On the Cardinal Virtue of Justice

A while back I began a series on the cardinal virtues taken from a term paper I wrote for my Moral Theology class last semester. I realized in the busyness of final exams that I never finished that series. So here is the section on the cardinal virtue of justice.

Justice is seen as the preeminent virtue in the culture. The vast majority of the culture wars are centered around some notion of justice. With this in mind, it is clear why prudence must come before justice. A person cannot be just unless they know and desire conformity to the truth through reasoned understanding. The biggest stumbling block for far too many people is that the truth, including a proper understanding of freedom, must come first and then justice. If the truth is not rightly understood then great injustices arise, as is evidence through practices such as abortion. Justice itself must be properly ordered to God in order for men and women to live justly in society. “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 the common good (CCC 1807).” In order for this harmony to occur there must be a clear understanding of what is due to others.

Freedom is at the center of many disagreements concerning justice, as well as great injustices that occur. Once again, freedom is not about the ability to do whatever a person desires. Freedom is the ability to choose goodness and truth without constraint.[1] This type of morality is less concerned about fulfilling obligations and more concerned with the love of truth and goodness.[2] Justice then allows for all individuals to conform their lives to their ultimate truth, which dwells in God. Justice and prudence are ontologically and eschatologically driven, as are all of the virtues.

The order of human beings from the family level to the global level relies on justice to protect the dignity of each person. Through justice the habit of rendering each man or woman their due is fostered, not through coercion, but through a desire for their goodness and freedom, as well as within the individual who renders that due. St. Thomas Aquinas states, “Justice is a habit (habitus), whereby a man renders to each one his due with constant and perpetual will (ST II-II 58 1).” This requires a discipline of action in each encounter with persons throughout the day.

Within this framework it becomes clear that men and women have rights through a universal source. In order for something to be due to another there must be something prior to that encounter which resulted in a particular right. The grounding of rights rests in God and creation. “It is through creation that the created being first comes to have rights. By virtue of creation first arises the possibility of saying: “Something is my due.”[3] It is by the nature of God’s creation of man as “embodied spirits” where rights dwell.[4] Since the notion of “due” is a primordial concept from the beginning of creation, it is directly linked to the ontological drive in human beings for goodness.[5] For this reason the rights of others cannot overrule the truth. Thus in choosing the just due of another it must be an authentic right and conform to goodness and truth. If a person has not fostered the habit of discovering truth through reason via prudence, as well as the just due to each man and woman, the moral life will be greatly impeded if not entirely corrupted. A person who does not conform their lives to prudence and justice is doomed to error and vice until virtuous living is encountered and put into practice.

[1] Pinckaers, 359.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pieper, 731.

[4] Aquinas, 25.

[5] Pieper, 741.

Catholic Exchange: St. Benedict and the Benedict Option for Today

If it wasn’t clear before that the culture of the West is opposed to the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church, the recent decision to legalize “gay marriage” in the United States made it quite apparent. The decision was decades in the making and cannot solely be blamed on the homosexual agenda. It goes back to contraception and no fault divorce, both of which have eroded marriage in profound ways over the decades. For Catholics, much of it is due to dissent from Humanae Vitae by clergy and laity, as well as an abandonment of moral teaching. The question for Catholics today is: Where do we go from here? The reason we need to ask this question is because there is little doubt that we will be pushed to the fringes in the coming decades. Our moral understanding and focus on Christ means that we are in opposition to the world. Christ told us:

“I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword…” Matthew 10:34

The world has always been in opposition to the Good News. The world crucified God. The Church has been set against the world since her founding by Our Lord, and that was no different during the life of St. Benedict whose feast day we celebrate on Saturday, June 11.

St. Benedict is most widely known for his rule and as the “Father of Western Monasticism”. He lived circa 480-560 and his influence on the world was great. Even though his rule was not the first, it was the most widely used in the west for centuries. St. Benedict’s rule was comprised of several rules which could be applied to a variety of monasteries and locations. His rule’s primary emphasis was on: moderation, the integration of prayer and work, and the socialization of the monastic life.

Once monasticism was introduced to the west by St. Athanasius, it spread quickly. By the time St. Benedict composed his rule, monasteries were in Africa, France, and even Ireland. Monasticism preserved much of Europe during the Dark Ages when there was much tumult and chaos. It was through monasticism that manuscripts were preserved, as well as art, architecture, and music were developed. It was here that culture survived and lived for many years. St. Benedict could not have known how great of an impact his rule would be on the west. Blessed John Henry Newman said of him:

“St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time, or by any rare specific, or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often till the work was done, it was not known to be doing…Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully copied and recopied the manuscripts which they could have saved. There was no one who contended or cried out, or drew attention to what was going on, but by degrees, the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, and abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning and a city.”

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Epic Pew: Laudato Si and 17 Practical Ways to Embrace Stewardship

Summer time has been busy, so my writing has been focused on the three Catholic websites I am now a contributor for. I will return to regular blogging when things slow down a bit and I get through my final exam for Theology of the Church. Today I am writing over at Epic Pew:

The Catholic Blogosphere has been on fire since Pope Francis promulgated his second encyclical, Laudato Si. The best thing that you can do is read it for yourself. When it comes to Church documents, it is much better to read the document yourself, rather than relying on the analysis of someone else. The worst thing a Catholic can do is rely on the analysis of a secular media organization. Temperance and stewardship are nothing new to an authentically Catholic way of life and go all the way back to Genesis. Here are 17 practical and easy ways to incorporate temperance and stewardship into your daily life.

1. Buy things used

I know that recycling has become more and more popular over the years. Why not establish a self-imposed recycling system in your house? Buy cars, clothes, furniture, lawn items, etc. used. My husband and I have been doing this for years. It saves us money and it gives things a longer life. Consider how much money you lose the minute you drive a brand new car off the lot?! Buying used is also fiscally smart.

