A Summary of Virtues
Earlier I had said that it is the virtues that nourish the soul. And these virtues are related to the natural law as enumerated by the “Ten Commandments.” When we perform acts that conform with the natural law, our individual acts are valuable acts for a man to do. As individual acts we can call them values. And when we perform these valuable acts repeatedly, they are transformed into good habits. These we call, virtues.
We are not only interested in performing isolated acts of value, good deeds. We are more interested in stable and constant behavior that is directed to what is truly good. This kind of stable behavior may be described as virtuous. It is obvious that people cherish a virtuous person, as we also spontaneously avoid people who commit evil habitually or vicious.
But virtues can only be acquired in a conscious and intentional manner through the repetition of good deeds or valuable acts. For example, with the passage of time, if one keeps repeating different acts of truthfulness in different circumstances, we get to acquire the virtue of truthfulness, which becomes a stable quality, the possession of our personality. It produces in us a habitual disposition to do good. This is what a virtue is all about.
And virtues are a great help to us because they facilitate the doing of good deeds. Habits normally affect the way we perform our actions. For example, the virtue of truthfulness helps us perform deeds of honesty in a stable, quick, easy, prompt and even enjoyable manner, no matter how difficult telling the truth may be at times.
Unfortunately, this is also true if the habit we possess is a vice. A vice gets a hard grip on us. And it facilitates our performing evil deeds. So if someone has the habit of dishonesty, he would most likely tell lies often times and do it easily, quickly, and promptly. He would frequently deceive people without any hesitation and even “enjoy” doing it.
Since man is essentially a creature of habit, we will end up acquiring habits as we go through the business of living our lives. Thus we might as well intentionally manage our personal lives in such a way that we acquire the good habits and avoid the bad ones.
What follows is a summary of the basic virtues. This is one way of enumerating the basic virtues that nourish the soul. And all explanations of virtues are necessarily linked to the Ten Commandments of God. I call this version of the virtues, the six core moral values. When these values are transformed into habits, we call them virtues.
1. The virtue of honoring God in all we do.
What is the good and proper attitude of man towards God? Since man is a finite and limited being, while God is the absolute and most perfect being, it is but in keeping with the dignity of our human nature to acknowledge God’s greatness over us and our total submission to Him. A person who behaves in this manner towards God is basically a religious person.
A religious person is someone who gives to God what is due to Him. God is entitled to this right and we must respect this. We do this by acknowledging His supreme excellence through adoration, by acknowledging that we are totally dependent on Him, through prayer, and by acknowledging that we are subject to His will, through obedience, starting with His Ten Commandments and any other things He may will us to do. By doing this and more, we love God above all
things and honor Him in all that we do.
2. The virtue of loving people selflessly.
If we understand the immense inherent dignity that every human being possesses, regardless of his behavior or his relationship to us, we will realize that the only proper way to love people is to love them selflessly. We cannot treat a person who has such immense dignity as means to an end. We have to love him as an end in itself. This means that a human person must be loved for his own sake, and not because of what he can do for us. And this implies willing the good of a person without letting our love for him depend on what we can get in return. This may sound like a tall order, an impossible dream. However, precisely because of our spirituality, we are capable of genuine selfless love.
Furthermore, when this love is reciprocated we call it friendship. But we must love all people whether they reciprocate our love or not. In Christian terms, we call this kind of love charity.
More specifically, we must love people with deeds and not just sweet words or nice feelings. And we must love them all as we love ourselves. More perfectly, we must love others as God loves us. Only God can love in a totally selfless manner. When we love someone, even if he does not reciprocate that love, we always end up benefiting, since we are by nature creatures, limited finite beings, who always come out winning when we do good to others.
And more heroically, we are encouraged to love not only our friends and nice people, but also people who are disagreeable to us. And extreme love pushes us to love even our enemies. It is so hard to find naturally loveable enemies. And even if we do not want to have enemies, some people treat us like that. And we must love them too.
3. The virtue or respecting authority.
It is natural for man to live and work in harmony with his fellowmen in the pursuit of a common goal. This living together establishes relationships of authority within the exercise of individual human freedom. Freedom and authority are realities in human interaction. They are not opposed to each other. In fact, they complement each other. Authority is not tyranny. Obedience is not slavery. Authority and obedience do not violate the dignity of human freedom. In fact, authority wielded responsibly enhances human freedom. And freedom that obeys becomes mature and strong.
The virtue of respect for authority has two basic aspects. First, those who wield authority must use it for the good of its constituents, helping them reach their full development. Authority entails power over people that must be used for the good of those people. It would be an abuse of authority if someone uses it for his own advantage, his own good. Second, those subject to authority must obey intelligently. Blind obedience is often times praised, but God gave us a mind of our own to obey intelligently. We must use our heads when we obey, not in order to question or put to doubt the command but in order to know and understand better how to carry it out. Moreover, obedience should be prompt and generous.
