Tag Archives: virtue

24 February: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XIII: A sense of humour helps 2.


Hearing this Saint Francis, all overjoyed in spirit, lifting up his face unto heaven, stood for a great while with his mind uplifted in God; anon returning to himself again, he knelt him down and rendered thanks and praises unto God: and then with great fervour of spirit turned him to Brother Masseo and said: “Wilt thou know why after me? wilt thou know why after me? wilt thou know why after me? that the whole world doth run? This cometh unto me from the eyes of the most high God, which behold at all time the evil and the good: for those most holy eyes have seen among sinners none more vile, none more lacking, no greater sinner than am I: wherefore to do this marvellous work the which He purposeth to do, He hath not found upon the earth a creature more vile, and therefore hath He chosen me to confound the nobleness and the greatness and the strength and the beauty and wisdom of the world: to
the intent that men may know that all virtue and all goodness come from Him, and not from the creature, and that no man may glory in himself; but whoso will glory, may glory in the Lord, unto whom is honour and glory for ever. and ever.”

Then Brother Masseo, at so humble a reply uttered with so great fervour, was afraid, and knew of a surety that Saint Francis was rooted and grounded in humility.


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14 February, Ash Wednesday: Beware of Bland Faith!

monica9People talk about blind faith, but this Ash Wednesday I want to look at bland faith. Two posts last November 6th used the word: a thought provoking conjunction. Here’s Friar Austin:1

Jesus belongs to anyone struggling with faith – and how to live it truthfully. It is clear that many who would call themselves agnostic or even atheist actually live by values closer to the Gospel than do many Church-goers.

Jesus appeals to the imagination in ways that make official teaching about him seem very bland. What is the reality of Jesus beyond dogma? He was very imaginative, to a degree more suited to story than to doctrine. How would he tell his own story?

There never has been a time when God was not fully involved with Creation. The Book of Genesis states that God takes great pleasure in the creative process – and God saw that it was very good – everything is good because it is of God, good only comes from goodness. With evolution the time came for the break away from our primate ancestors, when God adds a new dimension with the arrival of the human.

And Fr James Kurzynski:2

Something I think theology can learn from science is the inspirational ethos that can be created when faith is not merely approached as an intellectual discipline to be understood, but as an adventure to be lived and explored with deep passion.

Yes, we need high intellects in the Church to further the academic exploration of theology. However, we also need voices in the pastoral field who can take the complexity of the scholar and present it to the people of faith in a way that inspires them to embrace an adventure of faith, hope, and love. Unfortunately, all too often, I encounter a bland faith of practicality in which adventure is lost and is replaced with paying bills, developing programs, and keeping tabs on the number of parishioners in the pews.

My fear is that faith is become so pragmatic that even the idea of pilgrimage, a sacred journey, is being dropped in favor of pressing play on the DVD player to watch the latest series on Catechetical instruction. Put another way, I fear that we are living in the midst of “Living-room Catholicism.”

What set me off about bland faith was this description of a Lutheran minister from Siri Hustvedt:3

He was well-meaning if somewhat narrow in his views and comfortable in his faith without being smug. At the same time, it has always impressed me that in the hands of men like Lund, the strange, bloody and wondrous Christian story inevitably turned rather drab.

Let’s take time this Lent to put a little more colour into our faith and how we live it.

3The Sorrows of an American, London, Sceptre, 2009, p173.


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January 13. Temperance VII: Beauty, Reason and Will

Jack Lonnen Meadows in costume 1At last we may return to one of the key ideas in the first quotation I cited some days ago in these posts on temperance. The philosopher Josef Pieper says that the virtue of temperance is beautiful in itself and renders the human being beautiful. What can he mean? Isn’t temperance about self-control? Beauty belongs to some other virtue, maybe, but not to temperance.

But beauty, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is an attribute of temperance because temperance enables us to control ourselves in relation to those things which can most degrade us. When our passions are indulged in an intemperate way, they ‘dim the light of reason from which all clarity and beauty of virtue arises’, according to Thomas. Let’s linger over this a bit. St. Thomas mentions the ‘light of reason’. We are always being reminded by St. Thomas that the human being is a rational being. Our reason, as we have noted in all our posts, is a great attribute, a precious gift. It is, you might say, like a musical instrument that needs careful handling. A violinist carries his instrument in a specially constructed violin case that protects the strings and the wood from damage so that the violin is able to produce the sweetest sound. Our reason, too, is meant to be protected from damage so that it can function well. Intemperance can cause a kind of damage to our reason. It is not hard to understand this. Just think of someone who is drunk. What becomes of the light of reason and the clarity of thought in an intoxicated person? Or think of someone in a rage so intense that the mind stops functioning, and violence takes over.

