Cardinal Virtues

Excerpt from The Holy Family Rosary:

The cardinal virtues of Temperance, Prudence, Justice, and Fortitude are convincingly witnessed when highlighted to become our noble gains through Grace.  When sought daily in repetition of weekly prayer, they bear life-giving fruits of the spirit, displacing vice, and protecting us from capital sin through the examples of Christ overcoming the flesh, the world, and the opposing spirit of wickedness – all defeated by the example of His surrender as the Son of Man.  St. Teresa of Avila was so impassioned of the importance of virtue she mentioned this again, saying: “I repeat, that if you have this in view you must not build upon foundations of prayer and contemplation alone, for, unless you strive after the virtues and practice them, you will never grow to be more than dwarfs.  God grant that nothing worse than this may happen – for, as you know, anyone who fails to go forward begins to go back.”[1] And for this reason, this fact never seems redundant to repeat.

Temperance is self restraint in action such as habitual moderation in regard to the indulgence of the natural appetites and passions like joy or mirth.  It can be seen in the surrounding events of the Joyful Mysteries such as those causing Mary’s silent awaiting for the response of St. Joseph having such great concern over her pregnancy that it required divine guidance for his decision to keep from putting Mary as his wife aside.  Another was their necessary flight to Egypt to escape the edict of King Herod for the killing of all firstborns over his fear of the Messiah King predicted to come; and at Jesus’ Presentation at the Temple, the pondering of the words of the just and devout Simeon that: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.”[2] Another is easily noticed prior to finding Jesus in the Temple and how the Holy Family had to endure great anxieties amidst their frightening concern while searching for (and missing) God’s Son.

Another marvelously hidden example would be of the wedding feast when Mary said “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye”[3] without necessarily understanding what her Son would advise.  We can glean that she must have learned in assured temperance from past events, especially from steadily gaining a sure belief that her Son would know exactly what was best.  All of these events reveal the importance of temperance in the making of saints, especially when seen as a ‘norm’ in that of the Holy Family’s.

Prudence is the wisdom to see what is virtuous, or suitable, or profitable and is perfectly accented within the Gracious Mysteries as defining our cause and response and effects through prayer.  It builds upon the temperance necessary to sustain good will when we seek the knowledge of God through Mary and Christ, or when petitioning the Lord for strength, or seeking His intercession in counsel (such as given in Church Councils), or in thanksgiving for Jesus’ understanding, or in praising the wisdom of the Lord seeking gain of His wisdom through His praise.  Yet we must beware!  The devil does the same.  In prudence we look ahead for the good and comprehend by faith to recognize why Jesus came to lead our way.

Proverbs has a wonderful introduction of prudence saying: “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and wilt hide my commandments with thee, that thy ear may hearken to wisdom: incline thy heart to know prudence: for if thou shalt call for wisdom, and incline thy heart to prudence: if thou shalt seek her as money, and shalt dig for her as for a treasure: then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and shalt find the knowledge of God.  Because the Lord giveth wisdom: and out of his mouth cometh prudence and knowledge.”[4] And are further told: “If wisdom shall enter into thy heart, and knowledge please thy soul: counsel shall keep thee, and prudence shall preserve thee, that thou mayst be delivered from the evil way, and from the man that speaketh perverse things: who leave the right way, and walk by dark ways:”[5] And is most worthily expressed as found in: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is prudence.”[6] ‘Tis true.  Amen!

And for this reason we are wise to believe Christ’s words as relayed by St. Matthew: “At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.  Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight.  All things are delivered to me by my Father.  And no one knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him.  Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you.  Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.  For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.”[7]

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) spoke of the importance and powerful necessity for training in prudence of spiritual things saying: “In this and other ways, the words and visions of God may be true and sure and yet we may be deceived by them, through being unable to interpret them in a high and important sense, which is the sense and purpose wherein God intends them.  And thus the best and surest course is to train souls in prudence so that they flee from these supernatural things, by accustoming them, as we have said, to purity of spirit in dark faith, which is the means of union.”[8] This is why we are to seek the voice of another like unto our self in the manner of God having said: “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself.”[9] This is an important reason the disciples were sent out two by two, just as Church Councils assist the Holy See in discernment of and for the Lord’s Holy Word.

Justice is the exercise of authority in vindication of right by assigning reward or punishment[10] and is “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.’”[11] Without doubt we are drawn to a better understanding of justice by pointing to the teachings of Jesus Christ as our way, truth, and life in the meditations within the Luminous Mysteries of Light.  We do well to thank heaven above for this inspiration from God to Pope John Paul II by contemplating them, again and again.

The psalmist proclaimed: “O! that my ways may be directed to keep thy justifications. Then shall I not be confounded, when I shall look into all thy commandments.  I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned the judgments of thy justice.”[12] And St. Paul confirmed the necessity for understanding this of Jesus, saying: “For they, not knowing the justice of God, and seeking to establish their own, have not submitted themselves to the justice of God.  For the end of the law is Christ, unto justice to every one that believeth.”[13] St. John of the Cross advised: “Blessed is he that puts aside his pleasure and inclination and regards things according to reason and justice in order to perform them.”[14] Supporting this Word of the Lord, the prophet Isaiah said: “I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I have not said to the seed of Jacob: Seek me in vain.  I am the Lord that speak justice, that declare right things.”[15] This is an awesome reason for the Luminous Mysteries to have been given and why so important for Jesus, His Church, and all who seek to follow in His image for living and preaching justice in an open and public view.