3. The virtue of respecting the dignity of human sexuality.
As we deal with our fellow human beings, we will obviously discover that men are either male or female. Man is essentially a being with sexuality manifested in the duality of sexes. And our relationships with our fellow men should be governed by our understanding of the sacred value of human sexuality in the context of our state in life.
Sex and sexuality were never meant to be toys used for our own self-gratification or for the mere pleasure of others. Sex is sacred since it is linked to two wonderful God-given spiritual realities: spousal love and parenthood.
Sex outside these two spiritual realities (marriage and procreation) loses its genuine human meaning and transforms sex into something that degrades man. The value of sexuality should be understood in our total nature as beings composed of body and soul. Sexuality is not only material. It is also spiritual. Thus, sexuality and sex should not be valued only because of the pleasure they can give.
Within marriage, sexual love is romantic, exclusive, lasting and open to life. This is the way God meant it to be. For those who are not married, their sexuality should not be manifested in physical sex through the experience of sexual pleasure. But yes, they can manifest their sexuality in many other ways that are chaste.
5. The virtue of being truthful with charity.
The power of speech was meant by the Author of nature to be used by men in order to communicate the truth to one another. Furthermore, man’s social nature requires that we live with one another in the pursuit of a shared vision and a common good. This, however, is possible only if we can trust one another. And trust is rooted in truthfulness.
Thus it is valuable for man to behave in a way that he respects the truth always. This means that whenever he expresses himself to others, what he says must coincide with what he knows. He must never tell a lie. Lying is always wrong.
However, the situation may sometimes dictate that we are obliged to conceal the truth from people who have no right to the information. But we must never conceal the truth by lying, since lying is always wrong. So situationally concealing the truth may be morally good. But lying is always wrong even if it is beneficial in some way.
On other occasions, we may be obliged to reveal the truth even if it hurts. But we must always reveal the truth always with charity.
Let us live our life with foresight early on. Let us strive to avoid doing anything evil, anything that we would be ashamed of. In this way, we will have very little to conceal from others. Nothing to hide. No need to lie.
6. The virtue of responsible dominion over the material world.
It is people that we must love selflessly. We must not love material things for their own sake. We must not make use of people. But we have to make use of material things, precisely because we are bodily beings. However, our spiritual nature tells us thatwe should not allow material things to dominate our lives. In other words, we must maintain dominion over material things whenever we use them, never allowing them to control our lives. Use material things because they are good for us, but do not use them in a disorderly way. Do not live your lives as if only material things can truly make you happy. Spiritual goods are still greater than material goods. We must use material things without becoming materialistic.
However, dominion does not entail using material things in any manner whatsoever. We must use material things knowing how to respect their value. We must not destroy the environment by destroying its ecological balance. We should not torture animals, even if we need to slaughter them for food. We must know how to take care of things, making them last so that generations after could benefit from using them.
Private ownership is a basic human right. But if we strive not to be materialistic, then we will know how to share our possessions with our neighbors. This is selflessness in practice. We must also strive to respect the property of others.
These are the six basic human virtues that we should strive to acquire, in order to nourish our spiritual lives. They are ideals of our life. They are of great value and require great effort to attain them. But the effort is worth it since their value is great. And they are ideals that can be attained. Do not equate being idealistic with being unrealistic. It is false. Ideals were meant to be actualized. We should not lower ideals just to make them more accessible to more people. If we lower an ideal, it would no longer be attractive to people. What we should do is to help people acquire those ideals. We should elevate people, not lower their ideals.
Let me now share with you a poem that became famous in Japan after World War II. It is entitled YOUTH and this is what it says:
Youth is not a time of life,
it is a state of mind;
it is not a matter of rosy cheeks,
and supple knees;
it is a matter of the will,
a quality of the imagination,
a vigor of the emotions;
it is freshness
of the deep springs of life.
the temperamental predominance
of courage over timidity,
of the appetite for adventure
over the love of ease.
This often exists in a man of sixty
more than a boy of twenty.
Nobody grows old merely
by a number of years.
We grow old
by deserting our ideals.
And may I emphasize: we grow prematurely old when we desert our ideals so early in our lives. So please do not do anything that would compromise your ideals. Try to be upright always. Never compromise your morals for the sake of survival. Do not compromise your purity just to be accepted by your lustful peers. Do not compromise your integrity by cheating just to make friends with your classmates who do not study. Do not sacrifice your prayer time, just to watch a popular basketball game or TV program. Do not jeopardize your selflessness by refusing to help someone in need just because you don’t like him. Do not destroy your humility by being vain and giving your self importance. Live the virtues always. Never ever desert your ideals!