Rediscovering Virtue, Catholic Medical Association Annual Education Conference, October 3, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Medical Association Annual Education Conference
“Healing the Wounded Culture: Bringing the Wholeness of Christ to our Culture”
Loew’s Hotel, Philadelphia, PA
October 3, 2015

 

To listen to an audio recording of this talk please click below: 

 

The outline that guided the talk was as follows: 

Introduction

  • I’m very happy to be here. This is my third time speaking at the CMA’s Annual Education Conference. I was present in Baltimore in 2008 to speak on “Interpersonal Relations in the Theology of the Body” and last year in Orlando to address “The Bifurcation of Faith and Reason and the Unleashing of Radical Secularism.”
  • The theme I’ve been asked to speak on this year is “Rediscovering Virtue” within the context of the Conference’s overarching focus on healing the wounded culture and bringing to it Christ’s wholeness. Pope Francis in a famous interview two years ago called the Church a field hospital in battle and said that the first thing we need to do is to “heal the wounds.” As the title of the conference makes clear, it’s not just individual men and women who are wounded in need of healing but our culture. The Church as a whole is called to be a Good Samaritan crossing the road to care for those lesions and seeking to nurse the patient back to health. God’s kingdom is one in which, in contrast to a metastasizing globalized, we recognize we are our brother’s keeper. Just as Jesus entered into our humanity to try to heal our deepest wounds, so we are called to continue the Good Samaritan’s saving mission, paying forward, in the term popular today, the healing of so many wounds the Divine Physician has already bandaged and healed in us.
  • “Rediscovering virtue” is a broad theme that could be approached in many ways, but within the context of healing our wounded culture by bringing Christ in his fullness, I’d like to approach the topic in a very synthetic way. I’d like to argue that the entire work of the Church over the past half century, the work charted by the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, the fiftieth anniversary of which we will celebrate this December, and attempted to be implemented by the Popes ever since, has been the ecclesial attempt to help first Catholics and then through Catholics the whole world rediscover virtue precisely in order to heal our wounded culture.
    • Pope Benedict, for example, put his epochal theological mind to the service of helping us all rediscover the theological virtues of love, hope and faith in the three encyclicals respectively of Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope) and Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), which was signed by his successor Pope Francis at the end of the Year of Faith Pope Benedict had summoned.
    • The Popes of and following the Council have likewise sought to help us rediscover what have been called the cardinal or “hinge” virtues of fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence and so many of the stable dispositions, the good moral habits, that are associated with them.
      • John Paul II’s famous refrain, “Be not afraid!,” from his inaugural homily in 1978, and the way he courageously persevered through the assassination attempt and later through Parkinson’s, was an unforgettable commentary on the importance of fortitude today.
      • Pope Francis’ work against the cancer of consumerism and John Paul II’s life project of the Theology of the Body toward chastity and continence have been two efforts helping us to rediscover the virtues associated with temperance.
      • Blessed Pope Paul VI’s Popolorum Progressio, Saint John Paul II’s whole social magisterium — Laborem Exercens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Centesimus Annus, Evangelium Vitae — Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate, Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si’, have all been dedicated to different aspects of social justice based on what we owe God and each other.
      • John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor gave us some of the principles of the virtue of prudence. Almost every encyclical is a prudential application of the light of the Gospel to particular pressing issues. And the whole exercise not just of the munus docendi, the teaching office of the Church, but also of the munus regendi, the shepherding office of the Church, has meant to be a manifestation of prudence rediscovered and represented. The convening of the Second Vatican Council itself to examine the signs of the times by the light of faith and discover ways of reproposing the Gospel to modern man caught up in the confusion of so many “isms,” was itself a supreme act of prudence.
    • So it’s possible and fair to say that the past fifty years in the Church have all been an attempt from various angles to wake up the Church and the world with regard to the importance of virtue and virtues.
  • That brings us to the question of why rediscovering virtue has been so important in this phase of Church history so that the Church might respond to the needs and wounds of people today. There are, I think, two essential reasons.
    • The first reason is because the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council recognized a huge need for a renewal of moral theology, for the study of how the human person, made in God’s image and likeness, is supposed to live, choose, behave and love. The Second Vatican Council specifically recognized the need for a renewal of moral theology (VS 29), going far beyond just the casuist manuals that focused on individual proper decisions and the principles involved, that went beyond obedience to the commandments and precepts and the fight against sin, to focus rather on the acting person. They also encouraged theologians to find a “more appropriate way to communicate” moral doctrine. This meant a rediscovery of virtue in the presentation of the Church’s moral theology, something that took up root in the Catechism of the Catholic Church published as a result of the Council, and in seminary faculties across the globe.
    • But there was a much deeper reason for this rediscovery of virtue. There was a need for a renewed understanding and presentation of an adequate anthropology, a fitting Christian humanism, something that Gaudium et Spes sought to catalyze. The ultimate aim of the focus on rediscovery virtue and virtues is not merely the behavior and moral choices of a human being, but what the virtues themselves are supposed to lead to, virtuous persons, men and women of character, men and women who, to quote the 2nd century St. Irenaeus, are “fully alive.” As the common aphorism that Blessed Mother Teresa liked to repeat attests, thoughts leads to actions, actions lead to deeds, deeds lead to habits, habits lead to character, and character leads to destiny. Rediscovering virtue is necessary for the human person to rediscover, to some degree, himself, to make possible his living up to his God-given potential, his experiencing true freedom in self-mastery and true happiness in self-gift. It’s meant to help him flourish as the image of God and the image of Christ’s own virtues. It’s meant to help him grow toward full stature as a son or daughter of God.
  • So what I’d like to sketch out in this talk is first the context of why the Church thinks it’s necessary and urgent to rediscover virtue by looking at the modern situation that has often forgotten virtue. Then I’d like to turn to an overview of some of what the Popes over the course of the last 50 years have taught with regard to the uncovering of the treasure of virtues buried in Church naves and the streets of cities and towns. Third, I’d like to make a brief application of some of what they’ve taught to the field of health care and how the world needs medical professionals to rediscover virtue to strengthen them in the medical arts. And finally I’d like to finish by integrating this whole theme within the exclamation point that is supposed to celebrate these last 50 years and help us to build on their foundation moving forward: the upcoming Year of Mercy.

