Upon much thought and prayer, the concept of virtues and their importance seemed to fit well with our expectations for the mission.
A virtue is 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 virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
Above, as the Catechism (1803) introduces us to virtues, I feel that this explains my feelings towards the subject matter and the community of young people we were serving.
“…but to give the best of himself.”
I have only worked directly with the older kids in Bapchule, those in 7th grade and above. In the two short weeks over two years that I have spent with them, I am convinced that this line best explains the purpose of virtues in their lives. Each and every single one of them is an amazing, great individual. Some of them have had bad raps or found themselves involved with some unsavory things or whatnot; however, talk to them one-on-one or in a small group and you’ll quickly see how each of them are truly precious. Many, if not most or all, of these young people live in unbearable situations. If they themselves don’t, members of their family or their close friends do. I firmly believe that those who find themselves wrapped in on the wrong side of drugs or alcohol or sex or violence are not bad kids at all; most of them have been dealt a bad hand and are trying not to allow them let that bad hand limit them to not giving the best of him or her.
We focused on seven virtues over five days: the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues.
- Prudenceis the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.” “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.” Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
- Justiceis the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
- Fortitudeis 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. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
- Temperanceis 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: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.
- Faithis 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.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through love.”
- Hopeis 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. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” “The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”
- Charity or LoveThe practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony”; 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. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love.
We gave each cardinal virtue a day and combined the theological virtues into a fun-filled Friday.
How much did we reach the kids with these virtues? Who knows. We had a “Skit Squad” do a great job with a different skit each day for each grade level (more or less) that gave everyone something concrete to connect the virtue with, we discussed Bible stories and saints that highlighted the virtue and we gave talks about each.
At the same time, my goal was not to provide catechetical instruction to the youth. If virtues are to enable us to let our best out and to help us show others what we’re really made of, being able to recite the Catechism’s description of each is not the goal.
What is the virtue, to use the word in a different way, of taking a week out of our lives and finding ourselves in Bapchule with these kids? Quite simply, it is to make a connection with them. It is just to be there with them. Sure, it’s about giving a talk on justice and helping them to see that we all have a calling of making things right in the world. Sure, it’s about giving a talk on temperance or faith or hope. Above that, it’s about being ourselves just while there. It’s about being examples of temerance and faith and hope ourselves.
We were there to preach the Gospel at all times, and when needed, we used words. Our actions had to reflect, above all else, the virtues we taught them. I think we did a good job of it.
As I type all of this, I can’t help but think how is that any different than what every day should be like? It’s not. We didn’t spend a week out in Bapchule to serve these “needy kids who need to hear from us about virtues”. We spent a week in Bapchule to serve kids who hopefully we helped by giving them an outside examples of virtue and to serve kids who gave us hope in tomorrow.