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April 14, 2024 - Pastor Message

05/26/2024

GRACE AND VIRTUE (cont.)

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Because of it, the ancients are well attested…Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 11:1; 12:1).

Just as sin is a power and a choice that can lead us to ruin, so God’s grace is a power and a choice that can lead us to salvation. Both must be freely chosen in our lives to bear fruit, one bitter and rotten, one sweet and full of life, but both originate from outside ourselves. When our choice for sin becomes habitual, characterizing our life, we call it vice. When our choice for grace becomes habitual, characterizing our life, we call it virtue. The three primary virtues that originate with God and his grace and lead us deeper in his grace to eternal life, forming the foundation of Christian morality, are the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

“Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 26). With apologies for the sexist language, this statement defines the virtue of faith. By faith, we believe in God as he has revealed himself with all our mind, body, heart, and soul, and dedicate our lives to him and his will. God takes the initiative, revealing himself to us, and, by that same revelation, enlightens us with the deepest truths of his life, to which he calls us and enables us by grace to share. When we practice the virtue of faith, we habitually put God first, sharing in his life even now, and thus countering the Deadly Sin of pride. Just as pride is the root of a life of sin, from which all vices grow, so faith is the root of the life of grace, from which all Christian virtues grow.

“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1817). The feeling of desire, by which we are attracted to one thing and not another, is not something we can choose. Like all feelings, it is simply a chemical response in our brains to external stimulation. In this sense, the desire of hope begins outside of us with God, whose self-revelation we freely believe in faith aided by grace. This grace-filled faith stirs in us a desire for its fulfillment, like a lover for his or her beloved, which is eternal life. When we cultivate and live according to this desire, especially in the face of things which distract from it, such as worldliness and suffering, we practice the virtue of hope. Hope can help counter the Deadly Sins of avarice, envy, and gluttony by keeping us focused on the things of heaven rather than those of earth, but it is an especially powerful remedy for sloth, the aversion to the things of heaven. Hope motivates us to act on our faith, making the tremendous effort it takes to find the pearl of greatest price (Matthew 13:45-46).

“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822). The love of charity is not a feeling but a choice to give of oneself for the good of another. The theological virtue of charity begins with the love of God, poured out most completely for us on the cross of Jesus Christ, who suffers and dies for our salvation out of love for us. In faith, we believe in his love; in hope, we long for its fulfillment; in charity, we love him in return by giving of ourselves for the good of others, particularly for their salvation. This is what distinguishes the Christian virtue of charity from ordinary human charity - we serve others in union with and for the sake of Christ. Charity helps counter the Deadly Sins of avarice, envy, wrath, and lust because it focuses us on the good of others and what we can do for them in Christ rather than what they can give us.

Fr. Marc Stockton

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