another. Sincerity in confessing our faults is the first step towards freeing ourselves from them and living the truth will lead us to build our relationship with God and our neighbor.
Prayer: O Lord, give me an open, sincere heart, loving the truth, seeking and desiring it at any cost.
Mildness is the flower of charity. There is no one who has greater desire for our good or for our sanctification than God; yet He never uses harshness or violence. He always shows patience and mildness by respecting our freedom. “He will not argue or shout, nor will His voice be heard in the streets. The bruised reed He will not crush, nor snuff out the smoldering wick. He will persist until justice is made victorious and in Him all the nations will put their hope” (Mt 12: 19-20).
Sometimes our charity in showing mildness can cause anger or indignation, but that reaction should not allow us to be discouraged. We cannot justify our anger or discouragement by saying that it is very hard. We need to subdue these passions and become more energetic and mild in our reaction to their stubbornness or repeated weakness in their faults. When we reply angrily without patience to another’s anger, we are only fanning the flames.
Mildness is not consenting to evil. It is a charity to correct the other person in a mild way, but it should never be done in a humiliating or offending way. Only a sincere desire for the good of the other person by kind and fraternal correction can make it charitable and efficacious. This is the way Jesus treated sinners. All were cared for by His love and mildness.
Prayer: O Lord, teach me your ways of mildness in dealing with others.
Fortitude means courage in facing pain and adversity. It is having a strong will in the face of pain and suffering. Neither good resolutions nor good desires are enough to become a saint. These resolutions and desires must be translated into action even in the midst of pain and adversity without feeling discouragement or turning back. Though pain is hard, when faced with pain we have to face it with fortitude. “Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many go that way. How narrow is the gate that leads to life and how rough the road; few there are who find it” (Mt 7: 13-14). The greater the perfection the soul desires, the stronger and more courageous it must be in facing difficulties with fortitude. When we have fortitude, we will pass through all pain and adversity. “As long as the strong and armed man guards his house, his goods are safe” (Lk 11:21).
The man of fortitude is armed well to fight struggles and temptations or any other obstacles. He feels secure with the strength that comes from God. If we are weak to face pain and adversity, it means that we have not properly developed the gifts and the grace which God has given us. If we are strong, it is because of God who has strengthened us.
Prayer: Teach me O Lord, to act courageously, trusting in You.
Prudence means the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason. Prudence is that which suggests to us what we should do and what we should avoid in order to reach the goal we have set for ourselves. If you wish to be a saint, we must perform acts of charity and generosity, in love, that lead to sainthood.
The parable of the wise and foolish virgins demonstrates the need for this virtue of prudence. The foolish virgins did not bring any extra oil and slept while the wise virgins brought some extra oil and were awake and waiting for the king’s arrival and joined him in the wedding celebration when he arrived. The parable concludes: “So, stay awake, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Mt 25:13).
The virtue of prudence counsels us to make good use of time and opportunities that God has given us. True prudence consists of setting the highest value on each moment in view of our eternal goal. Prudence is about eternal goods. “Do not store up treasure for yourself here on earth where moth and rust destroy it, and where thieves can steal it, store up treasure for yourself with God, where no moth or rust can destroy nor thief come and steal it” (Mt 6:19-20). The Christian virtue of prudence teaches us how to regulate our affairs, not in view of earthly happiness, but for eternal happiness. Prudence teaches us that what ever is not God, is nothing.
Prayer: Lord, teach me prudence that I may seek You alone.
Fr. Louis Maram Reddy