 

The Modern Situation to which the Rediscovery of Virtue is meant to respond

  • What is the modern situation, the wounds to which the rediscovery of virtue is meant to be a response? We would each be able to name aspects of it, but I’d like to sketch them out with the words of recent popes. As we do I think the need for the rediscovery of virtue will become clear. We can talk about five gaping wounds, in no particular order.
  • The first is that the human person is living in fear
    • John Paul II wrote in the programmatic encyclical for his 26 year pontificate, Redemptor Hominis:
      • RH 15. The man of today seems ever to be under threat from what he produces, that is to say from the result of the work of hís hands and, even more so, of the work of his intellect and the tendencies of his will. All too soon, and often in an unforeseeable way, what this manifold activity of man yields is not only subjected to “alienation”, in the sense that it is simply taken away from the person who produces it, but rather it turns against man himself, at least in part, through the indirect consequences of its effects returning on himself. It is or can be directed against him. This seems to make up the main chapter of the drama of present-day human existence in its broadest and universal dimension. Man therefore lives increasingly in fear. He is afraid that what he produces-not all of it, of course, or even most of it, but part of it and precisely that part that contains a special share of his genius and initiative-can radically turn against himself; he is afraid that it can become the means and instrument for an unimaginable self-destruction, compared with which all the cataclysms and catastrophes of history known to us seem to fade away. … This state of menace for man from what he produces shows itself in various directions and various degrees of intensity. We seem to be increasingly aware of the fact that the exploitation of the earth, the planet on which we are living, demands rational and honest planning. At the same time, exploitation of the earth not only for industrial but also for military purposes and the uncontrolled development of technology outside the framework of a long-range authentically humanistic plan often bring with them a threat to man’s natural environment, alienate him in his relations with nature and remove him from nature. Man often seems to see no other meaning in his natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption. Yet it was the Creator’s will that man should communicate with nature as an intelligent and noble “master” and “guardian”, and not as a heedless “exploiter” and “destroyer”.
      • We see this not only with regard to nuclear questions, but also to the genome, to weapons of mass destruction, to the technological advancements that often technologize people out of jobs, and even to robots or other scientific tinkering that some fear may eventually turn on us.
    • This brings us to the second context which is the technological paradigm.
      • Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Laudato Si’ wrote:
        • LS It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm that shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.
      • Pope Benedict had also described this in his encyclical on Christian Hope, Spe Salvi. He talked about how Francis Bacon’s work led us to take flight from responsibility for others toward a selfish search for individual salvation. He wrote:
        • SS 16. We must take a look at the foundations of the modern age. These appear with particular clarity in the thought of Francis Baco That a new era emerged—through the discovery of America and the new technical achievements that had made this development possible—is undeniable. But what is the basis of this new era? It is the new correlation of experiment and method that enables man to arrive at an interpretation of nature in conformity with its laws and thus finally to achieve “the triumph of art over nature” (victoria cursus artis super naturam).14 The novelty—according to Bacon’s vision—lies in a new correlation between science and praxis. This is also given a theological application: the new correlation between science and praxis would mean that the dominion over creation —given to man by God and lost through original sin—would be reestablished. … 17. This programmatic vision has determined the trajectory of modern times and it also shapes the present-day crisis of faith which is essentially a crisis of Christian hope. Thus hope too, in Bacon, acquires a new form. Now it is called: faith in progress. For Bacon, it is clear that the recent spate of discoveries and inventions is just the beginning; through the interplay of science and praxis, totally new discoveries will follow, a totally new world will emerge, the kingdom of man.
      • The third context is an epistemological relativism that leads to a practical relativism we call secularism.
        • John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio in 1998:
          • FR 5. Yet the positive results achieved must not obscure the fact that reason, in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth which transcends them. Sundered from that truth, individuals are at the mercy of caprice, and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic criteria based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all. It has happened therefore that reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned. This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread scepticism. … On this understanding, everything is reduced to opinion; and there is a sense of being adrift. … Hence we see among the men and women of our time, and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust of the human being’s great capacity for knowledge. With a false modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence. In short, the hope that philosophy might be able to provide definitive answers to these questions has dwindled.
