Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Turning Back Toward God
I am giving some thought today to the weeks just ahead as many of us begin the period of Lent. Yesterday, I mentioned in my blog that if we are not thoughtful, we can easily drift from our chosen path and end up where we never intended to go. The antidote to this can be found, in part, in the observation of Lent.
Lent, the forty days prior to the Christian celebration of Easter, begins tomorrow. In many traditions, Lent is observed as a time to reflect on our need for salvation, our need for God, and to examine our lives in the context of virtue. Lent provides a time for self-reflection and repentance. As part of this "life review", it is customary to make small sacrifices, to demonstrate that we are serious about our desire to live more closely with God. Such acts, often of self-denial, can serve a dual purpose, for as we deny ourselves earthly comforts, we shut out the noise of the world. That "noise" often comes from within, as our inner selves make demands all day long: "Feed me!" or "Don't make me work so hard!" As we quiet those inner demands, we gain something scripture refers to as "self-mastery", which is a freedom that is often overlooked and undervalued by our Western culture. It is the freedom to say "no" to that often irrational and demanding voice that is inside us. Another part of this season of Lent includes reaching out, giving alms, and remembering others. Here we put into action our insights that it is better to give than to receive, better to think of others before thinking of ourselves.
The Christian life should be modeled after Jesus, himself. Therefore, we must concern ourselves to build a closer and stronger relationship with the Father, and also to love and help those He created.
This year, I think I will be considering Christian virtues.
What are virtues? In general, virtues involve a habitual and firm disposition to do good. They involve our intellect, and govern our actions, giving order to our passions and desires, and are informed by reason and faith. Virtues can be grouped around the 4 (four) cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The Catholic catechism tells us that there are 3 (three) theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (love). These undergird and give direction to all other virtues.
The term human virtues, is used to describe qualities such as compassion, responsibility, a sense of duty, self-discipline, and restraint, honesty, loyalty, friendship, courage, and persistence, and others. These related to those Cardinal Virtues but they are supported by, or even driven by, the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
The theological virtues are acquired through baptism and granted to us by God's unmerited grace. But the cardinal virtues we acquire by doing good. We learn them through observing them in others, and repeating them in our own behavior. We grow in virtue by frequent repetition of virtuous acts. For example, each time we choose to tell the truth, rather than a lie, we grow in honesty. Each time we ignore our fears, we grow in courage.
There are many lists of virtues. Generosity, poverty of spirit (humility), purity of heart,... I will have much to think about!
The flower above is a yellow salsify. It grows wild in the midwest where I live. I have converted it to black and white. The stark tones seem appropriate for the journey ahead.
May He draw us always closer to His heart, and teach us to love as He does.