TODAY'S TERM: HEROIC VIRTUE
|Photo: R. Massaro, St. Henry Church Nashville, Tennessee|
Our Lady: Full of Grace and model of virtue
In a previous post, I touched on the subject of heroic virtue. Many Catholics believe that a person is canonized because of mystical gifts or supernatural phenomena. However, this is not the case. A person is canonized because they led a heroic Christian life and possessed all of the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We know that it takes a very long time for someone to be raised to the Altar and be recognized as a Saint in the Church. It takes a long time because the Church investigates the person's life, their writings, their verbal statements, etc. If witnesses are still living, they are interviewed to help determine if the person led a holy and virtuous life. And, as I stated in a previous post, the Church does not canonize a person because they possessed one virtue, they must possess all of the virtues.
While discussing this subject, we should make it clear that we are not speaking of natural virtues, those good habits that are acquired through repetition. While this is good, we are speaking of infused virtue. Infused virtue, a gift of God's grace, makes supernatural acts possible, although not necessarily easy, that is why it is considered heroic. The saintly soul cooperates with God's gift and responds in charity when it is clearly not easy.
We could read the lives of the saints and recount each story of the unique gift of heroism particular to that saint. But for the moment, let's bring sanctity into the modern day world. For example, a person in the work place, who is known as a Christian, is ridiculed for their faith day after day after day. The person being ridiculed, in turn, responds in charity, day after day after day. The person ridiculed also does not lose his joy or peace over the mistreatment. This is an example of heroic virtue.
The late Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. is a scholar on this subject. He states that there are five traits of heroic virtue. This is from his classic, The Fire Within:
We may indicate five traits that signal when a virtue is practiced to a heroic degree. The first is that one does what is to be done even in difficult or excruciating circumstances. We love truth heroically not simply when we accept Jesus' and the Church's teaching in ordinarily difficult or unpopular circumstances but even if we must undergo persecution or martyrdom rather than deny it...
The next three traits can be grouped together: one acts promptly,easily and joyously. The saint does not delay or procrastinate in reacting in a humble manner or in loving an annoying neighbor. The correct response comes readily and easily, as if by second nature, for it is part of the new creation produced by the indwelling Trinity. What needs to be done is done joyously as well, and for the same reason: one is living a new life...
The fifth trait of heroic virtue is habitual constancy. The preceding characteristics are found not simply on an isolated occasion when one may conceivably act with an apparent ease and joy (prompted possibly by pride or a vain defiance) but are customarily observed in whatever situation calls for the virtue in question. This is the kind of sanctity the Church looks for and requires in her canonization processes. It is a result of reaching the summit of union.
Dubay, Thomas, S.M. The Fire Within. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989. Print.
St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) warns us that we should be constantly on guard that we do not give up prayer and thus lose virtue. Let us pray for each other, that the Holy Spirit give us a great desire for sanctity.
St. Augustine's Prayer to the Holy Spirit:
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my works, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
That I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
To defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
That I always may be holy. Amen.
Peace be with you!