        • Cardinal Ratzinger in his homily to the Cardinals before the conclave that elected him said:
          • Ratzinger: St Paul [talks about] being “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4: 14). This description is very timely! How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true. Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism.
        • And that has many consequences in terms of day to day life:
          • Pope Benedict to US bishops in January 2012: “Today that consensus [about the importance of religious freedom in the United States] has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents that are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.… He was pointing to what he labeled “an extreme individualism, seek[ing] to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth.a radical secularism that finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.”
          • Secularism, as Pope Benedict has defined it, is living si Deus non daretur, “as if God were not a given.” This is a practical atheism that has become a new religion. In 2010, when he was in Scotland, he spoke about it at length. He called attention to the “dictatorship of relativism” that is threatening British society by obscuring “the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good.” He said that there are some who are seeking “to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty.” When religious belief is excluded, he stressed, society — even a cultured society like Britain, built on the foundation of Christian “cult”  — will devolve into nothing more than a “jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms.”
        • Pope Francis made the same concerns his own in Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si:
          • LS In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I noted that the practical relativism typical of our age is “even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism”. When human beings place themselves at the center, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative. Hence we should not be surprised to find, in conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism that sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests. There is a logic in all this whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay. 123. The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.
        • That brings us to the fourth modern malady: the detachment of freedom from its “its essential and constitutive relationship to truth” and making freedom an absolute
          • John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor:
            • VS 2. At the root of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church’s moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to “exhort consciences” and to “propose values”, in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices.
            • VS 32. Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to “exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values”. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment that hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.
            • VS 84: A comparison between the Church’s teaching and today’s social and cultural situation immediately makes clear the urgent need “for the Church herself to develop an intense pastoral effort precisely with regard to this fundamental question” [of the] “essential bond between Truth, the Good and Freedom [that] has been largely lost sight of by present-day culture. As a result, helping man to rediscover it represents nowadays one of the specific requirements of the Church’s mission, for the salvation of the world. Pilate’s question: ‘What is truth’ reflects the distressing perplexity of a man who often no longer knows “who he is,” “whence” he comes and “where” he is going. Hence we not infrequently witness the fearful plunging of the human person into situations of gradual self-destruction. …The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil. This relativism becomes, in the field of theology, a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, who guides man with the moral law.”
          • That is a crisis of truth and conscience that Pope Benedict (and Pope Francis) take up in Lumen Fidei:
            • LF Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age. In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings. Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion. Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant. … In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world. The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.
          • The fifth malady I’ll mention is a spiritual worldliness, something Pope Francis speaks about very often and wrote about in The Joy of the Gospel.
            • EG 93. Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. … It takes on many forms, depending on the kinds of persons and groups into which it seeps. Since it is based on carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be. But if it were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral.” 94. This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.
            • One aspect of this spiritual worldliness is consumerism, something about which Pope Francis never ceases to speak, but St. John Paul II already warned us about in 1979. He becomes owned by what he owns, a slave of mammon, rather than a son and servant of God.
