Giving God our all by becoming people of virtue

During the recent canonization Mass of seven new saints, Pope Francis reminded us of the “radical” nature of Jesus and what that means for our response.

He gives all and he asks all,” he said. “He gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. ... We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love him 20 or 50 or 60 percent. It is either all or nothing.”

I find these words to be quite powerful and striking — and a reminder to us of who we are and who we are called to be as baptized disciples of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis is reminding us that our faith is not an accessory to our lives; our faith should be what we live and breathe, day in and day out. And it should be reflected in our words and actions. Not just some of the time, but habitually. This is what it means to be a person of virtue. This is what it means to be a person longing for sainthood. And it most definitely is not easy.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions” (No. 1803). As St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394 A.D.) said, “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.”

The cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, the Catechism teaches, help us develop “firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. ... With God’s help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good.”

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In short, embracing the cardinal virtues help us on our path to holiness. These human virtues, however, are also rooted in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. These virtues, the catechism says, “dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object” (No. 1812).

“The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character,” the catechism says. “They inform and give life to all the moral virtues” (No. 1813).

So what is the point of all of this? If we are to give God our entire selves — 100 percent — then we must work to become people of virtue. It doesn’t happen by magic, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes perseverance and determination. But this is our calling if we truly want to join the ranks of the saints in heaven.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.