In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Well, if you recall last Sunday, I spoke of Advent and it’s meanings, in particular, the two meanings that Advent has as a coming. That it refers to the celebration of the coming of our Christ in Bethlehem, being born of the Blessed Virgin Mary as one sense. But that that has already happened, in the sense especially of today’s liturgy. If you look at the prayers of the Mass, the Introit and the Orations and things, the sense is that the Church is wanting us to prepare for His second coming, for our judgment. That’s why I want to continue a little bit on that theme today, not just the theme of judgment, but what we do while we are in this world but not of it. Helpful advice and things for living the good moral and spiritual life.
I realize sometimes when we start talking about the moral and the spiritual life that some people don’t know where to start. And it really does very little good to tell you to start practicing these higher virtues, when the foundation isn’t there. We see this all too much in life. We get people who try to exercise knowledge of higher things without having any real education or practice in the lower sciences.
For example, movie stars are looked upon as authorities. This is ridiculous. They have never studied anything but how to make eye contact and die a convincing fake death on the stage. But they go to them for their political opinions. Have they ever studied real politics and philosophy and the theology that a genuine authority on politics would have to study. Or these people that make pronouncements about various things and various people. We all know them. These Sedevacantist types who start saying there’s no Pope, and that one’s not validly ordained, and that one’s not a real priest, and this kind of thing. It’s the same thing. You can’t start at the top of some things without studying the base, without building the foundation.
So, I want to try to help you build a foundation in things to do with the moral and the spiritual life. And, while I don’t say you could go out and do this in one day, it’s an orientation. When you are pointed in a particular direction and given directions, then you can start at the very beginning and you can become successful, but you can’t omit the groundwork. That would be like saying, for example, I want to fly to the moon but I reject the use of a spacecraft or a rocket, because rockets, we know they are unreliable but I’m going to go to the moon anyway. Well, one can’t be done without the other. You have to accept a vehicle produced by the lowest bidder, unfortunately, sometimes.
Now, to start us on our way, I want to talk today about the very foundation of the moral life upon which its’ living is based. And these are what they call the four cardinal virtues. I’ve spoken at times before of the theological virtues, which are actually higher than the cardinal virtues, but the cardinal virtues being moral virtues cannot be overlooked. The theological virtues being faith, hope and charity — theological because they are the way that we relate to God. The only way that we can relate to God is through faith, hope and charity. There is nothing outside of that. You can’t relate on any other terms with Him. Below that, in a sense, but forming the foundation, we have something called the four cardinal virtues. Now, why are they called cardinals? Cardinal, the same word for the men who dress in scarlet, elect the Pope and these kinds of things, it means hinge. Now, we use the term in English, everything is hinging on this next game, for example. If you don’t win this next game, you’re not going on to the finals, or something like that. It means it relies on it in a particular way. The Church relies on the Cardinals for the functioning of the Church technically. And, the moral life relies or hinges on the cardinal virtues. And these four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. The way you can look at them, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, they form the four foundation stones of the moral and virtuous and spiritual life.
Also, you can look at them as kinds of sunglasses that you must see life through in order to get through life virtuously and successfully, and live a moral life. Meaning, they are like filters that when a Catholic looks out on the world while he is in the world, he has to filter out stuff and have a particular approach to life that is based on these virtues, or you are floundering, you are just floundering. You have no anchoring, you have no foundation. So, you have to look at life through these filters, in fact, in order to get to heaven.
Now, acquiring them — how do we acquire them? Because people go, Well, yes, I must get prudence and justice and fortitude and temperance. So I’ll pray, Dear Lord, send me prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Thank you. Amen. And, then, the next day they wake up and they go, I don’t feel particularly prudent. I guess I’ll have to pray again. Well, it’s not like that. And I am afraid to use four-letter words in my sermon, but you have to work for this one. You know, the reward of heaven is a reward, and it involves sometimes work. The fact of original sin messing up creation and messing us up is that we have to work for things that would have been clearer without original sin.