The role of the will is important here. ‘The will,’ says Thomas, ‘stands between the reason and the passions and may be moved by either.’ Our will, then, is a bit like a traffic policeman, allowing some things through and making others wait. The traffic policeman commands obedience from drivers in the same way that the will, directed by the reason, can command obedience from our passions. If our passions do not obey will, the will can be run over by them, and this causes havoc for us. Thomas goes on to say, ‘Although the passions are not in the will, it is in the power of the will to resist them.’ We are not at the mercy of our passions, regardless of their seeming strength. Just because we may passionately want to do something that we know is not good, our will need not capitulate.

It is always possible for the passions to respond to the will’s directives. The passions are not all-powerful. The will, moved by the light of reason, is able to resist them.

Yet, the beauty of temperance is not merely that it protects us from going hay-wire with regard to the physical pleasures of food and drink and sex. It has a positive effect on our entire being, body, soul and spirit. Temperance is not directed only to our physical appetites. We have a host of emotional appetites also: the craving for control, for popularity, for possessions, for acceptance, for love, for attention, for money, for safety, for comfort – the list goes on and on. We cannot treat all of them here. But from all of them in their extreme and intemperate form, temperance is liberating and purifying.

The particular beauty of temperance is ‘the glow of the true and the good’ radiating from within the temperate person. Temperance, you might say, works on us to bring about the purification of our entire being. How? By submitting our most intensely personal feelings and desires, our most passionate impulses and cravings to the light of divine truth.

As Pieper says, temperance is ‘that purity by dint of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfilment is abandoned.’ He continues:

A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention… to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart, and thus to experience its fruitful and transforming power.


Maurice’s great-great-grandfather was an actor.

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12 January, Temperance VI: Temperance, Restraint and Anger.


One of the important aspects of the virtue temperance is that it is not just about our physical appetites. It is about all our appetites, and develops our ability to handle such emotions as intense fear, desire and anger. And so, it complements moderation with something that uses perhaps more ‘muscle’ – and that something is restraint. Restraint is that power of soul whose act is to choose. In so doing, it curbs the desire for immediate gratification by showing us that we may fulfil our being more truly by making a reasoned choice than by gratifying an impulse that is coming (as in the case of anger) from a hidden desire for vengeance.

Restraint has particular relevance to the passion of anger. Anger can be a very strong passion indeed, and it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. St. Thomas grants that some forms of anger are useful: the anger that surfaces in regard to injustice, for example, and any kind of abuse. Anger is a necessary passion in these circumstances. I would go even further and say that there are some situations to which anger is the only healthy response. But, once again, anger must be directed by the light of reason. Intemperate anger can be destructive and abusive itself, and St. Thomas would not allow that it is good to fight violence with violence. This is where restraint comes in. Blind wrath, bitterness of spirit, revengeful resentment: these forms of anger are highlighted by St. Thomas as being the most dangerous aspects of anger and therefore most in need of the curbing powers of restraint. Blind wrath, he says, is anger that is immoderately fierce and destructive. Bitterness of spirit is to do with a state of anger that lasts so long that it becomes a part of one’s very character and personality. In this case the offence remains in one’s memory, and gives rise to what Thomas calls ‘lasting displeasure’ that does not stop until punishment has been inflicted. Revengeful resentment is an aspect of this ongoing bitterness in which the disposition becomes chronically sullen and the mind is endlessly preoccupied with taking revenge.

When these aspects of anger are delineated here in writing, it is easy to see how harmful they can be – to ourselves and to others – but let’s face it: we have all been there and probably done it. I don’t doubt that many of us have at times been swept away by the intensity of our feelings and indulged in precisely the kind of angry behaviour Thomas describes. These temptations are part of the weakness we have as fallen beings. But the virtue of temperance brings good things to bear on this state of affairs. Through gentleness, justice and charity we can restrain the onslaught of anger.