Fortitude “is that firmness of spirit and swell of soul which meets danger without fear.  Bravery is daring and impetuous courage, like that of one who has the reward continually in view, and displays his courage in daring acts.  Fortitude has often been styled ‘passive courage,’ and consists in the habit of encountering danger and enduring pain with a steadfast and unbroken spirit.  That quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear is bravery”[16] and worthy of direct contemplation within the Sorrowful Mysteries of Christ.  A usage listed as obsolete refers to the heart as our source of emotion.  This kind of steadfstness “is of one’s convictions to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, esp. in spite of criticism”[17], even when against our own or another’s will as we were instructed by St. Paul, “… flee thou youthful desires, and pursue justice, faith, charity, and peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”[18]

This foundation for courage was spoken of to Joshua as precursor to what would be necessary for Christ in His work of propitiation in delivering mankind in redemption from sin when told “And the Lord commanded Josue the son of Nun, and said: Take courage, and be valiant: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I have promised, and I will be with thee.”[19] St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of our need for steadfastness in resisting sin, “Just as in a race and in combat we need to shed everything that cramps our movements, the same happens in the struggle of tribulation.  ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race,’ St Paul says.[20] So, he who wants to run well towards God in the midst of tribulation should shed all useless weight.  The Apostle describes this encumbrance as ‘weight, and sin which clings so closely’.  This weight is from the sins we have committed, which pull the soul downwards and incline it to sin again.”[21] Through Jesus’ virtue we become ever mindful of our sinfulness in trustworthy belief that He is the Christ who came to set us free.

The following advice was given by King David to his son Solomon: “Now then before all the assembly of Israel, in the hearing of our God, keep ye, and seek all the commandments of the Lord our God: that you may possess the good land, and may leave it to your children after you for ever.  And thou my son Solomon, know the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the thoughts of minds.  If thou seek him, thou shalt find him: but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.  Now therefore seeing the Lord hath chosen thee to build the house of the sanctuary, take courage, and do it.”[22] It is in this light that we come to comprehend what is meant in David’s psalm, “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.  The Lord will send forth the sceptre of thy power out of Sion: rule thou in the midst of thy enemies.  With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength: in the brightness of the saints: from the womb before the day star I begot thee.”[23]

We see that the Holy Ghost spoke through the Prophet David about Christ at the same time the King spoke to Solomon his son.  So incredible to see that God is truly One.  If only Solomon had remembered that although the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, he was also forewarned that “the fruit of humility is the fear of the Lord.”[24] We can ascertain from this knowledge of Solomon that he fell from grace because of pride.

Fortitude is the foothold for the virtue of courage to be employed under the duress of impending death and becomes the remedy for our human fear, allowing us to remain rooted in fear of the Lord in the example of Christ during His Sorrowful Mysteries in that “Jesus saith to them: My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work.[25] In Jesus Christ all virtues intertwine.

In conclusion, just as wisdom is listed first as the greatest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (and not fear of the Lord), the New Testament Church lists temperance as last in a reverent view of Christ’s charge to His Mother Mary in commissioning her to oversee our individual and collective supply for man’s benefit as Mother of the Church, we are reminded of scriptures saying, “and the last shall be first.”[26]

The Faithful Mysteries can be seen as this applied will of God for the New Testament Church in retrospect of His life and defining instructions in the sections of His Holy Mass. Christ’s Church provides us with His sustaining source of everlasting temperance, as was introduced in the Luminous Mysteries of the Sacraments.  Graces from Baptism, Confirmation, and the Sacraments of Sacraments, our Bread from Heaven – Holy Eucharist – are now sustained within by receiving His Perpetual Divine Offering in the fullness of Himself.  Of special note is that the Church was surprised by the addition of the Mysteries of Light and that they hinted future cause to advance Mary’s holy prayers to complete a holy week may not have been noticed.

[1] Interior Castle, VII, 4, 9.
[2] Lk. 2:35.
[3] Jn. 2:5.
[4] Prov. 2:1-6.
[5] Prov. 2:10-13.
[6] Prov. 9:10.
[7] Mt. 11:25-30.
[8] Ascent to Mount Carmel, Book II, Chapter XIX, #4.
[9] Gen. 2:18.
[10] The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., 2004
[11] CCC #1807
[12] Ps. 118:5-7.
[13] Rom. 10:3-4.
[14] Spiritual Sentences and Maxims, #42.
[15] Isa. 45:19.
[16] The Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary;
[17] Ibid.
[18] 2 Tim. 2:22.
[19] Deut. 31:23.
[20] 2 Tim. 4:7.
[21] Commentary on Heb., ad loc.
[22] 1 Chron. 28:8-10.
[23] Ps. 109:1-3.
[24] Prov. 22:4.
[25] Jn. 4:34.
[26] Mt. 19:30