So, four of the things we have to work for, then, are acquiring these four cardinal virtues. And, how do you acquire them? Well, you acquire them by knowing what they are first of all, making yourself practice them. And, at the end, praying, as well, because God will perfect them with His grace in you. But it starts with your making yourself do these things. It’s as simple as that. It’s like learning a language. You could pray for the gift of tongues, but, guess what? It doesn’t seem that God is giving a lot of that these days. So, if you are going to sign up for the Mandarin class in college and think you are going to show up on the last day after passing the entire night in the chapel praying for the gift of tongues with great faith, and you are going to go in there and Ace it, you are probably going to flunk out of college entirely. But, if you start studying from the very beginning, then God will actually aid your studies. You pray to the Holy Ghost and He will enlighten your minds and help you with that particular subject, as mundane as learning Mandarin may seem.
So, it’s not a matter of pray and wait or even pray and peek. We acquire them by the application of our intellect, and with practice and prayer, God perfects them. So, first off you have to know what are they? What is prudence? We hear that a lot of times. We go, Oh, you have to be prudent. And we don’t ask the simple question, Well, what is that? We just go, Yes, I’m going to be prudent, and try to figure it out later. So, prudence, then, is the queen of the moral virtues. It is the number one moral virtue without which the rest of them will not happen. It is an intellectual habit enabling us to see in any given juncture of human affairs what is virtuous and what is not, and how to come at the one and avoid the other. It’s aim is to perfect not the will but the intellect in it’s practical decisions. So, it has to do with making good decisions. It’s those pair of sunglasses we look through to see, Is this a good idea or a bad idea? What makes it a good idea? It’s a good idea if it brings us closer to God, if it serves a useful function. It doesn’t have to be something that has to do with God necessarily. There is prudence in every action of life. You know, do I step on the gas. It’s still a little yellow. Or do I step on the brakes. This kind of thing. That is a decision involving prudence. Is it a good idea or is it a bad idea?
Now, there are things you would want to know before deciding if something was a good idea or a bad idea. In general, would it be good not only for me, but for those involved in this action. Is it, for example, Well, I have some free time. What should I do? Oh, I know, I’m just going to go on the internet, you know, and just see what there is. Well, for some people that is an imprudent decision. For others it might be just a morally neutral kind of decision. Or should I just turn on the TV and just surf channels and things. Is that a good idea or a bad idea. Well, it would be based on a knowledge of TV, and that most of what is on there is not good for you.
Movies, for example. Is the movie virtuous, is it edifying in a good sense? Then, that would be — you know, you can find that out. Then, I should go see it. If it is not, then it is imprudent for the state of your soul to go see it. You know, I was horrified to learn that there are people who are going and seeing these movies like that vampire thing that’s out, whatever it’s called. That is imprudent. That is bad for your soul. It’s satanic. Vampires is a mockery of the Blessed Sacrament, these people living on blood, but not the blood of Christ, on human blood. If you go see that movie, you are committing an extremely imprudent action from the point of view of the Catholic spiritual and moral life. And you go, Oh, well, it’s just a movie. Prudence considers more than is it just a move. I’m sure the worst movie ever made is just a movie in that definition. But most movies, it would be at least imprudent to go see it.
And, the reason why the other virtues would be useless without prudence is that prudence is what makes the difference whether an action is in itself a good or a bad action. For example, you are in the Army, and you are over in some country fighting the enemy. Now, there are times when you do a considered action that may result in your death, it may actually result in you dying. But it may still be a prudent action. Look, my unit can’t get out of this place over here because there is somebody up there with a gun, and every time we move they shoot. That person or that group up there has to be suppressed. One of us has to do it. I think I’m the person for that. I’m going to go. Now, you may die, but you made a prudent decision in that particular situation.
