VIRTUE: GOD'S PRESENCE SHINING THROUGH
One hallmark of Catholic teaching is the necessity of good works. Some have adopted the position that Christ's saving work is all that is required and good works are not necessary to salvation. To read more about the Church's teaching on faith and works, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church Paragraphs 1987-1995. It is important to remember the responsibility Jesus gave us. "You are the light of the world…[Y]our light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." [Matthew 5:14-16] Virtue is a window through which God's light shines forth.
Before we begin any discussion of what we need to do to obtain virtue; we must first understand that our virtue is a free and unmerited gift of God. Even our good works find their source in God. As St. Augustine said in Epistle 194, "What merit, then, has man before grace which could make it possible for him to receive grace, when nothing but grace produces good merit in us; and what else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?"
God allows us through free will to share some responsibility for getting to heaven. The Church has an abundance writing on what we are to do and why. The Bible has some very straightforward examples for us and the lives of the Saints are replete with good deeds. We have only to look back few years to the example of Blessed/Saint (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta.
Suppose God has not called us to rescue sick and starving children from third world slums. What if we are parents raising families, absorbed with work and the needs of our children. What are we to do then? The short answer is: live the virtues. God's goodness will shine through because "all the merits of man are preceded by His grace, through whom it is brought to pass, that we begin both to will and to do [Phil. 2:13] anything good."
Perhaps the virtues and their place in our daily lives have slipped away from our consciousness. In an upcoming series of articles we'll explore the virtues with a practical eye - more focus on examples, less focus on theological details. A little overview will ease us into the subject and references to reliable reading will be included throughout.
Over the past 20 centuries Church scholars have given considerable thought to virtue. They are broken in to classes (intellectual, moral and theological). They are assigned properties and causes. The Catholic Encyclopedia delves into this very thoroughly. For a short-if oversimplified-understanding, St. Thomas Aquinus tells us we might think of virtues as 'good habits.' With help from God, we act and make choices in a good way. After making good choices, especially difficult choices, we can get into good pattern.
Of course, virtues have their counterparts: vices. Those who frequent the sacrament of Penance are attuned to their vices. Virtues and vices are at odds, pulling us first toward God and then away from him.
As Catholics we attribute the good things we do to God. Humble athletes point to heaven after a spectacular performance, or drop to one knee in a brief prayer. So we rightly recognize Christ as the motivator behind our virtue and the inspiration for our good works. It is God who gives us the first inkling of virtue, who sustains us in the habit of virtue and the end of virtue (eternity in Heaven). All the while, His Presence is shining through us.