Leading Virtuous Lives

Leading Virtuous Lives

The two long pages of the Gospel of Matthew (5:17-37)can be summarized thusly: “if you are dissatisfied with people and situations, a lot depends on you and on your inner disposition.” Hence, to achieve lasting changes in people and situations, we ought to begin by changing our inner attitude. And, to do that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we must acquire some fundamental virtues.

To drive this point home, Jesus uses strong, shocking, incisive, compelling words, because any changes we decide to make in our heart can be made only after we have a thorough knowledge of what goes on in it, along with unwavering self-discipline, firm self-control, and a considerable spirit of sacrifice. This is precisely the original concept of virtue in Latin: “virtus” conveys the idea of strength, hard work, resolve, perseverance and constancy.

Considering the dire, sad, scary situation (I dare to say) in which our western world finds itself, I believe that only preciously few disciples of Christ might be inclined to lead a truly virtuous life.

Disciples of Christ unwilling to be sustained by the Holy Spirit in developing these virtues, would find themselves choosing to follow only what is personally agreeable in the teachings of Jesus and of his Church, while ignoring the rest. But Jesus warns us against being cavalier about dismissing even a seemingly insignificant little details of divine law. Carelessness and selectiveness about which of his teachings we deem worth observing would indicate that our inner attitude needs a lot of work by the Holy Spirit. If our heart is not ready for small expressions of love and genuine care of others, imagine how far it is still from implementing the new commandment of loving each other the way he, the Lord Jesus, loved us from the cross!

These forceful words of him, addressed to us at this very juncture in our life, are a warning that failure to set aside scheduled reflections on God’s Word, would lead us to minimize our sins, to downplay especially those sins to which we are more attached and would keep us from owning up to our repeated failures to love. Thus, as time goes by, rather than being directly engaged in suitable solutions, we would become part of the problems afflicting out world.

Lacking a habitual confrontation with Jesus’ teachings, we would not know the reason why we don’t feel alright inside whenever we are unwilling to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters who wronged us, or whom we wronged. Taking what Jesus teaches as if it were just a step higher than mere human words, we would soon find sensible, fashionable, and enjoyable what the world proposes. Unwilling or incapable of abiding by Jesus’ teachings would eventually fill our mind and heart with alluring thoughts, sinful attachments, unruly desires, and rogue passions.  

Therefore, we should remember that our minds and hearts cannot remain empty: either they are prompted by Jesus’ teachings, or they get quickly filled with greed, lust, envy, preoccupations of all kinds, fruitless quests for happiness away from or against God, and out-of-control passions, all of this along with an easily bruised ego gnawing us from within. Add to that all the foolish nonsense which the world proposes as sure sources of happiness.

Last Sunday, Jesus gave us a most solemn charge: to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Once again, he calls us to be directly engaged to work with him to transform this world.

It is time we honestly find out where we stand: we might be part of the problems afflicting this world due to our poor choices, adherence of what the world proposes and to cowardly indifference on our part.

Or we can be least in the Kingdom of heaven, sitting by the sidelines of life, with lukewarm love for Jesus and for his Church.

Or else, relying on the virtues of inner strength, hard work, resolve, perseverance and constancy, as well as on docile obedience to the Holy Spirit, we are ready to serve the Lord and our neighbor in any way, however small, however big it might be, as required of us and, accordingly, become the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin