If you’ve been to enough weddings, you’ve probably heard the reading from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, where St. Paul writes, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
And at the end of the chapter, “So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
And because these passages are often read at weddings, we often associate Paul’s ideas about love with romantic love and marriage. And while it’s certainly true that the theological virtues play an integral role in relationships, especially marriages, the context often dictates that we shift our focus from the virtues as Christian tenants to love as a romantic feeling. Josh Raymond spent a segment of The Inner Life discussing the theological Virtues as a whole with Father Michael Hurley, OP.
To begin the conversation, Father Michael explained the difference between theological virtues and human virtues which we can cultivate, master habitually, and grow on our own. “These are virtues which are nothing less than a share of God’s own life. Faith, Hope, and Charity, each one, in turn, unites us in a very particular and intimate way, with God Himself.” And each of these operates in its own way.
In explaining Faith, Father Michael said that it’s a virtue that opens up our minds to the supernatural things that go beyond our five senses and material world. He referenced the way St. Thomas Aquinas explained the ways we use Faith, namely our belief that there is a God, our trusting in revelation that it is true about God, and our entrusting of ourselves to this God that we believe in.
We often get stuck after the first step of that process, believing that there is a God, but failing to embrace divine revelation and entrusting ourselves to Him. That is because all Catholics, no matter how devout, experience what John Neuman called “difficulties”. Faith that doesn’t come with difficulty isn’t really faith. As a virtue that requires trust, an intrinsic part of Faith is that question that Mary had at the Annunciation, “How can this be?” It is precisely when we encounter those difficulties when we think we’re losing our faith, that our faith is actually growing.
Hope, the second theological virtue, is one that Father Michael said might often be misunderstood, in part because of its intrinsic ties to faith. Father Michael said that sometimes, the idea gets thrown around that because one has Faith in their life, the things that we hope for – health, wealth, dream job, perfect family – will come to us automatically. But that’s just not the case. In fact, that’s a return to the old Hebrew belief that if you were born blind, dumb, dumb, or handicapped, your parents must’ve committed grave sins.
If we misplace our hope in this way, we will ultimately be disappointed, and eventually, led to despair. Instead, we should look at scripture for the things that God has promised to us. And what He promises us is not an easy life. He promises us that if we take up our crosses and follow Him, He will grant us eternal life. Josh asked Father Michael how we keep this hope in the face of tragedy and hardship when it’s almost impossible to stay hopeful.
“The principle is Hope is about the impossible. If you can see your way clear to the solution, then it’s not really hope. It’s just your own strategy and powers. If the way forward is dark in every way…that’s precisely when hope says, ‘Yes! It’s a confidence in the impossible!’” As the angel Gabriel said, “‘For nothing will be impossible for God.’” (Luke 1:37)
And finally, Father Michael and Josh turned to the third theological virtue, Love, or Charity as its also known. We might usually think of charity as giving money or alms to the poor, and that is a form it assumes, but the broader sense of charity has its roots in friendship. Friendship is the life of God in us that allows us to give of ourselves.
Josh asked what would be the best way to grow in charity towards others: Do we grow through practicing self-sacrifice or do we grow in this virtue through prayer? “Both/And,” responded Father Michael with a chuckle. He continued, saying that prayer is the primary way because it is direct conversation with God, and Charity, like the other theological virtues, finds its source in God’s grace.
As simple as the concept of prayer is, it’s easier said than done! But it’s our duty to pray if we expect to grow closer to God and grow more proficient in virtue. Carve out the time to speak to Our Lord. The last thing we want God to say when we get to Heaven is, “‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’” (Matthew 25:12)
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