12 Maturity. Human Virtue

In all her endeavours she consistently showed unusual presence of mind, common sense, and courage, as when she chased away a bull on the road in order to protect her girls and when she scared off thieves who broke into the convent one night. (Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta")


    "Today John Paul II presents himself to you, for the first time. Four weeks after that General Audience, he wishes to greet you and speak to you. He wishes to carry on with the subjects already started by John Paul I. We remember that he spoke of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. He ended with charity. As St. Paul teaches (l Cor 13:13), charity - which constituted his last teaching - is the greatest virtue here on earth; it is the one that crosses the threshold of life and death. For when the time of faith and hope ends, love continues. John Paul I has already passed through the time of faith, hope and charity, charity which has been expressed so magnificently on this earth, and the fullness of which is revealed only in eternity.

    "Today we must speak of another virtue, since I have learned from the notes of the late Pontiff that it was his intention to speak not only of the three theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, but also of the four so - called cardinal virtues. John Paul I wished to speak of the 'seven lamps' of the Christian life, as Pope John XXIII called them.

    "Well, today I wish to continue his plan, which the late Pope had prepared, and to speak briefly of the virtue of prudence. The ancients poke a great deal of this virtue. We owe them, for this reason, deep gratitude and thanks. In a certain dimension, they taught us that the value of man must be measured with the yardstick of the moral good which he accomplishes in his life. It is just this that ensures the virtue of prudence first place. The prudent man, who strives for everything that is really good, endeavors to measure every thing, every situation and his whole activity according to the yardstick of moral good. So a prudent man is not one who - as often meant - is able to wrangle things in life and draw the greatest profit from it; but one who is able construct his whole life according to the voice of upright conscience and according to the requirements of sound morality.

    "So prudence is the key for the accomplishment of the fundamental task that each of us has received from God. This task is the perfection of man himself. God has given our humanity to each of us. We must meet this task by planning it accordingly.

    "But the Christian has the right and the duty to look at the virtue of prudence also in another perspective. It is, as it were, the image and likeness of the Providence of God himself in the dimensions of concrete man. ...

    "Well, man who is the image of God, must - as St. Thomas again teaches - in some way be providence: but within the proportions of his life. He can take part in this great march of all creatures towards the purpose, which is the good of creation. He must - expressing ourselves even more in the language of faith - take part in the divine plan of salvation. He must march towards salvation, and help others to save themselves. By helping others, he saves himself.

    "I pray in order that, in this light, those who are listening to me will think now of their own lives. Am I prudent? Do I live consistently and responsibly) Does the program I am realizing serve the real good? Does it serve the salvation that Christ and the Church want for us? ...

    "I, too, who am speaking to you, I the Pope, what must; I do to act prudently? There come into my mind the letters to St. Bernard of Albino Luciani, then Patriarch of Venice. In his answer to Cardinal Luciani, the Abbot of Chiaravalle - a Doctor of the Church - recalls emphatically that he who governs must be 'prudent'. What, then, must the new Pope do in order to operate prudently? Certainly he must do a great deal in this direction. He must always learn and always meditate on these problems. But in addition to this, what can he do? He must pray and endeavor to have that gift of the Holy Spirit which is called the gift of counsel. And let all those who wish the new Pope to be a prudent Pastor of the Church, implore for him the gift of counsel. And for themselves, let them also ask for this gift through the special intercession of the Mother of Good Counsel. For it ought to be very greatly desired that all men will behave prudently and that those who wield power will act with true prudence. So may the Church - prudently strengthening herself with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, in particular, with the gift of counsel - take part effectively in this great march towards the good of all, and so may she show to everyone the way to eternal salvation.

    (John Paul II, First General Audience, 25 October 1978)


    "Justice has many references and many forms. There is also a form of justice which regards what man 'owes' God. This is a vast subject in itself. I will not develop it now although I cannot abstain from indicating it.

    "Let us give our attention, meanwhile, to men. Christ left us the commandment to love our neighbor. In this commandment, everything that concerns justice is also contained. There can be no love without justice. Love 'surpasses' justice, but at the same time it finds its verification in justice. Even a father and a mother, loving their own child, must be just in his regard. If justice is uncertain, love, too, runs a risk.

