Tag Archives: Social Need

A nation’s character is found in its people

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).

Cultivating Virtue

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.

The munificent man turns lucre into Magi gold

Sometimes in Catholic circles one can hear a bias against wealth as though it were a crime to be a rich man; however, that bias lacks an understanding of a principle that Aristotle contributes to the Church’s thinking. Our Lord speaks of the danger of riches but St. Luke (16:9-13) subtly points to the virtue that governs them; and Aristotle, when commenting on greatness and wealth, helps to illuminate what Jesus says through St. Luke. The clue to understanding the connection between wealth and the Gospel lies in the virtue of munificence (or magnificence).

As a moral principle it rises from great wealth and generosity, but how does the munificent man turn wealth, be it lucre or honest gain, into Magi gold? Anne Catherine Emmerich in her book The Life of Jesus Christ claims that the Magi traveled not only with gold for the Holy Family but with an extraordinary amount of money in the form of small, thin metal triangles of hammered gold which they generously distributed to poor people along the way to Bethlehem. Although Anne’s visions belong to private revelation, what they describe is not useless in the service of piety and moral principle. And she reveals to us men of high character who in wisdom exercise liberality.

Understanding the principle of proportion in relation to social need, the munificent man takes stock of his resources and judges what he may reasonably give to supply the want of others. In general, there are two categories of need: those that are small and pertain to private individuals and families; and those that are great and pertain to public enterprise, both civil and ecclesiastical. Strictly speaking in Aristotle’s terms, munificence concerns itself with large projects such as building schools, churches, hospitals, radio stations, and funding the needs of social reconstruction, one of the great examples of which can be found in the Holy Land Foundation which supports Christians in the Middle East, particularly young Christian Palestinians in Israel that they might remain in their country and support the needs of poor people and maintain a specifically Christian presence there which is always under threat of diminution, and in the long run, the threat of extinction if no one cares for them. While it is a form of liberality, it differs from generosity in the largeness of its enterprise.

For his 1950 apostolic constitution defining the dogma of the Assumption, Pope Pius XII entitles it with the Latin phrase Munificentissimus Deus, , from munificentia, meaning “munificence,” or “liberality.” No doubt he used the word munificent in Aristotle’s sense, Pius himself regarding Aristotle as probably the most intelligent man in history.

In ancient times, the task of the pagan munificent man was to construct in the city public projects that would imitate the glory of the cosmos thereby bringing public life somewhat closer to the harmony of the cosmos. The point of such construction was to move men’s souls to resonate with cosmic order and, from that inner music, they had a resource for harmonizing the order of public life.

Similarly, Pius quite possibly sensed that God was glorifying the new cosmos of the Mystical Body in the Assumption of Christ’s Mother, God Himself having begun the new order in Mary’s womb. Given Pius’ Aristotelian sense of things, Mary’s Assumption glorifies both the old cosmos, of which she was a part, she also being a daughter of Adam and Eve, and the new one begun in the Body of Christ. Both cosmic structures require the allocation of wealth, but divine munificence moves through the temporal city to the eternal one where the glory of harmony can never end.

FR. ROBERT E. MAGUIRE, O. CIST., is affiliate assistant professor of English at the University of Dallas, where he has taught since 1979. He has been at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas (close to the university) for 47 years, where he was ordained a priest in 1976.