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V is for Virtue


Our Alphabet of the Faith concentrates on God (Holy Spirit, Father, Jesus, and Trinity) and on Christian activity (all the sacraments, and prayer). But most of God’s activity, and ours, takes place away from the church building, for that’s where we are most of the time. God works on us, to make us more like Him. God works in us to help us and others, and He works through us to do his will. Now, God is good, and he works by way of what is good, to achieve what is good. He doesn’t use bad ways to get good ends.
That is why Jesus resisted the temptations put before him by Satan. Each one showed a good possible result, and suggested achieving it by a bad route. What Jesus shows us in his teaching is that we should be humble before God, forgiving of others, generous with our money and goods, and with our understanding. Jesus told stories, and answered questions and argued with people. So, if you want to find out what thought was a virtuous life, read the gospels, especially the stories he told. Always, Jesus’ teaching is the most important, and that is true about virtue and the Christian life. However, we receive much wisdom from other writers and thinkers.
For example, we all know that great “hymn to love” in St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians, chapter thirteen. In chapter twelve, he had tried to get the Corinthians to see some sense about the gifts that God gives, and to get them to have a sense of proportion. But in chapter thirteen he says, “whatever you do, it is motive and attitude that counts - so if you are a brilliant speaker, but you do not speak lovingly, and with love as your motive, you’d be better not speaking at all.” In other words, things are good because of the way and the why of doing them. For St. Paul, everything except faith, hope, and love will disappear. These three qualities will remain when all activity has ceased. And that word ‘qualities’ is the key. It is not possible to list all the good deeds we might ever do, or the bad ones we should avoid (though scripture sometimes mentions them).
What our faith tell us is, that if we know God and learn about God, and spend time with Him in prayer and worship, two things will happen.
The first is that we will hear the word of God, which will teach us how we should live. We will be taught about what God wants us to be and do. The second, is, that we will be changed more and more by God so that we are like him. We have to be willing to be changed - we have to be open to his power and influence. This is what it means to speak of the work of the Holy Spirit.
This is what St. Paul means when he says that the fruits of the Spirit are
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control “Galatians 5:22-23]
These qualities come out over time as God works in us, and as we co-operate with him. They are not instant, like actions, they are things that you see gradually in someone, usually over the years.
Christian virtue is deep rooted, and it lasts, because it comes from God. It is hard to see it and find it in oneself, but it’s very easy to spot in others, and know exactly what it is.

You just try, and see.

The Triumph of Virtue by Andrea Mantegna (1431 – 1506)

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