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From the Pastor 07/02/17

Summer time is a time of rest. I do hope many of you are taking the time to enjoy the summer with family and friends. I have already left for Maine and will return on July 12. This is half of my summer vacation. Over the 4th of July my family will be together for our annual family reunion. You are all in my prayers as we celebrate Independence Day, and remember in prayer all who have sacrificed so much for freedom, especially the members of the military who have given their very lives for us to live in freedom.

As I have been looking through files on my computer I came across some notes I organized on Faith and Moral Living. These notes come from Frs. John Hardon, S.J. and Reginald Martin, O.P. In a three part series beginning this week I would like to share with you some of their thoughts on this important topic.

Faith and the Good Life

“The eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him. God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” (1 Cor. 1:9)

Until modern times the relationship of morals (right living) and religion was taken for granted. Both philosophers and theologians never questioned the basic truths expressed on Mt. Sinai when God gave the Jews the Decalogue, the first precepts of which were to honor God as a foundation for the secondary precepts of the moral law.

But something new has entered the stream of human thought, the concept of man’s autonomy that wishes to dispense with religion and its bearing on morals. Many in the world today believe that religious values are only mental constructs, and that the concept of God is not a necessary condition for being moral. Today critics of religion have removed God completely from morality because their confidence in man is so extreme. Man has become the new God; and man, not God, has become the new construct for morality.

Since St. Thomas Aquinas depended so heavily on Aristotle, it will be helpful to review the Aristotelian position on ethics and then consider Aquinas.

The good for man, according to Aristotle, is an active use or exercise of the powers of the mind and will, as distinct from the lower faculties of feeling, nutrition and growth. Human excellence shows itself in the habitual subordination of the senses and lower tendencies to rational rule and principal. It is the exercise of reason in the search for contemplation of truth: moral and intellectual truth. Activity of pure thought constitutes the eternal perfection of the divine nature, which is God.

Aquinas took Aristotle’s thoughts about the contemplation of truth and completed the human person by teaching about the endowments of infused virtue. In the Thomistic system these infused theological and moral virtues are directly produced by God in the operative faculties of a man, and differ mainly from the acquired virtues because they do not imply human effort. God himself pours in (infundere) the infused virtues, not by compulsion or overriding the free will of man, but without dependence on us. As St. Augustine says, “they are produced in us by God without our assistance.” They are supernatural precisely because they transcend the natural capacities of mind and will either to acquire or operate.

Among the infused virtues, however, some are concerned directly with God and are called Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. Others have as their object not in God himself as the Final End, but human activities that leads us rightly towards our Final End. They are called the Moral Virtues: Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice, and are called the Cardinal (cardo) the hinge to right human conduct.

The famous teachings of St. Thomas has echoed through the centuries, “Grace does not destroy but builds upon human nature.”

A man is virtuous because his actions correspond to an objective norm, which for Aristotle was knowable by reason and for Aquinas by reason and faith.

St. Thomas Aquinas, who (echoing St. Augustine) defined virtue as “A good habit of the mind, by which we live righteously, of which no one can make bad use, which God works in us ...” (ST I-II, 55.4)

When we were growing up, most of us learned that we live by the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, as well as by the Moral Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.

The word “theological” comes from two Greek words, theos (which means “God”) and logos, “word.” We call Faith, Hope, and Charity “theological” virtues because they direct us to God, and because we receive them from God alone. The immense gift of God’s revelation is further enhanced by the truths contained in Scripture, and the teaching of the Church.

Left to our own devices, we can reach a level of natural happiness by following the dictates of reason. Pope Pius XII wrote,

“Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by His providence ... yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things ...” (Humani Generis, 561).

However, coming to know God through human skills is no easy matter. Moreover, Scripture refers to a greater happiness, one we realize when we take part in God’s divine nature, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him, God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” (1 Cor. 1:9).

Sources:
The Meaning of Virtue in St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. John Hardon, S.J. The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 62, No 5, Sep-Oct 2009, The Virtue of Faith, Father Reginald Martin, O.P.

A Blessed Week to All,

Rev. André-Joseph LaCasse, O.P., Pastor