Last week, in our reflection on virtue, we examined the Cardinal Virtues which primarily order our relationship with one another. This week, we will spend some time looking more closely at the Theological Virtues.
The three Theological Virtues are those that order man to God, allowing him to participate in God’s own Trinitarian, divine life. They provide the foundation for the Christian’s entire moral life because they guide, direct, and give life to all other virtues. These virtues are gifts given to us by God freely and it is up to us to decide whether or not we want to accept and use them. The three Theological Virtues are Faith, Hope, and Charity.
Faith (CCC #1814-1816)
Faith is the virtue that enables us to believe in God and believe what He has revealed to us as truth because He is Truth Himself. By accepting that He has revealed Himself to us through His Word, which is incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, we also acknowledge the Truth in everything Jesus revealed to us through His words and actions. This faith compels us to turn our lives over to Him and act accordingly. There is no faith without works, as authentic faith necessarily calls us to action. For Catholics, God also reveals Himself through the Church He established. Therefore, faith also obligates us to be obedient to Him by way of following what the Church prescribes for us.
Faith requires both solitude and community. We must be able to find God in the solitude of our hearts and participate in intimate relationship and love with Him there. As individuals we can seek God out in the truth of His revelation by reading, studying, and asking questions. We can seek Him out in the beauty of nature, art, and music. We can find Him in the goodness of the world through the observation or participation in the good works we see being done all around us. All these things give us the faith and assurance of God’s existence and allow us to interact with him on an individual level.
However, faith cannot exist alone and survive without a communal component as well. As members of the Body of Christ, we must cooperate in expressing our faith. Faith requires communal worship in liturgy and an acknowledgement of the Communion of Saints as unseen members of our Body. Community creates an atmosphere for discipline and obedience as we hold ourselves accountable to one another and the Church which He created.
The intimacy between God and humanity is expressed through faith and authentic faith requires action. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” (1 John 4:20). In loving our neighbor, we serve as a witness to our faith and demonstrate our love for God.
Hope (CCC #1817-1821)
The secular definition of hope is more synonymous with wish – “I hope you have a good day” – but that is not how Christians understand it. Hope is the virtue by which we desire and seek our ultimate good and happiness which is eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. When everything else is going wrong all around us on Earth, it is hope that keeps us focused on the eternal goal beyond this life. It enables us to trust in all of Christ’s promises. As we work to perfect our lives in holiness as He directed us, we do so because of the virtue of hope which promises us there is something better ahead for us. It is the virtue of hope that propels us in our practice of fortitude as we persevere through the obstacles and trials in living out our Christian faith. Hope gives us the ability to do God’s will even when it is hard because we know we will be rewarded for doing so.
When circumstances or sufferings tempt us toward despair, it is the virtue of hope that fights against our temptation. We were not made to suffer or despair because those are not of God or His goodness. So, hope changes us and gives us a new perspective. Our end is not here on this earth but is, instead in heaven where there is no suffering or despair. It is a perfection of the virtue of hope which caused the Saints to express sheer joy amidst their sufferings and it is what we are called to as well.
Charity (CCC #1822-1829)
Charity, or love, is the virtue that allows us to fulfill the two greatest commandments revealed by Jesus. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments,” (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31). These “new” commandments that Jesus put forth do not abolish the Ten Commandments, rather they fulfill them and give meaning to them. We are not called to follow the Ten Commandments blindly or as meaningless rules. We are called to follow them precisely because we love God above all things and we love others above ourselves. When we act in love, or charity, we naturally follow the old law, but it has new meaning. Charity is the highest virtue because any other virtue that you exhibit is necessarily driven by charity, either toward God or toward your neighbor.
Authentic love is to recognize God’s love for you and all of His creation and to reflect that love back into the world. It is to honor everyone and everything as He does. Jesus crucified is the perfect example of this authentic love and whenever we have any questions about how to act in charity, all we need to do is gaze upon a crucifix. Jesus put our ultimate well-being ahead of his own immediate well-being, suffering so that we might be saved from our own sins.
Contrary to the secular understanding of love as a feeling, the Catholic virtue of authentic charity says that love is a choice. Regardless of how you feel or don’t feel in a particular situation, you may willfully choose a loving action toward a person, wherein which heroic Christian virtue lies. Choosing charity and love when it is difficult or undeserved is what we are called to do in the practice of this virtue and, while extremely fruitful, it is often difficult when done correctly. Knowing the difficulty that can exist here, we can again remember to rely on God and His grace and ask Him, in prayer, to increase our capacity for true and authentic charity, so that we may live more closely in accordance with his will for us.
This Lent let’s see if we can open our hearts a little more than we might find comfortable at first, in order to make even more room for the Theological Virtues of faith, hope, and charity. By allowing Him inside to increase these virtues, our moral and virtuous life will grow, creating an even brighter light to dispel the darkness of sin which we all desire to overcome.
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