Somebody just says, Yahoo, Dr. Strangelove, and we’re just going to go kill them all, and goes up there and just stands up and goes, Here I am, enemy. You’re going to die. Well, then he gets it, but that is imprudent. The end objective might have been the same, but one was considered with prudence and one was not. And, so, bravery, then, without prudence, becomes foolhardiness. Mercy becomes weakness, and temperance becomes fanaticism. The virtue of prudence sets the circumstances of time, place and manner which have to be observed for an action to be considered virtuous. So that is prudence. The first thing you do is look at the situation. Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Is it good for me and for others, or is it bad. Now, by the way, there’s another part of that, because you also get into fanaticism when you think everything has to be good or bad. Like, I’m going to go for a walk. Well, does God want me to go for a walk? If God doesn’t want you to go for a walk, then it is bad. But, if God wants you to go for a walk, then it’s good. No, I just want to go for a walk. It’s a nice day, I want to breathe the air, I want to listen to the little birdies, I want to exercise. Whatever. Then, that’s morally neutral. There’s nothing wrong with it. There are times when you can decide with prudence that something is irrelevant, but that doesn’t make it bad. And that’s another thing to consider, which is very important.
Okay, justice, then. Oh, by the way, a little thing on these — these are not all the work of St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Bernard of Clairvaux or one of these great theologians. These virtues were worked out from the natural law by the Greek philosophers well before Our Lord took flesh and came to earth. The theologians perfected them in light of Christianity. But they are not the ones who figured them out. This stuff comes from the natural law. It doesn’t make it not true that a Greek philosopher came — quite the contrary. They had a lot of stuff worked out in great detail, which was later perfected in the light of Divine Positive Revelation.
Justice. What is it? You know, sometimes it is hard to figure out, because why? We have what we call a system of justice which isn’t. It has nothing — it’s completely unjust. There is hardly anything as unjust as what we call our system of justice, because it’s whoever can afford the rottenest stinking rat lawyer, or as the Irish say, liar, which is a better one — one of these liars, then they win the case. So they walk all over poor people who can’t afford to hire these more expensive rat-like lawyers. Okay? That’s not justice. What is justice? Justice is, they say in Latin, reddere suum cuique, Give to each what is his. It is the moral quality or habit which perfects the will and inclines it to render, after a certain amount of practice, automatically to each what is theirs. That’s all justice is. You give to everyone what’s theirs. You know, we didn’t have to hear Our Lord’s golden rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Greek philosophers were promoting that before Christ took flesh. Because why? We are all due respect because of our natures a human beings and thinking, caring individuals. We are all due respect. We are due the right to life, to carry on our functions and attain eternal life. We are due certain things. Your property is yours. My property is mine.
First of all, though, who do we owe justice to the most? It’s everybody. We owe justice first and foremost to God, and to God in justice we owe worship, we owe adoration, we owe obedience, we owe our very existence because it all turns on Him creating us, and the destiny we have to look forward to with Him if we live a virtuous and moral life here. So, that’s the quality. With the practice of justice, you get in the habit of giving to God first and foremost, but to every single being what is properly theirs by their nature or by their office or position. And, then, if you do that, you will be just. Justice is what justified — another use of the word — somebody in the Old Testament. Remember, St. Joseph is referred to as a just man. Of course, he was borderline New Testament, but, still, the way people looked on it in the old days was were you justified by the practice of justice. And it is mentioned that several lot in those were just men, and this is what they did.