Gentleness, contrary to what we might think, does not mean that we never feel angry, or that if we do, we can get over it almost before we feel the full force of it. Rather, gentleness is what makes a person master of herself, and therefore master of the power of anger, according to St. Thomas – for anger is a power, and as such is capable of accomplishing something good. Gentleness is about channeling that power rightly, dealing with the cause of the anger fairly, addressing the whole situation that gave rise to the anger in such a way as to change it for the better.

In order to do this, of course, we need to enlist the aid of our reason. We are back to the need to think. Our reason then, brings justice and charity to bear upon the situation that has caused our anger. Justice and charity working together with gentleness enables us to focus on something other than our own pain. We become able to focus on the feelings of the one (or ones) who offended us, on seeing the situation from the other side, and on effecting the changes that will lead to the establishment of peace – even if some of those changes are changes that need to take place within our own heart.


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January 11: Temperance V: The Gift of Shame

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The virtue of temperance does not require the stoic abstention from all physical pleasures. Temperance is the virtue by which we are strengthened in the ability to decide how much is good for us, and to follow through on that decision on the level of behaviour. What helps us in our decision?

St. Thomas teaches that the spontaneous reaction of shame that surfaces when we have over-indulged in the physical pleasures is both healthy and helpful to us. At first this might be hard to believe: shame is such a miserable, intensely uncomfortable feeling. We don’t like it, and often try to suppress it, or to defend against it by laughing it off and telling ourselves not to be so morbid. Yet, it is better for us to face our feeling of shame. It is a useful reaction whereby we recoil psychologically from the disgrace that comes from intemperance.

Excesses on the level of our physical appetites give us a feeling shame that is usually more intense than the shame we feel over our other moral failings and sins. St Thomas explains that this is because our bodily appetites are what we share with animals, and when we over-indulge them we feel deep down that we have lost something of our innate dignity as human beings.


Shame, again, surfaces spontaneously. In the masterful book Love and Responsibility, written by Karol Wojtyla*1 in the 1960s, the phenomenon of shame is one of the topics he studies in depth. Here is a brief passage from his book:

Shame is a tendency, uniquely characteristic of the human person, to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value of the person as such. The purposes of this tendency is self-defence of the person, which does not wish to be an object to be used by another… but does wish to be an object of love (Chapter III).

Perhaps this requires some unpacking. First Wojtyla affirms that shame is part of our in-built moral equipment, as it were – uniquely characteristic of the human person. As such, it is a gift, and it has an importance and a purpose in our spiritual and human lives. Then, he speaks of ‘sexual values.’ Again, an important notion. We see here that he is not trying to say that our sexuality is bad. Then why does he talk about ‘concealing’ this value? Simply because this value has a tendency to loom larger than it should, so much so that it can ‘obscure the value of the person.’ There is a hierarchy of values here, he is saying: the person is of greater value than sexual values. Through shame we actually protect ourselves as persons, so that we do not become an object of “use”. According to Wojtyla, then, shame is not the result of prudish conditioning by repressive religious teachings, or over-strict authority figures. It is inherent in our nature, and surfaces spontaneously with a message for us. That message is that we are created to be loved and to give love in a manner that always affirms the unique beauty and dignity of the person – both our own person and that of the beloved.

This beautiful insight by Karol Wojtyla shows us something that helps us to moderate our physical appetites, by reminding us that we were created to love and be loved. This is the fulfilment we crave most deeply. But we must love and be loved rightly, with great respect for ourselves as persons and for the unique personhood of our loved one.

1 Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, and was known as Pope John Paul II. His papacy lasted until his death, twenty-five years later.

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January 10: Temperance IV: Our Appetites and our Reason


Our human nature was created by God in such a way as to insure our survival as a species. The bodily appetites that deliver the most pleasure also happen to be the very ones we most need in order to keep us going on the planet earth. In themselves, they are good, as St. Thomas affirms, and there is nothing wrong with the pleasure they give. But, paradoxically, we need some moderation in these areas in order to enjoy the pleasure they give. How do we manage this?

There is very little in our secular culture to help us here. The advertising media exploits all our appetites in order to sell its products, thereby increasing our desire to posses those products and experience those pleasures, and giving us a vague feeling of inferiority if we do not. Being sexually active is presented as the greatest and most fulfilling human experience by the story-line of most films, plays and television shows. Chastity is rarely presented at all, and almost never shown in a positive light. The pleasures of food and alcohol are raised to the level of culinary art by celebrity chefs and the entire food industry. Yet, the fact that there are a rising number of individuals pursuing Twelve Step1 programs in order to handle addictions in these areas testifies to the truth that the Church has always known and St. Thomas clearly articulated in the thirteenth century. We need self-control with regard to our pleasures.

