Cardinal Moral Virtues – Part 2 of 3

Father Geiermann continues his discussion of the moral virtues by elaborating upon the cardinal virtue of justice and upon the virtue of religion, which is a type of justice.

Justice is the virtue which renders to every one his due. It is very comprehensive in its application, as it defines our duties to God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Justice is the great moral virtue of a good will. ‘We love justice’ remarks St. Augustine, ‘in proportion as we hate iniquity.'”

Father Geiermann suggests the following rules of conduct for the practice of justice: “(1) do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you; (2) pay your honest debts to God and man; (3) be honorable in all your actions; (4) redeem your promise; (5) injure no one; repair an unintentional wrong; (6) promote the welfare of others; (7) be humble, modest, and charitable.”

The virtue of religion is a type of justice. Father Geiermann explains: “Man’s principal obligation to God is religion. As a virtue religion consists in honoring God as the supreme Lord and Master. Some of the acts of religion are internal, others external. The principal external act of religion is to worship God through the adorable sacrifice of the Mass. The principal internal acts of religion are prayer and devotion.”

“As an act devotion is a pious inclination of the will to God; as a habit it is promptitude in His service. Devotion results on the one hand from a stimulation of the affections by meditating on the teaching of faith, on the other hand from the allurement of God’s grace.”

“There is a substantial and an accidental part to be considered in devotion. The substantial part is intrinsic and arises from our meditation on the infinite goodness, love, and mercy of God towards us, who are so unworthy of Him. Accidental devotion results from the allurement of grace, and consists in a pious affection, which sweetens all our hardships in God’s service. Sometimes this accidental devotion becomes so intense that it affects the nervous system and manifests itself exteriorly by tears and the like; it is then called sensible devotion. God gives this sensible devotion as a rule in the beginning of our conversion to encourage us in His service.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Cardinal Moral Virtues – Part 1 of 3

St. Bonaventure teaches: “Let prudence guide your reason, let fortitude govern your temper, let temperance govern your desires, and let justice rule all your actions.” Father Geiermann writes: “All the moral virtues are subordinated to the four principal ones which are called cardinal. These four are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Each teaches a fourfold lesson. Prudence teaches us to profit by the experience of the past, to adapt ourselves to the circumstances of the present, to provide for the future, and to pause sufficiently in perplexity to clear away our doubts. Justice leads us to weigh our judgments maturely, to live lives of integrity, to respect the rights of others, and to render to every one his due. Temperance admonishes us to dispense with superfluities, to have but few wants, to avoid whatever is forbidden, and to spurn vain-glory. And fortitude warns us against pride and vain-glory in prosperity, against dejection in adversity, against taking revenge for injuries received, and against seeking a pleasant and easy life.”

Father Geiermann discusses the moral virtue of prudence in detail: “Prudence is the virtue which finds and follows the right rule of action. It judges whether a concrete action harmonizes with wisdom or truth. Though primarily a virtue of the mind, prudence not only judges of the integrity of an action, but also directs the will in avoiding evil and doing good, and so becomes the most potent of the moral virtues.” St. Bonaventure calls prudence “the guide of all virtues.” St. Augustine notes that “it teaches us to meet the present emergency, to profit by past experience, and to prepare for future contingencies.”

“The acts of prudence are: (1) avoiding sin and its voluntary occasions; (2) doing what we would advise others to do in our circumstances; (3) patient endurance of adversity; (4) maintaining self-control when suddenly placed in a critical position; (5) praying for resignation to God’s will.”

“We may fail against prudence by negligence, inconstancy, inconsiderateness, and precipitation on the one hand, and by astuteness, fraud, deception, and worldly wisdom on the other.” Father Geiermann adds: “We should use prudence in guarding against pride,” for, as St. Justin says, “He who is proud of his prudence will despise a friend and his advice and become his own enemy.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Theological Virtues

St. Paul said: “Now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor 13:13). Father Geiermann writes: “By uniting us directly to God each of the theological virtues exercises a fourfold influence in the spiritual life. Faith nourishes the mind, produces rectitude of life, prompts us in the service of God, and rewards us with eternal life. Hope imparts serenity of mind and gladness of heart, lightens our labors, and puts off old age. Charity prompts us to reverence God, to love our neighbor, to correct the erring, and to relieve the needy and the poor.”