              • RH 16. It is a matter-as a contemporary philosopher has said and as the Council has stated-not so much of “having more” as of “being more” Indeed there is already a real perceptible danger that, while man’s dominion over the world of things is making enormous advances, he should lose the essential threads of his dominion and in various ways let his humanity be subjected to the world and become himself something subject to manipulation in many ways-even if the manipulation is often not perceptible directly-through the whole of the organization of community life, through the production system and through pressure from the means of social communication. Man cannot relinquish himself or the place in the visible world that belongs to him; he cannot become the slave of things, the slave of economic systems, the slave of production, the slave of his own products. A civilization purely materialistic in outline condemns man to such slavery, even if at times, no doubt, this occurs contrary to the intentions and the very premises of its pioneers. The present solicitude for man certainly has at its root this problem.
            • So in response to these maladies, there’s a need for a new evangelization and part of that new evangelization is a renewal of moral theology through the rediscovery of virtue and a rediscovery of an adequate anthropology through the aim of forming virtuous men and women.
            • John Paul II wrote:
              • VS 106. Evangelization is the most powerful and stirring challenge that the Church has been called to face from her very beginning. … At least for many peoples, however, the present time is instead marked by a formidable challenge to undertake a “new evangelization”: Dechristianization, which weighs heavily upon entire peoples and communities once rich in faith and Christian life, involves not only the loss of faith or in any event its becoming irrelevant for everyday life, but also, and of necessity, “a decline or obscuring of the moral sense.” This comes about both as a result of a loss of awareness of the originality of Gospel morality and as a result of an eclipse of fundamental principles and ethical values themselves. Today’s widespread tendencies towards subjectivism, utilitarianism and relativism appear not merely as pragmatic attitudes or patterns of behaviour, but rather as approaches having a basis in theory and claiming full cultural and social legitimacy. Evangelization–and therefore the “new evangelization”–“also involves the proclamation and presentation of morality.” Jesus himself, even as he preached the Kingdom of God and its saving love, called people to faith and conversion (cf. Mk 1:15). And when Peter, with the other Apostles, proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, he held out a new life to be lived, a “way” to be followed, for those who would be disciples of the Risen One (cf. Acts 2:37-41; 3: 17-20). Just as it does in proclaiming the truths of faith, and even more so in presenting the foundations and content of Christian morality, the new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived. In particular, “the life of holiness” which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations. For this reason, the Church, as a wise teacher of morality, has always invited believers to seek and to find in the Saints, and above all in the Virgin Mother of God “full of grace” and “all-holy”, the model, the strength and the joy needed to live a life in accordance with God’s commandments and the Beatitudes of the Gospel. VS 108. In the living context of this new evangelization, aimed at generating and nourishing “the faith which works through love” (cf. Gal 5:6), and in relation to the work of the Holy Spirit, we can now understand the proper place which “continuing theological reflection about the moral life” holds in the Church, the community of believers.
            • Part of this New Evangelization is an adequate anthropology
              • RH 15. The development of technology and the development of contemporary civilization, which is marked by the ascendancy of technology, demand a proportional development of morals and ethics. For the present, this last development seems unfortunately to be always left behind.
              • RH 8. Rightly therefore does the Second Vatican Council teach: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come (Rom 5:14), Christ the Lord. Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling”.
              • RH 10. Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself”. If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. … The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly-and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being-he must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must “appropriate” and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself.
              • RH 14. The Church cannot abandon man, for his “destiny”, that is to say his election, calling, birth and death, salvation or perdition, is so closely and unbreakably linked with Christ.This man is the way for the Church-a way that, in a sense, is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk-because man-every man without any exception whatever-has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man-with each man without any exception whatever-Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it. Since this man is the way for the Church, the way for her daily life and experience, for her mission and toil, the Church of today must be aware in an always new manner of man’s “situation”.

