At the time of my appointment as Pastor of St. Paul two years ago I had the opportunity to read many of the letters that some parishioners wrote about their hopes and observations of the parish. Some were quite amusing, like the letter that said our buildings and grounds were in such pristine condition that there would be absolutely no need for any maintenance work. As the French proverb goes, one must ask oneself. I liked to read this letter as three rooms of the rectory were gutted due to black mold infestation and rodent infestation, and as I looked at a burned, stained, mold ridden carpet in the very sanctuary of the Church all of whose doors were rusted and decayed.
Another letter was a more realistic and uplifting assessment of the parish needs. This letter along with several others expressed the desire for a deeper spiritual life here at St. Paul. To that end, I have begun the practice of having two parish retreats a year, one in the autumn and one in Lent. Thus in the autumn of 2013 we had a Parish retreat on Our Blessed Mother. During Lent of 2014 we had a parish retreat given by Father Thomas Cardone, S.M., on the Call to Sanctity. In the autumn of 2014 we had a parish retreat given by Father Daniel Nash, Can. Reg, on the sacramental life of the Church and the four last things. In Lent of 2015 we had a parish retreat given by Father Lachlan Cameron on the virtues. In addition to these retreats we have had two evenings of recollection given each year for now a total of four. These are what may be called one day retreats. They were given by various priests one of whom, Father Gregory Rannazzisi focused on the life and mission of St. Paul. Sadly, I must honestly admit that the attendance at these spiritual exercises, which I was led to believe were desired by the parishioners, has been very disappointing and most discouraging to me as your pastor.
In addition to these spiritual exercises we have instituted the praying of different novenas after each of the morning Masses on the days of the week. (They are listed on the first page of the bulletin).
We have instituted the occasional celebration of Solemn Mass in the Traditional Rite (the Extraordinary Form) and the veneration of the relics of the saints.
Our parish Lenten mission given by Fr. Lachlan Cameron was focused on the seven capital (a.k.a. “deadly”) sins, and their corresponding virtues. The following information (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church #’s 1803-1811) both reinforces and adds to Father’s presentation.
“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." (Philippians 4:8)
According to its etymology the word virtue (Latin virtus) signifies manliness or courage. Cicero: "The term virtue is from the word that signifies man; a man's chief quality is fortitude." Taken in its widest sense virtue means the excellence of perfection of a thing, just as vice, its contrary, denotes a defect or absence of perfection due to a thing. "Virtue," says St. Augustine, "is a good habit consonant with our nature." 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. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.
THE HUMAN VIRTUES
Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, and habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.
The cardinal virtues
Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called "cardinal"; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. "If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom's] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage." (Wisdom 8:7) These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.
Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going." "Keep sane and sober for your prayers." Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the "virtue of religion." Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." (Lev.19:15) "Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Col. 4:1)
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song.” (Ps. 118:14) "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: "Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” (Sirach 5:2) Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” (Sirach 18:30) In the New Testament it is called "moderation" or "sobriety." We ought "to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.” (Titus 2:12)
To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one's heart, with all one's soul and with all one's efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence). (St. Augustine)
The virtues and grace
Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God's help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them.
It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ's gift of salvation offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.
FATHER DAVID ATANASIO: Father David Atanasio was ordained a priest in June of 2014. Many remember Father David because as a seminarian he served at St. Paul’s. Father David will offer the Solemn Mass today Sunday, May 31st here at St. Paul’s at 11.00AM and we will have a reception in his honor in Monsignor Costa Hall after the Mass. Make every effort to attend and to receive his first priestly blessing.
Benedicat Virgo Maria!
In Jesus and Mary,
Monsignor James F. Pereda