Strange Beauty in Art and Life: The Agony in the Garden

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Today I am waiting for my dad to undergo some medical tests to see why he is so sick and whether or not it is life-threatening. Ever since I got word last week that my dad’s chronic illness was not the cause of his weakness and he is bleeding internally, I have been thinking and contemplating the Agony in the Garden.

Agony is a part of the human experience and it comes at unexpected times. My dad is only 59 and while he has had rheumatoid arthritis since he had rheumatic fever as a child, I am struggling to be ready for whatever comes next. Today we will find out why he is bleeding internally, whether it is cancer or something else. Please pray for him and for all of us who love him dearly.

So it is that we are faced with the terrible and beautiful paradox of the gift of suffering. The Agony of the Garden goes into the depths of human experience in all of its pain, horror, suffering, and death, but it isn’t the last word as we know living through this Lenten season awaiting the joy of Easter. Pax Christi.

The Cardinal Virtues: The Queenship of Prudence

The moral life has been hampered greatly by the prevalence of both nominalism (a system based on opposition) and a system of morality based on obligation over charity. For the first 1500 years of the Church, the moral life was seen as the movement of grace within the individual who then strives to live the virtues both supernatural and human. The supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity drive the individual to conform their lives to the good who is God. The human virtues, or cardinal virtues, are those lived daily through habitual action and choices. Thus morality is seen as a movement towards love and the New Law of Christ rather than a system of external obligation. The Decalogue and other moral teachings are inherent parts of the Christian life, but they are lived more fruitfully through charity and a life of virtue, rather than as an external force dictating each of our actions. The first cardinal virtue we will examine is prudence.

The foundation and highest of the cardinal virtues is prudence.[1] Joseph Pieper begins his chapter on prudence in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues by pointing out the strangeness most people experience in learning that prudence must come before the other virtues.

No dictum in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and “mother” of all the other cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.[2]

Most people assume the cardinal virtues are separate and belong to no set order, which is why the idea of prudence being primary is so foreign to most people, including many moral theologians.

Prudence in its contemporary usage has become confused from its original meaning and understanding. In the contemporary psyche it is confused with a form of utilitarianism rather than as a grounding force to the other virtues. Pieper points out that most people think of prudence as that which “always carries the connotation of timorous, self-minded preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself.”[3] This idea of prudence forgets the human drive for goodness, truth, and nobility. One who is selfish is not concerned with virtue, rather they have turned inward away from truth. The prudent person desires to live according to truth.

Prudence is inextricably linked with choices. It is to choose the good in each moment of the day. One cannot be just, courageous, or temperate if their choices are not ordered to the good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as: “…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”…Prudence is “right reason in action”, writes Saint Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle (CCC 1806).” This means “prudence is the “measure” of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.”[4] It is through prudence where emotions and passions are tempered by reason in order for good decisions to be made. A person who is not ruled by reason easily falls into error and sin. Prudence’s primary concern is truth and how best to achieve and conform to that truth. This conformity to the truth propels the man or woman into action.

All of the virtues have at their heart an action in response to truth. The intellect processes the information presented to examine whether or not it conforms to the ontological need for goodness and the will chooses an action in conformity to this truth.[5] The truth can be blocked by the individual’s will, but in the formation of prudence the individual comes to choose the good more and more frequently. The Catechism explains, “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 (CCC 1806).” In a proper examination of prudence, it is clear why the other cardinal virtues rest on this virtue. A man cannot be just if he is not conformed to the truth, nor can a person be willing to die a martyr’s death through fortitude without the aspiration to live truth, or temper bodily desires if the need for balance is not rightly understood.

[1] Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Kindle Edition (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965), 88.

[2] Ibid, 88.

[3] Ibid, 108.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Thomas Aquinas, On Human Nature, ed. Thomas S. Hibbs, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999), 133-34.