 

The Teaching of the Recent Church on the Redsicovery of Virtue

  • Let’s turn now to the teaching of the Church on the Rediscovery of Christian virtues
    • John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor:
      • VS 64. Saint Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to the mentality of this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our mind (cf. Rom 12:2). It is the “heart” converted to the Lord and to the love of what is good which is really the source of “true” judgments of conscience. Indeed, in order to “prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2), knowledge of God’s law in general is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient: what is essential is a sort of “‘connaturality’ between man and the true good.“[110] Such a connaturality is rooted in and develops through the virtuous attitudes of the individual himself: prudence and the other cardinal virtues, and even before these the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. This is the meaning of Jesus’ saying: “He who does what is true comes to the light” (Jn 3:21).
    • The Catechism called for “a catechesis of the human virtues which causes one to grasp the beauty and attraction of right dispositions towards goodness; a catechesis of the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity, generously inspired by the example of the saints.” (1697)
    • It defined virtues as (1803) an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.” … The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God, and said that the human virtues, especially the cardinal virtues, are (1804) “firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.” It says they are acquired by education, deliberate acts and perseverance, and they’re informed and given life by the theological virtues of faith hope and love.
  • Renewal in Faith
    • The Church has sought to renew us in faith.
    • CCC 1814 Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” CCC 1842 By faith, we believe in God and believe all that he has revealed to us and that Holy Church proposes for our belief.
    • Pope Benedict described the essence of faith in PF
      • PF 10. I would like to sketch a path intended to help us understand more profoundly not only the content of the faith, but also the act by which we choose to entrust ourselves fully to God, in complete freedom. In fact, there exists a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent.
    • John Paul II described it very beautiful in VS:
      • VS 88. It is urgent to rediscover and to set forth once more the authentic reality of the Christian faith, which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent. Rather, faith is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a “truth to be lived out.” A word, in any event, is not truly received until it passes into action, until it is put into practice. Faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6). It entails an act of trusting abandonment to Christ, which enables us to live as he lived (cf. Gal 2:20), in profound love of God and of our brothers and sisters. VS 89. Faith also possesses a moral content. It gives rise to and calls for a consistent life commitment; it entails and brings to perfection the acceptance and observance of God’s commandments. As Saint John writes, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth… And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 Jn 1:5 -6; 2:3 -6). Through the moral life, faith becomes “confession”, not only before God but also before men: it becomes “witness.” “You are the light of the world”, said Jesus; “a city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:14-16). These works are above all those of charity (cf. Mt 25:31-46) and of the authentic freedom which is manifested and lived in the gift of self, “even to the total gift of self,” like that of Jesus, who on the Cross “loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Christ’s witness is the source, model and means for the witness of his disciples, who are called to walk on the same road: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Charity, in conformity with the radical demands of the Gospel, can lead the believer to the supreme witness of “martyrdom.” Once again this means imitating Jesus who died on the Cross: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children”, Paul writes to the Christians of Ephesus, “and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2). VS 90. The Church proposes the example of numerous Saints who bore witness to and defended moral truth even to the point of enduring martyrdom, or who preferred death to a single mortal sin. In raising them to the honor of the altars, the Church has canonized their witness and declared the truth of their judgment, according to which the love of God entails the obligation to respect his commandments, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the refusal to betray those commandments, even for the sake of saving one’s own life.
    • Renewal in Hope
      • CCC 1817 Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.1843 By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.
      • Pope Benedict described what hope is and does for us in Spe Salvi:
        • SS 3. Yet at this point a question arises: in what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above: the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God.
      • Hope makes us seek true substance, the possession of things not yet seen.
        • This explanation is further strengthened and related to daily life if we consider verse 34 of the tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, which is linked by vocabulary and content to this definition of hope-filled faith and prepares the way for it. Here the author speaks to believers who have undergone the experience of persecution and he says to them: “you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property (hyparchonton—Vg. bonorum), since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession (hyparxin—Vg. substantiam) and an abiding one.” Hyparchonta refers to property, to what in earthly life constitutes the means of support, indeed the basis, the “substance” for life, what we depend upon. This “substance”, life’s normal source of security, has been taken away from Christians in the course of persecution. They have stood firm, though, because they considered this material substance to be of little account. They could abandon it because they had found a better “basis” for their existence—a basis that abides, that no one can take away. We must not overlook the link between these two types of “substance”, between means of support or material basis and the word of faith as the “basis”, the “substance” that endures. Faith gives life a new basis, a new foundation on which we can stand, one which relativizes the habitual foundation, the reliability of material income. A new freedom is created with regard to this habitual foundation of life, which only appears to be capable of providing support, although this is obviously not to deny its normal meaning. This new freedom, the awareness of the new “substance” which we have been given, is revealed not only in martyrdom, in which people resist the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew the world. Above all, it is seen in the great acts of renunciation, from the monks of ancient times to Saint Francis of Assisi and those of our contemporaries who enter modern religious Institutes and movements and leave everything for love of Christ, so as to bring to men and women the faith and love of Christ, and to help those who are suffering in body and spirit.
