Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Are You Strong?

Who is the strongest person that you know?

Let me take a guess: it isn’t the individual who can bench press the most.  When we talk about strength, we aren’t speaking exclusively in physical terms.  Strength is much more than muscle tone.

The woman with breast cancer, undergoing chemo, who faces her situation with courage and optimism—she’s strong, but what makes her that way? 

The firefighters, running into the burning World Trade Center to rescue those in need—they were strong, but how did they gain that strength?

Great leaders who have changed the course of history such as Washington or Lincoln--they were strong, but where did that strength come from?

Strength isn’t measured in pounds.  It’s measured in something we don’t hear of much anymore, but it’s all around us, manifest in the strong men and women who grace our lives. 

Strength is measured in something called virtue.

 All the people I mention above are people of virtue.  It’s common to associate virtue with doing good deeds and, while that is certainly a component of virtue, it’s not the whole picture.

The word “virtue” comes from the Latin words vir  and vis, which mean “man” and “strength.”  A virtuous person is, quite literally, a strong person.

Virtue is something that rises from the deep parts of one’s soul.  It’s more than accomplishing random acts of kindness; it’s a firm resolve and determination toward what is good.  It gives the person the power to give the very best of him or herself.  Virtue allows an individual to pursue the good and to choose it in thought, word, and deed.

Virtue forges one’s character.

It also makes a person free.  A person without virtue walks through life doing whatever he or she feels like.  But doing whatever strikes your fancy doesn’t make you free; on the contrary, this is precisely what will enslave you to your passions and desires. 

Virtue gives a person control over his or her reason, allowing that person to direct his or her will to freely choose what is good…especially when what is good involves something you don’t “feel like” doing.  Most people don’t “feel like” undergoing chemotherapy, running into a burning building, or leading a fledgling, divided nation.

Virtues come in an array of shapes and sizes.  There are human (natural) virtues that can come "naturally" to us: good qualities that are usually passed on through one’s upbringing and environment.  For example, my parents are very orderly people who like to keep things tidy, a virtue they have passed onto me.   These human virtues make a person happy.  (After all, happiness tends to result when you are actively pursuing what is good!)  There are also "supernatural" (moral) virtues, which are the result of God’s action.  Supernatural virtues make a person holy.

While virtue forges character, vice destroys it.  Vices are bad moral habits—the tendency toward what is not good. 

Every Wednesday I am going to be highlighting a particular virtue or vice.  As we all strive to promote peace and goodness in our lives—whether as mothers, fathers, spouses, friends, family members, workers—we need to be stronger.

To build virtue, we need to know which virtues to develop.  Similarly, to abolish vice, we need to know which vices to eliminate.

So, be sure to stop by each week for Virtue & Vice Wednesday!

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