    "To be just means giving each one what is due to him. This concerns temporal goods, of a material nature. The best example here can be remuneration for work or the so-called right to the fruits of one's own work or of one's own land. But to man is due also his good name, respect, consideration, the reputation he has deserved. The more we know a man, the more his personality, his character, his intellect and his heart are revealed to us. And the more we realize-and we must realize!-with what criterion to 'measure him' and what it means to be just towards him.

    "It is necessary, therefore, to deepen our knowledge of justice continually. It is not a theoretical science. It is virtue, it is capacity of the human spirit, of the human will and also of the heart. It is also necessary to pray in order to be just and to know how to be just."

    (John Paul II, Second General Audience, 8 November 1978)


    "Speaking from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, on the day after his election, Pope John Paul I recalled, among other things, that during the Conclave on 26 August, when everything already seemed to indicate that he himself would be chosen, the Cardinals beside him whispered in his ear: 'Courage!' Probably this word was necessary for him at that moment and had been imprinted on his heart, since he recalled it immediately the next day.

    "John Paul I will forgive me if I use this story of his now. I think it can better introduce all of us present here to the subject which I intend to develop. ...

    Examples of fortitude

    "Whom do we regard as a strong, courageous man? ...

    "...Allow me to draw your attention to examples that are generally not well known, but which bear witness in themselves to great, sometimes even heroic, virtue. I am thinking, for example, of a woman, already mother of a large family, who is 'advised' by so many to suppress a new life conceived in her womb, by undergoing 'the operation' of interruption of pregnancy; and she replies firmly: 'no'. She certainly feels all the difficulty that this 'no' brings with it, difficulty for herself, for her husband, for the whole family, and yet she replies: 'no'. The new human life conceived in her is a value too great, too 'sacred', for her to be able to give in to such pressure.

    "Another example: a man who is promised freedom and also an easy career provided he denies his own principles, or approves of something that is against his sense of honesty towards others. And he, too, replies 'no', though faced by threats on the one side, and attractions on the other. Here we have a courageous man!

    "There are many, a great many manifestations of fortitude, often heroic, of which nothing is written in the newspapers, or of which little is known. Only human conscience knows them... and God knows!

    "I wish to pay tribute to all these unknown courageous people. To all those who have the courage to say 'no' or 'yes', when they have to pay a price to do so! To the men who bear an extraordinary witness to human dignity and deep humanity. Just because they are unknown, they deserve a tribute and special recognition.

    "According to the teaching of St. Thomas, the virtue of fortitude is found in the man,
    - who is ready 'aggredi pericula', that is, to face danger;
    - who is ready 'sustinere mala', that is, to put up with adversities for a just cause, for truth, for justice, and so on.

    Overcoming fear

    "The virtue of fortitude always calls for a certain overcoming of human weakness and particularly of fear. Man, indeed, by nature, spontaneously fears danger, affliction and suffering. Therefore courageous men must be sought not only on battlefields, but also in hospital wards or on a bed of pain. Such men could often be found in concentration camps or in places of deportation. They were real heroes.

    "Fear sometimes deprives of civil courage men who are living in a climate of threats, oppression or persecution. The men who are capable of crossing the so-called barrier of fear, to bear witness to truth and justice, have then a special value. To reach such fortitude, man must in a certain way 'go beyond' his own limits and 'transcend himself, running 'the risk' of an unknown situation, the risk of being frowned upon, the risk of laying himself open to unpleasant consequences, insults, degradations, material losses, perhaps imprisonment or persecution. To attain this fortitude, man must be sustained by a great love for truth and for good, to which he dedicates himself.

    Capacity for self-sacrifice

    "The virtue of fortitude proceeds hand in hand with the capacity of sacrificing oneself. This virtue had already a well-defined contour among the Ancients. With Christ it acquired an evangelical, Christian contour. The Gospel is addressed to weak, poor, meek and humble men, peacemakers and to the merciful, but, at the same time, it contains a constant appeal to fortitude. It often repeats: 'Fear not' (Mt 14: 27). It teaches man that, for a just cause, for truth, for justice, one must be able to 'lay down one's life' (Jn 15:13).

    Born for greater things

    "I wish here to refer to yet another example, which goes back 400 years ago, but which still remains alive and relevant today. It is the case of St. Stanislaus Kostka, the patron saint of the young, whose tomb is in the church of S. Andrea al Quirinale, in Rome. Here, in fact, he ended his life at the age of eighteen. By nature he was very sensitive and tender, yet very courageous. Fortitude led him, coming from a noble family, to choose to be poor, following the example of Christ, and to put himself in his exclusive service. Although his decision met with firm opposition on the part of his circle, he succeeded with great love, but also with great firmness, in realizing his resolution, contained in the motto: 'Ad maiora natus sum' ('I was born for greater things'). He arrived at the novitiate of the Jesuits, traveling from Vienna to Rome on foot and trying to escape from his pursuers who wished by force to turn this 'obstinate' youth from his intentions.