      • It also makes us courageous
        • SS 9. In order to understand more deeply this reflection on the two types of substance—hypostasis and hyparchonta—and on the two approaches to life expressed by these terms, we must continue with a brief consideration of two words pertinent to the discussion which can be found in the tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews. I refer to the words hypomone (10:36) and hypostole (10:39). Hypomone is normally translated as “patience”—perseverance, constancy. Knowing how to wait, while patiently enduring trials, is necessary for the believer to be able to “receive what is promised” (10:36). In the religious context of ancient Judaism, this word was used expressly for the expectation of God which was characteristic of Israel, for their persevering faithfulness to God on the basis of the certainty of the Covenant in a world which contradicts God. Thus the word indicates a lived hope, a life based on the certainty of hope. In the New Testament this expectation of God, this standing with God, takes on a new significance: in Christ, God has revealed himself. He has already communicated to us the “substance” of things to come, and thus the expectation of God acquires a new certainty
      • Renewal in Charity
        • CCC 1822 Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. 1823 Jesus makes charity the new commandment 1827 The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony”;[105] it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice. 1844 By charity, we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God. Charity, the form of all the virtues, “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).
        • Thomas lists several derivative virtues: beneficence, almsgiving, fraternal correction.
        • There is an important connection between faith and charity. Real faith always flourishes in charity
          • PF 14. Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path.
          • LF 34. The light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time about truth. Truth nowadays is often reduced to the subjective authenticity of the individual, valid only for the life of the individual. A common truth intimidates us, for we identify it with the intransigent demands of totalitarian systems. But if truth is a truth of love, if it is a truth disclosed in personal encounter with the Other and with others, then it can be set free from its enclosure in individuals and become part of the common good. As a truth of love, it is not one that can be imposed by force; it is not a truth that stifles the individual. Since it is born of love, it can penetrate to the heart, to the personal core of each man and woman. Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all. 51. Precisely because it is linked to love (cf. Gal 5:6), the light of faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law and peace. Faith is born of an encounter with God’s primordial love, wherein the meaning and goodness of our life become evident; our life is illumined to the extent that it enters into the space opened by that love, to the extent that it becomes, in other words, a path and praxis leading to the fullness of love. The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together. Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time. Without a love which is trustworthy, nothing could truly keep men and women united. Human unity would be conceivable only on the basis of utility, on a calculus of conflicting interests or on fear, but not on the goodness of living together, not on the joy which the mere presence of others can give. Faith makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships because it grasps their ultimate foundation and definitive destiny in God, in his love, and thus sheds light on the art of building; as such it becomes a service to the common good. Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope. The Letter to the Hebrews offers an example in this regard when it names, among the men and women of faith, Samuel and David, whose faith enabled them to “administer justice” (Heb 11:33). This expression refers to their justice in governance, to that wisdom which brings peace to the people (cf. 1 Sam 12:3-5; 2 Sam 8:15). The hands of faith are raised up to heaven, even as they go about building in charity a city based on relationships in which the love of God is laid as a foundation
        • In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict focused on believing in the love God has for us and the way that is supposed to transform us in agape toward him and others, including taking institutional form.
          • DCE 20. Love of neighbour, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level: from the local community to the particular Church and to the Church universal in its entirety.
          • CV Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36- 40)
          • CV 6. “Caritas in veritate” is the principle around which the Church’s social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action.
          • Julian the Apostate tried to imitate the Church’s charity in restoring paganism because he knew how many were coming to the Church because of its practice of charity.
        • DCE 28. Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable. The State that would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by bread alone” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. … (DCE 31). For this reason, it is very important that the Church’s charitable activity maintains all of its splendour and does not become just another form of social assistance.
