Many in the U.S. are awakening to the realization that the Christian foundations of our society have drastically eroded. A cultural war is in progress, and our families have not been immune to the process of social and moral deterioration. Sadly, Christians have often compromised their beliefs and have therefore suffered defeat on many battlegrounds. While Christianity may appear strong, it has nonetheless been undermined by insidious social, cultural, philosophical, and political forces. If we are to recapture ground that has been lost, we must understand the conflict and reassert the moral life we are called to live in Christ Jesus. To be victorious, we need to live heroic virtue.
The Christian moral life is one that seeks to cultivate and practice virtue. “A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself” (CCC,1803). Saint Paul insists that we do, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).
Virtues are attitudes, dispositions or character traits that enable us to be and to act nobly. Developed through learning, daily practice, and self-discipline, virtues become habits. They guide our conduct according to the dictates of faith and reason, leading us toward an authentic freedom based on self-control and toward joy in living a good moral life. Their practice supports moral behavior, controls passions, and avoids sin.
There is a reciprocal relationship between virtue and acts. Virtue disposes us to act in morally good ways, and by doing good acts, the virtue within us is strengthened and grows. A person who develops a consistent pattern of virtuous behavior has the power to transform lives beyond his own. His moral integrity, thus, influences and affects the lives and actions of others – being light, salt, and leaven.
There is also a correlation between the moral life and what we experience today in society. A person’s character traits and moral foundation, because they are not developed in isolation, are deeply affected by the values of the community, by the personality traits the community encourages, by the teaching and role models the community puts forth for imitation and by the structures of influence, i.e., education, social media, laws, government, and the entertainment industry. The moral life, then, is not simply a matter of following moral rules and of learning to apply them to specific situations. Rather, the moral life is a matter of trying to determine the kind of people we should be and attending to the development of character within our communities, ourselves, and future generations.
Samuel Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, understood the importance of virtue in shaping the moral character of the nation and its people, as well as its preservation:
“A general dissolution of the principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy… While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtues, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader… If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved.”
We are engaged in a great battle, and much is at stake. To recapture the moral influence of Christianity in our culture, which benefits ourselves, our communities, and future generations, we must put on the armor of the Lord Jesus Christ and live heroic virtue.
FATHER SHENAN J. BOQUET is the president of Human Life International www.hli.org and a priest of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, LA.