by Jennifer Wright, Editor/Writer
I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. The timing feels completely arbitrary to me, most resolutions don’t make it past January or February, and somehow, they never seem to impact my life much. While resolutions make January a good time for the fitness industry, the people committing to more exercise often find themselves paying for gym memberships they aren’t using anymore come springtime. I guess such things have left me jaded (even at 30 years old).
Still, humans tend to need these resets. Even without our current arbitrary date to celebrate the changing of one year to the next, we would find some season, day, or festival to observe a new cycle. We always have. And this year, I’m trying something new.
In 2022, my resolution is to cultivate virtue. The Catholic Church has a list of seven heavenly virtues remembered from antiquity as a combination of the four classical cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) and the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love/charity). Now, there are other lists that choose virtues to directly combat the seven deadly sins, but this group of seven virtues is what I am committing myself to this year, in fact, I’m specifically working on the four cardinal virtues.
Why? Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that these four virtues are acquired only by human effort (different from the theological virtues which are God-given gifts that inform and give life to all the moral virtues). They are habits of moral good that, when nurtured, let us more easily turn away from temptations to sin. (See CCC 1804 and following for more on the seven virtues.) The beauty of these virtues is that they can – and should – apply almost everywhere. Here are some short descriptions of these virtues and some questions we can ask ourselves to check if we are firmly standing in these habits of moral goodness.
Cultivating Virtue at Home and at the Pregnancy Help Organization
When we talk about prudence, we mean the practice of good judgement. St. Thomas Aquinas describes it as “right reason in action.” Not only does prudence allow us to discern right from wrong, but it can guide us in what is appropriate in any moment. It may not be wrong to confront someone with a difficult truth, but is it prudent to do so at a family dinner?
- How can I choose the right moment to share the gospel with a client?
- Will this client be ready to hear a message of sexual integrity right now? From me?
- Can I take time and energy to do this good/kind thing now or do I need to refill my cup first so I’m prepared for the next opportunities?
Justice is the virtue that guides us to make sure that God and others receive what is due them and we assume our responsibilities. Practicing justice ensures that we order things rightly, putting God first. We naturally want to see wrongs righted, but justice can be cruel without mercy, so we must incorporate God’s mercy into our human concept of justice as well. When I practice justice in my relationships, I mostly realize that I’m punishing others unjustly. My husband doesn’t really deserve to be on the receiving end of my fuming when what I’m actually upset about is my own failing.
- How can I effectively support justice for the unborn?
- Who am I punishing unjustly because of my own anger and how can I stop?
- Which client needs me to fight for her to get the support she needs?
Sometimes, fortitude is referred to as courage to make it easier to understand, and certainly fortitude should strengthen resolve, help us conquer fear, and encourage us in the face of trials and persecution, but it’s about more than that. Fortitude is about constancy in seeking good.
- How do I model taking courageous actions for clients?
- Am I helping others to overcome fear?
- Do I persist in seeking good even in the face of adversity or do I give up?
Without temperance, anything can get out of hand. Practicing temperance allows us to experience life in a balanced way. It’s not wrong to eat, in fact it’s necessary! It becomes sinful to overeat greedily. Good things, if we overindulge, are no longer good. That’s why we need temperance. We ought to temper our practice of justice with mercy, and fortitude and prudence can temper one another to make our choices more and more virtuous.
- Is my sense of justice overcoming my capacity for mercy and love?
- How can I share the truth with clients, friends, and family without overwhelming them?
- Do I speak too harshly on social media when I should be tempering fortitude with prudence?
I still may not be a fan of New Year's resolutions, but I hope that spending this year cultivating virtue will make the world - or at least my world - a better place. I think a resolution like this is one all of us should make, so why not now? And let's be honest, if I need a reset on this resolution, Lent is coming soon! May we all grow in virtue this year at home and in the pregnancy help movement.