        • DCE 31. Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc. The Church’s charitable organizations, beginning with those of Caritas (at diocesan, national and international levels), ought to do everything in their power to provide the resources and above all the personnel needed for this work. … Yet, while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ that awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbor will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6). … The Christian’s program —the program of the Good Samaritan, the program of Jesus—is “a heart which sees”. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly.
      • Renewal in Courage
        • CCC 1808 Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions.
        • Thomas Aquinas lists several derivative virtues in his Summa Theologiae: Magnanimity, Magnificence (Munificence), Patience, Perseverance.
        • Be not afraid.
          • John Paul II Inaugural Homily: “Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. … Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it.”
          • Pope Benedict built on it in his own inaugural homily. “My mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” The Pope was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society. The Pope was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”
          • Courage is not to have no fear but to do what needs to be done despite our fear.
        • There’s a particular need for courage with regard to suffering, the Cross and death. Pope John Paul II wrote about it in Salvifici Doloris.
          • SD 4: This is the origin also of the present reflection, precisely in the Year of the Redemption: a meditation on suffering. Human suffering evokes compassion; it also evokes respect, and in its own way it intimidates. For in suffering is contained the greatness of a specific mystery. This special respect for every form of human suffering must be set at the beginning of what will be expressed here later by the deepest need of the heart, and also by the deep imperative of faith. About the theme of suffering these two reasons seem to draw particularly close to each other and to become one: the need of the heart commands us to overcome fear, and the imperative of faith—formulated, for example, in the words of Saint Paul quoted at the beginning—provides the content, in the name of which and by virtue of which we dare to touch what appears in every man so intangible: for man, in his suffering, remains an intangible mystery.
        • Pope Benedict likewise focused on suffering as a setting for the growth in Christian hope.
      • Renewal in Temperance
        • 1809 Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.
        • Thomas lists several derivative virtues: Honesty, Abstinence and fasting, Sobriety, Chastity, Continence, Clemency and Meekness, Modesty, Humility, Studiousness.
        • The theology of the body against the three-fold lust of the eyes (materialism) of the flesh (carnal lust) and the pride of life (desire to dominate). We need to moderate those desires and keep them intended toward the goal. Poverty, chastity and obedience, respectfully, help us to do that. We’re praising the three-fold concupiscence today.
      • Renewal in Justice
        • CCC 1807 Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.
        • Thomas lists several derivative virtues: religion, piety, obedience, gratitude, truth, friendliness, Generosity, Epikeia.
        • Need for Justice
          • CV 6. Ubi societas, ibi ius: every society draws up its own system of justice. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it. Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, “the minimum measure” of it, an integral part of the love “in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18), to which Saint John exhorts us. On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving. The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world.
          • Church’s social doctrine: DCE 27: “It must be admitted that the Church’s leadership was slow to realize that the issue of the just structuring of society needed to be approached in a new way. There were some pioneers, such as Bishop Ketteler of Mainz († 1877), and concrete needs were met by a growing number of groups, associations, leagues, federations and, in particular, by the new religious orders founded in the nineteenth century to combat poverty, disease and the need for better education. In 1891, the papal magisterium intervened with the Encyclical Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII. This was followed in 1931 by Pius XI’s Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. In 1961 Blessed John XXIII published the Encyclical Mater et Magistra, while Paul VI, in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967) and in the Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens (1971), insistently addressed the social problem, which had meanwhile become especially acute in Latin America. My great predecessor John Paul II left us a trilogy of social Encyclicals: Laborem Exercens (1981), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) and finally Centesimus Annus (1991). Faced with new situations and issues, Catholic social teaching thus gradually developed, and has now found a comprehensive presentation in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church published in 2004 by the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax. … In today’s complex situation, not least because of the growth of a globalized economy, the Church’s social doctrine has become a set of fundamental guidelines offering approaches that are valid even beyond the confines of the Church: in the face of ongoing development these guidelines need to be addressed in the context of dialogue with all those seriously concerned for humanity and for the world in which we live.
          • DCE 26. The pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the State and … the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods.
          • DCE 28. The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves. … Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? … This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just. … The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew. As a political task, this cannot be the Church’s immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is also a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically. The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.
        • Renewal in Prudence
          • CCC 1806: “Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.”
          • Veritatis Splendor describes the importance of it in the formation of conscience, but every work of the munus regendi is meant to display it.
          • Often prudence is looked to in getting oneself out of a jam, but it’s far more important in discerning the true good in every circumstance and ordering means to that end.

