By Jonathan Lynch
Charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.
When we look at the four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude, we see virtues that make sense, even from a purely natural level. If you are intemperate, your health suffers, but if you are temperate, you are more free to do things, both physically and fiscally. If you are unjust, you cannot expect others to trust you and you have no solid basis to form a lasting society on. But if you are just, you will form a good name for yourself and contribute to the social life of your community in a meaningful way. The Cardinal virtues are, in fact, so solid and simple and attainable, that they can be obtained, understood, and practiced by pagans who have no concept of Christianity. The ancient Romans had exceedingly great fortitude. Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general of the Punic Wars, was very prudent. There are numerous people I know who certainly do not live as Christians, but still possess and practice one, some, or all of these virtues in an admirable way.
And while these virtues are essential to living a good and holy life, the Christian is called to something greater. I am referring to the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. They are called Theological (Having to do with God) because as Saint Thomas Aquinas says: “Their object is God, inasmuch as they direct us aright to God: secondly, because they are infused in us by God alone: thirdly, because these virtues are not made known to us, save by Divine revelation, contained in Holy Scripture.” (Summa Theologiae: Prima Secundae Partis, Q. 62, Article 1)
Any old heathen can be prudent. Any old pagan can be just. Many modern day atheists are extremely temperate. A Hindu or Buddhist may very well have great fortitude. But without the infusion of Sanctifying Grace at our Baptism, we can not live out the Theological virtues. (CCC 1266) Without the effects of Baptism upon our soul, we may be able to live out something like a shadow of the Theological virtues, which prepare us for union with God, but they will be something totally different, and the words of G. K. Chesterton point out why: “Charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.” If we love only those who love us, what merit is there in that? Even the tax collectors do as much. (Matt 5:46) If we do not have the Love of God in our souls, it is simply not possible to love those who are, by human wisdom, unlovable. If you do not love your enemies, can you possibly claim to be a follower of Christ, who so loved his enemies that He laid down his life for them?
And if you only hope when everything is sunshine and roses, where is the merit in that? “Hope that is seen is not hope. For how can a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom 8:24-25) This is why God allows us to encounter trials and suffering, so that through the darkness of our circumstances, we can learn to hope in Him, even when, humanly speaking, there is no hope.
“And Faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.” This does not mean that Faith is unreasonable, but rather, that Faith is beyond reason. Our reason and intellect can bring us only so far, but it is by the grace of God that we leap out fearlessly into the unknown, taking His word as truth because He is trustworthy. “Truth Himself speaks truly, or there is nothing true.” When the world, the flesh, and the devil come knocking at our door, bringing all their best arguments for why we should throw in the towel and walk away from God, it is the precious gift of Supernatural Faith that allows us to say: “Sure, that sounds compelling and all, but I still believe.” The courage of that reply is what enables us to hear the words: “Blessed are you who have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
And if reading this makes you discouraged, because you see how weak is your Love, how feeble your Hope, and how unsteady your Faith, remember how often even the Apostles faltered, failed, and fell upon Jesus’ loving forgiveness. James and John wanted the Lord to rain down fire upon a city that didn’t give them hospitality. Peter rebuked Jesus because he could not understand that there was hope in a Messiah who would suffer and die. Thomas would not believe until he had probed the very nailmarks of Christ’s pierced hands and feet. When you see your weakness, let your response be rather to ask the Lord for an increase of His Grace in your soul. He will dwell where He is welcome. And whoever seeks shall find. Whoever asks shall receive. Knock, and the door will be opened unto you.
All for Thee, Sweet Jesus,
Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
For the glory of God
And the salvation of souls!