We also need to think. Our mind, our reason is more powerful than we may realise and can give us the real guidance we need. How reassuring this information is: that we have within us the capacity to direct our growth in goodness. This is nothing to do with IQ, and everything to do with opening our mind to the truth and our heart to the promptings of grace.

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The media and pop culture rely on us not thinking very deeply – and certainly not praying – so that we may be seduced by the personalities and products the media presents, and become consumers of what they sell. If we do not think too much, then our appetite for power and pleasure and possessions will move us to buy things that the businesses supporting the media want us to buy – things that will seem to feed these appetites, and give us the illusion that we, too, look like media stars and share somehow in their life of glamour and pleasure. This is manipulation on a grand scale. This illusion is something from which we need to withdraw in order to discover our true identity. We desperately need our ability to think, we need the use of what St. Thomas would call our reason, in order to live on a level in which we see through what is fraudulent and empty. Only then will we discover the joy of living in communion with God, and with what is true, and with a set of values in which temperance as a virtue becomes possible to us.


1It is important to point out that there can be a difference between addiction and intemperance, at least where drugs and alcohol are concerned. Drug and alcohol addiction is usually considered a disease which originates in a genetic pre-disposition to it. The only “cure” is complete abstinence from all substances. This is not the place to give a full description of the characteristics of addiction. I refer those interested in learning more about this to any writings on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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January 9: The Virtue of Temperance, III: Temperance and Moderation.


Good food in moderation: Broadstairs Baptist Church Hall.

One of the words St Thomas Aquinas uses to speak about temperance is moderation. For St. Thomas, moderation is concerned with that place between the extremes of too much and too little. It is a ‘place’ that is not always easy to find because it requires us to make use of our reason – an extremely important notion for St. Thomas in his understanding of the human person. He emphasises repeatedly that the human being is a rational animal. In saying this he wants us to understand that as ‘animals’ we do some of the things animals do. But as rational beings, we have the capacity – indeed, it is an ontological imperative – to order our ‘animal’ life according to principles and values that mere animals cannot begin to understand.

Yet, our capacity to order our life according to the ‘good of reason’ is somewhat weak, because we are ‘fallen’ through original sin. The integrity of our being is affected, and there are times when our emotions and bodily instincts are apt to clamour for what is not truly good for us. We love pleasures of all sorts, and they are often what lead us astray. We are especially attracted to the pleasures involved with food and sex.

The pleasures of food and sex fulfil our bodily existence, and enable us to continue as a species. So far so good. The trouble is that they seem to suggest that we will be made happy by pursuing these pleasures to the exclusion of all else. But pleasures can deceive. If we follow the path of pleasure in an immoderate way, we will soon experience all the misery that comes from addictive behaviour – for the bodily appetites, if unchecked, simply cry out for more and more pleasure while these same pleasures simultaneously deliver less and less of the very pleasure they seem to promise. This kind of problem simply goes with the package of our fallen human nature. No one escapes it; we must all grapple with it. Temperance, understood as the capacity to moderate the requirements of our physical life in accord with the good of reason, is the virtue that is concerned with these matters.


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January 8, The Virtue of Temperance: II. What is Temperance?


The word temperance, like the word fortitude, is perhaps another of those words that aren’t used much in ordinary conversation. But, the idea of temperance is suggested in some words that are used in every-day speech. Balance is one of those words, I think. We speak of wanting to lead ‘balanced’ lives, of wanting our judgments to be ‘balanced’, our big decisions in life to be the result of ‘balanced reflections.’ We speak of a person being unbalanced. We speak of balanced diets. We try to balance our professional lives with our personal lives. We know what people mean when we hear these phrases. Balance is something like the virtue of temperance. Something like it, but not identical to it.

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Temperance ‘…has a wider significance and higher rank,’ according to Pieper. ‘It is one of the four hinges on which swings the gate of life’ (see The Four Cardinal Virtues, 4,1). This is high praise, indeed. We wouldn’t usually think of ‘balance’ in such lofty terms. Temperance, however, delivers a greater reward than does mere emotional balance. Emotional balance is concerned mostly with making our lives run smoothly in this world. Temperance, however has a broader reach, encompassing our mind, extending to the very soul of the human being, and reaching up to heaven. Temperance seeks to order our earthly existence in such a way as to fit us for eternal life with God. We shall look at this more closely in our next post.


