Over the course of time some virtues have stood out as being important because they are foundational. Humility, for instance, is so basic that one cannot possibly consider one‘s spiritual life without first evaluating the extent that this virtue is present in us. To know that God is the center and meaning of all and to see oneself as a creature whose reason to be is to honor and glorify the Lord is the ‘sine qua non’ of the entire spiritual edifice of our existence. Our Lady is the best exemplar of this virtue when she agrees to the call of the Angel Gabriel: “Be it done to me according to thy word!”
But there is another virtue that also has an important, one might say, foundational, aspect and that is what has been traditionally called ‘Prudence’. We have to, at first, admit that we don‘t care for the word. Prudence reminds us of the word ‘prude’ or someone who has a negative, censorious attitude in life. But prudence is very important since even our moral life has got to hang together. Nothing frustrates the development of one‘s spiritual life more than when one takes one virtue to an extreme.
Take the virtue of Chastity. Even if one is married, one needs to have that virtue which looks at the other human being as a free subject who cannot be made an object by the lust in our heart.
Even married couples need to practice chastity along with their other marital virtues. Pope Saint John Paul II drew a lot of criticism when he made this point early on in his papacy during his now historic series on the theology of the body. A man should not make his wife the object of lust. She must be respected in her subjected freedom and not be made a thing to be used to satisfy an urge of nature (This is obviously true the other way around with the way the woman looks at her husband).
The virtue of marital love must be balanced by the virtue of chastity so that it does not subjugate one‘s spouse to one‘s own desires. Lust for a Christian is always bad no matter how often our modern world seeks to make it a virtue.
Poverty (which today may better be termed ‘simplicity of lifestyle’), to take another example, needs to be balanced by other virtues since one can push it so far that it threatens health and hence the very point of serving the Lord.
No, the virtue of prudence or what we are terming ‘balance’ is a very essential part of the life of grace since it moderates and makes the whole spiritual life work better together. It is an important reality to factor in, for extremes usually lead to a kind of lack of perspective as to the most basic point of the whole adventure of grace, which is not to accomplish but to love.
But even with love, one must exercise the virtue of balance. One can love too much when one creates a dependency in the person or when one takes away from a person their responsibility to grow by making their own mistakes and exerting their own efforts. We can see this clearly in children who are spoiled by their parents with the excuse that they are just loving them. The desire for experiencing the love of giving to a child must be balanced by the desire to have the child find their own way to growth.
Another example of the unbalanced approach to love is co-dependency which manifests itself as an attempt to help someone by doing what they should do on their own.
Arguably one can say that both spoiling a child and enabling an adult co-dependent relationship are not really manifestations of love, but they are often defended (albeit falsely) as way of loving the other.
Prudence or balance is an essential component in living a virtuous life since it leaves room for the many virtues that need to co-exist in the whole constellation of the spiritual adventure that we call life.