Faith is defined as the virtue whereby we accept all that God has revealed and the Catholic Church teaches. . . . Our faith should be founded on the bedrock of humility, firmly grasped by the mind, cherished by the heart, and resolutely practised by the will.”

Hope is the virtue by which we trust to receive life everlasting and the means necessary to attain it. ‘Hope,’ says St. Lawrence Justinian, ‘is the column which sustains our spiritual edifice.’ Our hope at attaining eternal happiness rests primarily on the mercy, power and promises of God and the merits of our Saviour, secondarily on the intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin and of the angels and saints.”

Charity is the virtue by which we love God above all, and ourselves and our neighbor for the love of Him. It animates all the moral virtues and gives value to their actions. Hence St. Dionysius calls it the bond of perfection.”

Father Geiermann suggests some ways to manifest this charity: by delighting in the infinite goodness of God, by desiring that He be glorified by all mankind, by giving glory to God through our works, by striving to make God known and loved, by grieving over our sins and the sins of the world, by desiring perfection, by desiring heaven, by loving our neighbor in word and deed, by speaking of God with affection, by conversing with Him in prayer, by seeking to please Him, by enduring adversity for His sake, and by praying daily for an increase of charity.

He then mentions four effects of charity: “(1) it justifies us in the sight of God; (2) it establishes a bond of friendship between us and God; (3) it makes all our acts of Christian virtue meritorious for heaven; (4) it renders the yoke of the Lord sweet and His burden light.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Virtue in Practice

Christ said, “If any man will come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk 9:23). Father Geiermann writes: “By self-denial we clear the ground, by prayer we accept the plan of God for our spiritual edifice and obtain His aid, and by the practice of virtue we co-operate with God in the work of our sanctification.”

The object of practicing virtue is spiritual growth: “As a gardener, who has laboriously prepared the soil and planted the seed, tills his plants with great care that they may produce much fruit, so the Christian applies himself to the practice of virtue that he may grow in the spiritual life. Every supernatural virtue has a divine and a human element. The divine element is the grace of God, the human, our co-operation with it. Grace is the efficient cause, the Christian’s good will in the practice of virtue the proximate disposing cause of his spiritual progress. To practise virtue and grow in the spiritual life we must (1) prevent the weeds of vice from sprouting in the garden of our hearts; (2) keep the soil pulverized by voluntary mortification; (3) nourish the plants of virtue by prayer and tears of penance; (4) work sedulously by availing ourselves of every opportunity of doing faithfully the little good we can.”

Christ said, “Behold your reward is great in heaven” (Lk 6:23). Father Geiermann writes: “God holds out the hope of reward to spur on the Christian in the practice of virtue. Time is short. Life passes like a vapor. We brought nothing with us into the world, and we shall take only our works with us into eternity. In this world there is nothing that can satiate the human heart. ‘Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity’ (Eccl 1:2). The Saviour therefore exhorts us to lay up ‘treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor the moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal’ (Mt 6:20). We lay up treasures in heaven by the practice of virtue. There even the most trivial act of Christian virtue will receive an eternal reward according to the assurance of the Saviour: ‘whosoever shall give a cup of cold water in my name shall not lose his reward’ (Mk 9:41).”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Types of Prayer

Father Geiermann classifies prayer into three types: vocal, mental, and mixed:

Vocal prayer is prayer expressed in words. Though no definite formula is necessary for vocal prayer, it is advisable to use the prayers approved by the Church to safeguard the piety of our prayer. Without piety, that is mistrust of self and confidence in God, the most profound sentiments that man could express would be emptiness if not arrogance in the sight of God.”

Mental prayer is prayer of the mind and will without external words.” Mental prayer can be understood in both a wide sense and a restricted sense.

“In a wide sense it embraces all religious thoughts, desires, affections, and aspirations that man may have through life, as the result of reading spiritual books, hearing sermons, and association with pious persons. As such it enlightens the mind, disposes our hearts for the practice of virtue, and enables us to pray as we should. When understood in this sense, mental prayer is morally necessary for salvation, and indispensable to attain perfection.” The prophet said, “With desolation is all the land made desolate: because there is no one that considereth in the heart” (Jer 12:11).