Okay, the next. Temperance. Now, because of our Protestant milieu in this country, we think temperance has to do with not drinking. And it has really not much to do with not drinking because we have the Temperance League, right? Well, if the Temperance League were really temperate, then they would all drink a correct amount of wine and beer and things like that. They wouldn’t eliminate it completely, because what it is is the righteous habit which makes a man govern his natural appetite for pleasures of the senses in accordance with the norm prescribed by reason. So, it’s the virtue that reigns in the senses. And how do you practice it? You practice it by not going overboard. You know, you are going to go to a party and there will be wonderful food and wonderful alcohol and these kinds of things. You don’t go over your limit, you don’t drink too much so as to cause a scandal or whatever. But it doesn’t mean that you abstain from it either necessarily, unless you have a problem in that area. It means that you realize what the correct amount of these things is and the correct way to enjoy or to partake of the pleasures of the senses. For example, God might have created a particular thing and made it pleasurable for one reason. But out of that particular context, it no longer can be considered temperate to use it. So, there’s a lot of things. You just have to kind of figure that one out for how it applies to your own life. But it’s the reigns that keeps us from going overboard on these sense things.
And, finally, fortitude. Fortitude is not only staying power which we use it that way in common speech, but it is staying power in the battle. It means that you know when you have to do battle, and I don’t mean literally, necessarily, in the armed sense as if you belonged to one of the armed forces, but doing battle with the world and our enemy, who is the devil. It is fortitude that makes you continue to the very end. And fortitude is the virtue that is most exemplified by the Sacrament of Confirmation, for example. Confirmation makes us soldiers of Christ to practice fortitude until the very end. It would hardly do for an army to give up within sight of it’s objective. And it doesn’t do for a Christian to give up in sight of his objective. You have to make the final goal and you have to be there. It is defined as the specific virtue which braves the greatest dangers and, therefore, that which meets the risk of life in battle. So, it would be particularly important for us because look at how we have to do battle with this world. You have to go out there, you can’t go with the flow and make it to heaven in our world. You can’t do it, because society figuratively and literally is going to hell in a hand basket. You can’t go along with that. You have to draw the battle lines and you have to fight. If you go along with the world and its’ tendencies, you won’t make eternal life, you won’t do it. You have to have that fortitude. And, as I said with all these things, you have the natural practice of it. You are considering an action, you say is that good or bad. If it’s good, how do I persist in it, these kinds of things. You do this physically and God will add His grace to it.
On this Second Sunday of Advent, let’s as the new Church year begins, begin ourselves to live a life governed by these four virtues. When you leave here, you know, don’t say, Oh, that’s very nice. Sometimes I get the impression that whatever I teach up here or say, people just go, Oh, isn’t that cute. You know, Father is so cute when he warns us and tells us not to go to vampire movies. But, you know, I know better, so we’ll just forget about him until next Sunday. And I always recall the words of Our Lord. He goes, Them that have ears, let them hear. I can’t do any more for you than I am doing. People call me during the week and say, Oh, do you realize somebody is doing this, somebody is doing that? And I’m saying, you know, how much more can I say in the pulpit. There’s only so much that can be said here. If you want to go to heaven, you’ll listen to me. If not, go to hell. You will, you know. I didn’t mean it that way, but (Msgr. laughing) or maybe I did. But, if you are not going to put into practice what you are told as far as the spiritual life goes, then you don’t want to go to heaven. If you are going to say, Isn’t Father cute when he does that? And we’ll see what he has to say next week. But, in the meantime, I’m going to forget about it. You ain’t gonna make it. If you go home — you know, I tell you dress modestly, and you go home and you dress immodestly and go all over dressed immodestly, do you think you are going to go to heaven? Oh, well, Father, you know — Well, dressing isn’t really his forte, is it? Okay, well tell me what my forte is and what level you are going to listen to me on. Or, Father can’t tell us what movies to see. He hasn’t seen a movie since the Sound of Music. Well, okay, so maybe I haven’t. But you tell me one that’s been as good as the Sound of Music, since that came out. Okay?
But the point is, you have to put into practice — you have to listen. There’s a certain point where you have to be obedient to the will of the Church as expressed by your priest. And if you are not going to do that, you are not going to take this life seriously, you aren’t going to make it. This is our opportunity to start with the basic building blocks of the moral life. Prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Come out of here swinging. You are going back out of here into life, and it is our prayer and everything we are doing here, that you make it with final perseverance to the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.