The door of Mercy, the Gate of Life.

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January 7, The Virtue of Temperance: Introduction – Temperance renders the human being beautiful


Good Afternoon friends! Sister Johanna has sent her latest series of posts on the virtues, this time Temperance. A good source of reflection for those of us who set unrealistic New year Resolutions; may your temperate resolutions nurture the beauty in you this year!

As always, Sister is well worth reading. God Bless, WT.

The virtue of temperance comes last in the line-up of the four cardinal virtues. We have already considered the other three virtues – prudence, justice and fortitude – in previous posts. These four virtues are called cardinal because they are of cardinal importance in our human life. They help us to live moral lives – they are also called the four moral virtues. They are concerned not only with our superficial behaviour, but with our deepest inner processes: our thoughts, feelings, our very reason. They help us to negotiate reality, to approach it with integrity, to see things as they are. The virtues confer power – that is what the Latin root means: virtus means power. We are dealing here not with political power though, but with a much more important kind of power: power over ourselves. The virtues help us to live in the truth of things, and to act in ways that are good, fair, true and loving. I will not recap here what we have already looked at in other posts. Those wishing to catch up with what was said on the virtues may find these posts through the search function of this website.

I have based this study on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose thirteenth century texts on the human person still ring with truth and power today. Although his famous work, the Summa Theologica, does not make for easy reading, St. Thomas’s insights are well worth the effort it might take to become familiar with his ideas, especially those aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007presented in the second part of his Summa. I am also relying on the work of the great Catholic philosopher from the twentieth century, Josef Pieper, whose book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, is both an inspiring read and a luminous interpretation of St. Thomas.

I would like to begin the reflections on the virtue of temperance by a quotation from Pieper’s book, in which he says:

To the virtue of temperance as the preserving and defending realization of our inner order, the gift of beauty is particularly coordinated. Not only is temperance beautiful in itself, it also renders [the human being] beautiful. Beauty, however, must here be understood in its original meaning: as the glow of the true and the good irradiating from every ordered state of being….

I realise that in presenting that quotation in the beginning of this reflection, I may be throwing my readers in at the deep end. If you stay with me over the next few days, I hope gradually to make this statement intelligible.


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26 November: Who is a Prisoner in Prison?

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The day I received and edited this post, (13 October) we read about ‘Decisions’ and how this isn’t always a small and cosy world; ending with the exhortation: pray for Wisdom! Unwise decisions have led to some men being in prison, despite the gifts and talents they may be blessed with. Here, then, is a reflection from our own Fr Valentine who works with prisoners.



Who is a Prisoner in Prison? By Father Valentine Erhahon 

A prisoner –  in our context – is a man who is legally committed to prison as a punishment for a crime.

Any crime no matter how small affects everyone: the victim, the criminal, the society and the criminals relationship with God. 

A prisoner has hurt someone and may still be hurting someone. He should be sorry.

A prisoner is someone’s son. He is someones Father. He is someones best friend. He is someones brother. He is someones trusted friend. He is someones partner. He is a son of God and loved unconditionally by God.

A prisoner is also a good person. He is a gentleman. He has talents. He has kindness in him. He laughs, he cries, he sings, he argues, he bleeds, he understands, he hurts,  he learns, he fears, he cares, he teaches and he forgives himself, he forgives others, he asks for forgiveness.

The beauty of our Faith as Catholics is that we believe in Redemption. We know and hold as true that we can look into any eye and choose to see goodness. We recognise the difficulties and know we may fail in our quest, but we continue to choose to see goodness regardless.

We know that in the end, God made everyone in his own image and likeness: male and female he created them and saw that we are good the book of Genesis tells us.

It is therefore our duty to show and remind a prisoner that he is a good person. He is a good man.

That is why:

I believe the best way to strike at the conscience of a prisoner is not by constantly reminding him how bad he is: But by respectfully showing a prisoner how much good lies inside of him just waiting to be enhanced; and then, ever so gently, he will  start to believe how good he can become.

A Prisons Week Prayer

Lord, you offer freedom to all people. We pray for those in prison. Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist. Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends, prison staff and all who care. Heal those who have been wounded by the actions of others, especially the victims of crime. Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly together with Christ in his strength and in his Spirit, now and every day.


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