Charles the Ninth, king of France, was interested in spiritual things. One day he asked the celebrated poet, Torquato Tasso, this question: "Who, do you think, is the happiest being?"
"God," answered the poet.
"Everybody knows that," continued the king. "What I want to know is, who is the next happiest after God?"
"Undoubtedly," the poet replied, "the happiest being after God is he who most closely resembles God, that is to say, whoever is most perfect in virtue."
All of us want to be happy. Accordingly, all of us should be eager to learn all we can about virtue, because the more virtuous we are, the more we are like God, and the happier we are, here and hereafter.
What does virtue mean? Virtue is a certain skill and ability in the practice of good works and the tendency of the will toward what is good, resulting from persevering exercise. A virtuous man does good with skill and a certain ease. The non-virtuous either has great difficulty in doing good, or he does it imperfectly and awkwardly, like one who is out of practice.
By "good works" we mean whatever is pleasing to God.
By "skill or ability" we mean the proficiency that comes of practice.
Practice throwing a baseball, wielding a brush, playing a piano, and in time you become skillful.
By "tendency of the will toward what is good" we mean that the will is inclined to perform good deeds rather than bad deeds. For example, a man who has the virtue of charity is inclined to think, talk and act kindly. He is drawn more to be kind than to be unkind. The uncharitable person, on the other hand, always leans toward unkindness.
The charitable man has the virtue of kindness, which might also be called the habit of kindness. The uncharitable has the habit of unkindness. In both cases it is a rather fixed way of acting, one for the good, the other for the bad.
Virtue does not consist in the occasional performance of a good act. A man is not honest merely because he pays his bills occasionally. A man who tells the truth only now and then cannot be called truthful. Virtue is a habit, a permanent quality, which comes from the regular repeating of good acts. The theological and moral virtues are infused into the soul with sanctifying grace.
A man who prays every morning and evening, has the virtue of prayer to that extent. He is not satisfied with an occasional prayer. He prays regularly.
There are many classes and divisions of virtue:
I. The theological virtues are those which have God as their immediate object or motive. "Theos" is the Greek word for God. Theological refers to God.To acquire a virtue and to grow in that ability takes serious and steady effort. But, if a would-be actor can spend weeks and months and even years learning the best way to walk and talk; if a baseball pitcher can practice for years at throwing a ball where he wants it to go; if a singer can spend the best of his youthful years running scales and mastering music; if a person can practice every day for hours, even after becoming a celebrated pianist; then certainly you and I can spend some time and effort in acquiring and developing the much more important spiritual skills-the virtues.
There are three theological virtues:A. Faith: we believe in God and in His revealed truth, because God Himself has told us, has spoken to us.II. The Moral Virtues have as their immediate object our neighbor or ourselves, and direct their actions in a manner pleasing to God. Indirectly, therefore, they are related to God.
B. Hope: we expect to be united with God eternally; we depend and rely on the promises of God.
C. Charity: we love God above everything and everyone; we love our neighbor for the sake of God.
A. The four Cardinal Virtues:1. Prudence regulates reason and enables it to appreciate the higher values.B. From these four cardtnal virtues proceed the principal moral virtues: humility, obedience, meekness, liberality, chastity, and diligence in good. We shall explain these virtues during succeeding weeks.
2. Justice inclines the whole soul to render what is due to God, to one's neighbor, and to one's self.
3. Fortitude or courage enables the will to stay to its purpose, despite dificulties.
4. Temperance governs the appetites and makes reasonable use of them as a means to something higher.
Every virtue is a new source of happiness. Every virtue makes you more like God, and hence the happier. It also increases your merit. The man of faith is pleasing to God. The charitable man is pleasing to God. The temperate, the prudent, the courageous, the just man - each is pleasing to God.
And don't forget that the virtues of religion are the best help and safeguard, the best means to many temporal blessings. They are the best safeguards to health and physical well-being.
Indeed, the happiest people are the most virtuous people. Too many misunderstand this. Too many don't believe this. Too many dread that virtue takes all the joy out of life. The opposite is true. Virtue puts joy into everything you do. Above all, virtue gives that supreme joy and happiness, the conviction that you are doing what God wants, and the thrilling hope that virtue will bring you finally to God.
As Jesus tells us in the Gospel: "He that is of God hears the words of God."
Many will hear these words and heed them not. They are not of God; they don't belong to God. Others will hear these words about virtue, will think about them, and determine to strive after virtue. They will share in the happiness of God.
Adapted from Prayers, Precepts and Virtues
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, 1949