“In a restricted sense mental prayer was called active contemplation by ancient spiritual writers, but is usually called meditation in our day. Meditation is mental prayer reduced to a system. As such it consists of three things: (1) the introduction, a more or less formal appearance of the soul in the presence of God; (2) the meditation proper; (3) the conclusion, an humble and grateful withdrawal of the soul from the Divine Presence.”

“The meditation proper consists (1) in the acts of the mind contemplating a truth of religion, preferably one of the eternal truths, or some phase of the life and suffering of our divine Saviour, and applying the same to ourselves; (2) in heartfelt affections and prayers which have been aroused by the considerations and applications; and (3) in a practical resolution of the will. . . . The affections we should elicit are especially acts of faith, of thanksgiving, of humility, of hope, of love, and of contrition. . . . The resolution we should form should be (1) a general one to avoid evil and to do good; (2) a particular one to avoid some special evil or danger, or to practise some particular virtue.”

Mixed prayer is a union of vocal and mental prayer. Every vocal prayer may be made a mixed prayer with great profit to the soul by pausing at the words or sentiments that particularly appeal to us, to make appropriate affections.” Two popular mixed prayers are the Rosary and the Way of the Cross, both of which involve the recitation of prayers while meditating on the mysteries alluded to in those prayers.

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Prayer of Petition

Father Geiermann discusses the essentials of prayer of petition. He writes: “It always includes three things: the raising of the mind to God, the presenting of a petition, and a reason for invoking the divine aid. . . . Our request for help may be expressed in the form of a simple petition, which begs for a definite grace; in the form of a supplication, which begs for help in general; or in the form of an obsecration, which states the reason why the request should be granted. Our reasons for venturing to present our petitions for help are the holiness, goodness, mercy, and promises of God, the merits and promises of Our Saviour, the intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the angels and saints, and the gratitude we have shown God for favors received.”

“According to St. Thomas [Aquinas] piety and perseverance must characterize our prayer. Piety teaches us to mistrust ourselves in all humility and place our confidence unreservedly in God, while perseverance keeps us praying for grace after grace until we finally receive the grace of perseverance, the grace of a holy death, and the crowning grace of the Beatific Vision.”

“Taken in this general sense of asking God’s help, prayer is the universal means of submitting ourselves to the divine influence and of uniting ourselves to Jesus Christ. As such it is absolutely necessary for salvation. This truth is brought home to us very forcibly by St. Alphonsus, the Doctor of Prayer, when he says: ‘He that prays shall be saved: he that neglects prayer shall be lost.'”

Father Geiermann advises: “In our prayers or petitions we should seek light, humility, patience, fraternal charity, a good death and eternal salvation, but above all the love of God and holy perseverance.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Grace: Offer and Acceptance

Father Geiermann has these comments to make about God’s offering, and our accepting, grace:

“All who sincerely desire to know and do God’s will, both in regard to the choice of their vocation and the particular obligations of their state in life, have abundant means of grace to enable them to fulfil their part of the divine plan. For, not only does God wish the salvation of all mankind, but He also does all He can, without depriving any one of his free-will, to bring all to life everlasting. God does not command impossibilities, says the Council of Trent, but by commanding admonishes both to do what we can and to pray for what we can not do: and then He will help us to do what we can not do of ourselves.”

“The merits of the Saviour and the mercy of God are, indeed, infinite, but we must dispose ourselves for His grace, by entering the state in life to which He has called us and assuming its obligations, and then freely submit ourselves to His influence by faithful use of the means of grace, before God will help us to work out our salvation.”

“Earnest labor and patient endurance stimulate a healthy appetite both in the physical and spiritual order. We must therefore make an honest effort in the spiritual life to have a relish for grace. If, then, we make use of the means of grace, God will surely aid us to do what we can not do of ourselves.”

“As our souls vivify our bodies and enable them to act, so grace gives us spiritual life and enables us to practise every virtue. The means of obtaining grace, or freely submitting ourselves to God’s influence is to cultivate an intimate union with Jesus Christ by prayer, the reception of the sacraments, participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, pious use of the sacramentals, gaining indulgences, and cultivating pious practices approved by the Church.” Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

But Father Geiermann cautions: “Fidelity to grace at one time does not confirm us in grace for life. We must, therefore, persevere in the use of the means of grace, if we hope to receive the grace of perseverance.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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