Virtue Over Values by Monsignor Ferrarese

Often people like to speak about their values. Everyone values something. Everyone has values. And this as it should be.

But the problem with leaving this issue at this juncture as though we have no more to say is that it creates a passive possibility without an active realization of what to do with our values.

I can value the equality of all persons, poor and rich, but without the virtue of generosity, it is all words, all aspirations, all ideals. No one is actually helped. It is only when I try to realize my values with the virtue of generosity that I can truly help to make my values a reality. That is where we get the old slogan: “Don’t tell me that we should help the poor, show me your checkbook!”

Values are really about abstraction. They tell us what you value in the abstract. They reveal the essence of what a person desires to be. They are not factual statements regarding how things concretely stand. To speak about our values is the easiest thing in the world. We can go on and on about how we value a certain characteristic in a person. But unless the person tries to actually put it into practice, it simply remains an aspiration of the person.

Virtue, on the other hand, involves hard work. It means failing at times but being ready and willing to get up again and keep trying to realize what it is we want to be known for. For instance, we may value the intrinsic worth of other human beings; but if we steal from them, we are telling them that they are worth nothing. Same thing for the area of sexuality. We may be all for the equality of women and their inherent dignity irrespective of their socially determined roles in society; but if we pay them half of what we pay a man, or if we use them in a sexual way (even, as the Lord says, in my heart), then we tell them that they are dirt, no matter what are values are.

This is why everyone is talking about values. It is cheap talk. If you want to know what one truly values, then watch them and see how they treat what they value.

Perhaps an analogy may help in understanding what I am trying to say. At different junctures of my life, I have attempted to learn how to do something. Sometimes it is a practical everyday thing like learning to drive a manual transmission car or cooking. At other times it is trying my hand at learning an art form or the playing of a sport. I tried to learn to paint on a couple of occasions. In sports I have tried to play golf and tennis. The only success I have had was the driving of a manual-transmission car! And that took being on the road in NYC stalling out over and over again until I learned to use the clutch correctly! With sports and art, I have been less successful. The pattern is similar in all these attempts: I want to learn, and I take lessons and try my best. But after some time, I get tired and discouraged and give it up and move onto another interest.

Having values is like wanting to play tennis or cook. It is a good thing to have the desire, but the learning of the craft or the sport requires lots of hard work and lots of time. Only those who really want to learn will pick it up eventually. But maybe not at the highest caliber of accomplishment.

We will be judged by God not by the values we hold but rather by the virtues we practice. This is a hard lesson for us modern souls to accept, for many of us think that we are entitled to heaven. Many believe that heaven is given indiscriminately to everyone, even to those who act contrary to the will of God.

This goes against the very justice of God that looks at the fairness with which He takes all of our actions. We would instinctively regard as unfair if God treated in the same way St. Francis of Assisi and Adolf Hitler. If God loves everyone, if in the end it does not matter whether we grow in virtue or in vice, why shouldn’t God show mercy to Adolf Hitler? What is the suffering and death of 40 million people? If we are ok with God just brushing that aside, then is God really a just God? Does mercy mean that what we do in life, virtue or vice, does not matter? Is that just? Is that really merciful?

No, it is what we do that matters to God and what we do emerges from the desires of our hearts. We may imagine ourselves to be loving, but where are the proofs of that love?

Is it virtue that God sees predominate in our lives or is it vise?

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