    "I know that in the month of November many young people from all over Rome, and especially students, pupils and novices, visit the tomb of St. Stanislaus in St. Andrew's church. I am together with them, because our generation, too, needs men who can repeat with holy 'obstinacy': 'Ad maiora natus sum'. We need strong men! To be men we need fortitude. The truly prudent man, in fact, is only he who possesses the virtue of fortitude; just as also the truly just man is only he who has the virtue of fortitude.

    Spirit's gift of fortitude

    "Let us pray for this gift of the Holy Spirit which is called the 'gift of fortitude'. When man lacks the strength to 'transcend' himself, in view of higher values, such as truth, justice, vocation, faithfulness in marriage, this 'gift from above' must make each of us a strong man and, at the right moment, say to us 'deep down': Courage!"

    (John Paul II, Third General Audience, 15 November 1978)


    "... we are speaking of the prudent, just and courageous man, and finally, precisely today, we are speaking of the 'temperate' (or 'sober') man.

    Virtues are connected with one another

    "Let us add at once that all these attributes, or rather attitudes of man, coming from the single cardinal virtues, are connected with one another. So it is not possible to be a really prudent, man, or an authentically just one, or a truly strong one, unless one also has the virtue of temperance. It can be said that this virtue indirectly conditions all other virtues, but it must also be said that all the other virtues are indispensable for man to be 'temperate' (or 'sober'). ...


    "A temperate man is one who is master of himself. One in whom passions do not prevail over reason, will, and even the 'heart'. A man who can control himself! If this is so, we can easily realize what a fundamental and radical value the virtue of temperance has. It is even indispensable, in order that man may be fully a man. It is enough to look at some one who, carried away by his passions, becomes a 'victim' of them - renouncing of his own accord the use of reason (such as, for example, an alcoholic, a drug addict) -to see clearly that 'to be a man' means respecting one's own dignity, and therefore, among other things, letting oneself by guided by the virtue of temperance.

    Control of passions

    "4. This virtue is also called 'sobriety'. And rightly so! In fact, to be able to control our passions, the lust of the flesh, the explosions of sensuality (for example in relations with the other sex) etc., we must not go beyond the rightful limit with regard to ourselves and our 'lower self'. If we do not respect this rightful limit, we will not be able to control ourselves. This does not mean that the virtuous, sober man cannot be 'spontaneous', cannot enjoy, cannot weep, cannot express his feelings; that is, it does not mean that he must become insensitive, 'indifferent', as if he were made of ice or stone. No, not at all! It is enough to look at Jesus to be convinced of this. Christian morality has never been identified with Stoic morality. On the contrary, considering all the riches of affections and emotivity with which every man is endowed - each in a different way, moreover: man in one way, woman in another owing to her own sensitivity - it must be recognized that man cannot reach this mature spontaneity unless by means of continuous work on himself and special 'vigilance' over his whole behavior. The virtue of 'temperance', of 'sobriety' consists, in fact in this.

    Interior beauty

    "5. I think, too, that this virtue demands from each of us a specific humility with regard to the gifts that God has put in our human nature. I would say 'humility of the body' and that 'of the heart'. This humility is a necessary condition for man's interior 'harmony': for man's 'interior' beauty. Let everyone think it over carefully; and in particular young men, and even more young women, at the age when one is so anxious to be handsome or beautiful in order to please others! Let us remember that man must above all be beautiful interiorly. Without this beauty, all efforts aimed at the body alone will not make - either him or her - a really beautiful person.

    "Is it not just the body, moreover, that undergoes considerable and often even serious damage to health, if man lacks the virtue of temperance, of sobriety? In this connection, the statistics and files of hospitals all over the world, could say a great deal. Also doctors who work on the advisory bureaus to which married couples, fiancés and young people apply, have great experience of this. It is true that we cannot judge virtue on the exclusive basis of the criterion of psychophysical health; there are many proofs, however, that the lack of the virtue, of temperance, sobriety, damages health.

    (John Paul II, Fourth General Audience, 22 November 1978)