 

Application of the Rediscovery of Virtue to Health Care

  • Edmund Pellegrino wrote an excellent 1996 book entitled The Christian Virtues in Medical Practice.
  • He described several modern challenges to the medical profession:
    • secular humanism — leads to know source of medical morality outside what is politically negotiable
    • scienticism and positivism — ethics comes solely from biology, from evolutionary theory
    • technological medicine — doctor’s character doesn’t matter
    • entrepreneurism — health care is just another commodity, another industry.
    • philosophical relativism — no right or wrong, just the way we justify it.
    • moral atomism — individualism, autonomy
    • pragmatism — separation of private beliefs from professional ethics.
  • Then he sketched out the way that Christian virtue ethics, what he called “agapeistic” beneficence, autonomy and justice, leading to compassion and caring would be able to respond to them. He also dedicated a section to prudential judgment, religious commitment and the Christian Personalist Physician, which is a Christian Physician who lives virtuously. I do not have the time to give a summary of all his insights here, but I would encourage you to read it. It is a good application to the field of medical practice the insights that the Magisterium of the Church have been trying to bring to all men and women, no matter what their profession.
  • I’ll share just one excerpt about how the faith of a physician enhances his practice. Pellegrino writes: “The physician, despite the challenge of this mystery to his scientific training, nonetheless accepts this mystery. He practices his healing art, but knows that the grasp of the full meaning of illness and healing will not be his. Faith reveals itself therefore in humility but not in pusillanimity. We continue to strive to heal, to relieve suffering, to bring our knowledge to bear on the illness and the patient. But we know also that God works within us and within his creation and that we do not heal by our own power alone. The Christian physician, then, is not ashamed to pray, to ask God to show how to heal in this case, how to use medical knowledge to heal, how to make the patient whole again in body, mind and spirt. The physician does not fear to pray with the patient, to call upon the patient’s spiritual resources, or to ask the chaplain’s assistance. The committed Christian, doctor or not, gives witness to faith through humility before the unfathomable uniqueness of the mystery in the predicament of a patient’s illness.”

 

Year of Mercy

  • Pope Francis is invoking a Year of Mercy beginning this December 8, which is not only the day on which we mark the beginning of our redemption in Mary’s Immaculate Conception but also the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council and the launching of its implementation and renewal. “The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive,” Pope Francis wrote in Misericordiae Vultus. “With the Council, the Church entered a new phase of her history. The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way.” As Blessed Paul VI closed the Council, he said that “the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council.” That spirituality, that work of the Good Samaritan, is meant to be rekindled in the Year of Mercy.
  • We’re all called to be ministers of mercy toward all. If Christ is, as he revealed to St. Faustina, “mercy incarnate,” then his Mystical Body must be the continued incarnation of that mercy in the world.
  • Christ’s five fold mercy. In response to his getting sick to his stomach (esplangchnisthe) at seeing the crowds, the Evangelists tell us he did five things:
    • Taught
    • Fed
    • Healed
    • Forgave
    • Summoned to Pray for Harvesters and then called those very people praying as those harvesters.
  • The Church’s mercy, and your and my mercy, involves all of these elements:
    • Instructing the ignorant is one of the spiritual works of mercy for a reason. One of the most important aspects of teaching is formation, and formation is a training in virtue.
    • Christ tells us, “You give them something to eat.” This is one means by which the Lord feeds us as we feed others.
    • So many are wounded in so many ways. We are being called to heal those wounds. Doctors, Nurses, Psychological Professionals, have not only a great practical service here but a great pedagogical service, showing everyone in the Church how to seek to bring healing to others.
    • So much of what plagues the world is a lack of forgiveness. John Paul II talked about unexpiated guilt as the world’s greatest problem. International relations. Broken families. Ruptured friendships. It really is a kairos of mercy. As we receive the grace of this sacrament, we’re made rich in mercy and are able to pay it forward. This is the most profound healing needed because it points to the deepest wounds of all.
    • Prayer and response to the call. Laborers. Hard workers. We need everyone.
  • Pope Francis wrote, “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. … Sad to say, we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. In some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. Without a witness to mercy, however, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”

 

Conclusion

  • If we’re going to bring the wholeness of Christ to heal the wounds of our culture, it begins by our receiving from his mercy his own healing balm so that we can then share that with others. Christ’s virtues are the model for us all. It’s a model that for the last 50 years the Church has been proposing and, despite powerful false prophets and counter-Gospels, continues to preach in season and out of season. The Church is meant to be the inn for the Good Samaritan, a great hospital for all those who are wounded by their own sins, the sins of others, and all the consequences that can trace themselves back to the first sin.
  • Miserando atque eligendo. Celebrated on Sept 21 Pope Francis’ vocational call in 1953. To have received mercy is to be chosen. May the Lord strengthen us to respond virtuously to his call to go out into the battlefield with his medicine and heal the wounded nursing them through formation in the virtues to full health.

 

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