2. Grow a garden

I am not saying that you have to get crazy like my husband and I are about gardening. Our garden is literally bigger than our house. Our goal is to really offset our produce needs through fresh veggies and canning. There is nothing like a tomato ripe off the vine in your own backyard. It tastes amazing! It is a taste you cannot find at the grocery store. Pick up a couple of 5 gallon buckets and plant some tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, kale (this is a great producer for months!!!!), or any other veggie you like. Your garden can be big or small, low maintenance or high maintenance. Not only is gardening good for your body, it helps us connect with God through His creation.

3. Hunt

We save a ton of money by supplementing almost all of our red meat with venison. It takes a little getting use to if you are die hard beef fan, but it is leaner and highly versatile. You can save even more money if you learn to butcher the deer yourself. It also reminds us of what a blessing the meat is that God provides for us. If you don’t like to hunt, then find a friend who does and offer to offset the cost. We hunt for many of our friends.

4. Shut off the electronics every now and then

In our highly connected world, this can be a difficult request. I struggle with this one, but in actuality, my struggle points to my addiction to my iPhone or laptop. We need to step away from the virtual world in order to pray and serve the people around us. Shutting off electronics not only cuts down on electricity, it cuts down on the ways we block one another out through a focus on the virtual rather than the actual.

Read the rest over at Epic Pew…

Cinderella: Christ and the Church in Art

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I can’t say that this post will be a review per say. It will be my musing on my experience of the movie and the Christian dimensions of the original fairy tale.  Of course, I know the story. Almost every little girl, at least in the U.S., was introduced to Disney’s version of Cinderella at a young age. The fight of good and evil is even recognizable in the innocence of childhood. And while many would say that the “happily ever after” is the reason little girls love it, I would say that there is more to it than that.

The character of Ella is one of outer beauty, but an interior of strength, courage, goodness, and love. She serves tirelessly and while she has her moments of weakness, she continues on. The newest adaption captures the utter goodness in her at the moment when she is about to give up, an “old beggar woman” asks for some milk. She immediately responds through virtuous action, action that is so infused within her through habit, that she serves this woman in the midst of her own sorrow. It is then that the fairy godmother reveals herself and Ella, in her gentle way, scoffs. But, she accepts the gifts joyfully when she realizes the fairy godmother is who she says she is. Even though she has not had much goodness done to her in recent years, Ella opens her arms wide open to the gifts bestowed upon her. Her own servant’s heart makes it easier for her to receive love.

There was one moment of the film that struck me very deeply. After Cinderella has danced and spent time with the prince, she flees. We know that this is because it is midnight and the spell will be broken by the final toll of the bell. The prince’s right hand man remarks that the prince had to choose “the one who flees” and the prince smiles. The Christology of that moment stopped me and nearly reduced me to tears. Cinderella is actually the story of Christ the Bridegroom (the Prince) and his pursuit and love of the Church (Cinderella). The deep spiritual truth of that moment has stayed with me even hours after the film, and it will stay with me.

Christ chooses all of us and we flee. Even those of us who are baptized into the Mystical Body, flee His love every time we sin. God woos us and we flee in shame and fear. Shame is a by-product of the Fall. We are constantly struggling against the shame that is brought about by our sin. God chases after us, beckoning, and calling us back to Him. He tenderly caresses us upon our return. Within the Confessional, he binds our wounds and restores us to the grace of our Baptism. No matter how many times we fall, he is constantly calling us back to Him.

Christ’s love for us has repeatedly been equated to a courtship in Scripture and Tradition. The desire and fire of passionate love is a common image for God. In fact, the Song of Songs is about God’s love for us. This is often misinterpreted by people, but it really is about God’s love for us through the imagery of romantic and erotic love. The same is true in the story of Cinderella.

Cinderella runs from the prince out of fear and shame that she is not good enough. She is a common girl. That is why when she finally comes forward to try on the glass slipper, she asks the now King to take her as she is, even in her lowly state. A sign of the virtue of humility. The King obliges and offers her the same humble request, that she will take him for who he is, even as a monarch apprentice, turned king. This moment not only demonstrates the humility required within marriage, it demonstrates the Church’s relationship to the Bridegroom who has given himself entirely to us. Christ emptied himself completely on the Cross in the greatest act of humility and his love is realized and reciprocated through the Church.

While the Christology was with me throughout the movie, the cinematography and costumes were breath-taking. I have been a Kenneth Branagh fan for decades and I could see his touch everywhere in the movie. The costumes, the banter, the style was so similar to Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. I fully expected him to end with a Shakespearean (given his background) style wedding, but he did not. He kept to simplicity and beauty, but showed the absolutely gorgeous wedding dress selected for Cinderella. Modesty is beautiful!

What really was truly a gift was the beauty. The entire movie is beautiful. This is so lacking in our culture anymore. The entire movie is a sensual experience in the way art is meant to be. It draws us into goodness and joy. The imagery caused wonder and awe, even if some of it was CG. It didn’t matter. The beauty was constant throughout the movie.

The beauty is contrasted with the darkness and cold of the stepmother, who inevitably breaks against the stone of goodness. The movie calls those who see it to embrace beauty, kindness, and goodness. I left wanting to know why there are not more movies like this one? Why has art so lost its way? I would say it is because it has lost its center, who is Christ. Even if Branagh meant to tone down the Christology of the Cinderella fairy tale, it was impossible to do because of the sheer beauty of it all. As I have written here before, we see God in beauty. Good woos us through beauty and this movie will do just that. I just might have to go see it again in the theater. God bless.

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