Why I Remain Catholic

Photo from St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Murfreesboro, TN
Photo from St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Murfreesboro, TN

I remain Catholic because these words guide my life and remain with me even in the darkest of nights: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68. This Scripture passage is most realized in the Holy Eucharist in which Christ himself pours out the perfect sacrifice for us and unites us to His body, blood, soul, and divinity. To be Catholic is to have the answer to the deepest longings of the human heart, every human heart, which is the love of Christ and His Church. It is to be conformed to the Most Holy Trinity and rest in the peace that only comes from God.

I know that this is short compared to the other articles. Those of you who read my writing know that I am not known for short. The reality is that for me it is this simple, this short, and this profound. I literally have nowhere else to go. The Catholic Church is the fullness of truth and it is where Our Lord left His body, blood, soul, and divinity. There is no where else to go to be fulfilled, truly fulfilled.

Share your story and Elizabeth Scalia will add it to the discussion. You can read about her call to share the reason for our joy here. Tweet your article to her on Twitter @TheAnchoress. It doesn’t need to be long, just your honest reasons for staying Catholic in a world that would have you be anything else. Let’s share our joy with the world!

Friday’s Beauty Theme: Birds

Beauty is one of my favorite topics and it has a profound impact on my Catholic faith, so I have decided to keep the Beauty Theme going on Mondays and Fridays unless I am being published at Catholic Exchange or another website. In a world marred by suffering, chaos, and confusion, I enjoy looking over sites that showcase the beauty of Creation amidst the brokenness of the world. I’ll come up with a catchy title eventually, but for now I will stick with “Monday’s and Friday’s Beauty Theme”.

The older I get the more I enjoy watching the birds in my yard. It’s 5am here and I can hear them singing to the soon-to-be rising sun. Every year Red-Headed Finches move into my hanging baskets to have babies. There are eggs waiting to hatch in one of the baskets of geraniums now. So for for some beauty and wonder today, I scoured the Interwebs for images of beautiful birds. I hope seeing images of the beauty of God’s Creation brings you closer to Him. There were so many beautiful options that these are just a few that I found. I think that hummingbirds are my favorite. God bless.

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Mumma duck leading the family. Nikon D1x file
Mumma duck leading the family. Nikon D1x file

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Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) adult, perched on stem beside flowering dogwood, U.S.A.
Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) adult, perched on stem beside flowering dogwood, U.S.A.

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Catholic Exchange: Cultivating Wonder in Our Daily Lives

Today I am happy to be writing for Catholic Exchange on one of my favorite topics: Wonder.

Wonder is something that children do quite naturally. The world is new, so every new, and even old, discovery leads a child to excitement, joy, and wonder. As adults we can have a tendency to look at a child’s wonder in apathy. We may scoff internally that it is only a rock, flower, worm, or tree that they have seen. It is something that we have seen numerous times and so it bores us. It is tied to monotony. But, who has it right? I say the child.

In Fundamental Theology we learn that the theologian uses a variety of things to study God. It is described as three concentric circles. The outer layer is everything. Yes, everything. Anything in the universe can provoke theological study, insight, and a greater understanding of God. Catholicism marries natural theology (that God can be known through reason in a limited capacity) and Revelation (what God has revealed about Himself through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). The contemplation of a tree, for instance, can lead to a deeper understanding and love of God. The next circle is Sacred History (or Tradition). The Church has been around nearly 2000 years, so there is a deep pool of knowledge that can be used to grow in a deeper understanding of God. In the very center is Sacred Scripture. The Word of God to us. It is in Scripture that God can be heard most clearly, most specifically in Jesus Christ. Throughout our lives we will travel between all three of the circles as we search for truth.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Today’s Beauty Theme: Lavender Fields for My Daughter

I have not been able to write much in the last few days. My daughter and I have been battling a chest cold and when she is sick she wants me to snuggle with her 24/7. Since I won’t be able to write today I wanted to share some more beauty. I am a firm believer that beauty helps us to see the world properly and to see God. I love that beauty stops me on a daily basis whether it is the sun shining in my daughter’s hair, or the way my husband smiles, the bird tending to her eggs in my hanging basket, or my roses beginning to bloom. Since my daughter is sick, I wanted to find something that she would love. Her favorite color is purple, so I scoured Google for pictures of Provence, France and England when the lavender fields are in bloom.

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