By: Franci Williamson

To be described as virtuous is certainly is not one of the adjectives that our modern sensibilities hanker for. So… what does it mean? Is it just an outdated mode of being? Or is it something that I should actually want?

I did some research, and went right to the source to establish the origin of word. Virtue comes from the Latin Vir, meaning Man, not male but rather human. To be human entirely – to have, or rather be, “vir” is to be human in the fullness of the word, to be fully human.

Now that changes things a lot. To be virtuous is now to live life to the full, to exist in the extreme. How?

A virtue is a habit. Not any habit like the way you tie your shoelace, or organize your morning routine, but a good habit. Habit because it becomes part of our character. Good because it allows us to be fully human. Fully human because it allows us to be free (big statement I know – but we’ll get back to it).

We can only claim to have a virtue once it is part of our character, that is something we have cultivated and is therefore ingrained in our very selves. Basically, how we would react when we are not thinking. Our natural response when we are on autopilot or don’t have the luxury of analysing the pros and cons and making a call. How we behave before we actually wake up in the morning and get our caffeine fix, what we would do when bullets start flying – put ourselves in front of someone – or hide behind. This is our character. Who we really are, no masks, no smoke and mirrors. We get a habit when we repeatedly do something, again and again, until it becomes the norm.

Ok. So, to be called virtuous is actually a rather rad thing. In fact, we’ve pretty much failed at life if we are not called virtuous to some degree or other. And this relates more specifically to our lives as Christians. Why? Because Jesus’ last instruction, the final ‘to do’ (and hence pretty seriously important) is to “go make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) we are called “to be witnesses” (Acts 1:8) to the Gospel – the good news of Christ Resurrected. And what does it mean to be a witness? It is to be a sign, someone who attests to the reality and genuineness of something. As Pope Francis said in the title of his Apostolic Exhortation (shmancy word for encouragement or call), it’s the Joy of the Gospel. We give witness by our lives, by our actions and words, our behaviour, our character.

People should not know that we are Christian because we wear rosaries, or crosses, have big “I heart JC” t-shirts. No, Jesus Himself told us how: “[they] will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). If we live the virtue of true love (caritas in the original – charity, or love for God), our character will be good because our hearts will reflect Christ. Charity is therefore the most important of all the virtues because it ties all the others together in a coherent picture. Love, real-hard-sacrificial-beautiful-love, is all that is demanded of us. (*It is important to note that today we use the word charity to mean give to the poor or some organization in need. Charity has come to mean this because it was from a profound love for God that overflowed into love for neighbour that inspired so many into these kinds of actions and the words became synonymous. I’m going to use it in the original, in the “all you need is faith, hope and charity (love)” sense (cf. 1 Cor 13:13)).

Virtue needs to flow from within us, out. What that means is that because virtue is about who we are, our actions need to be interiorized, they come from our desire to love and give. From our heart to our hands. They are not once off actions or words, but (as we said) repeated habits, that we would act in the same way in the same situation again and again. It’s not just being patient in traffic today, it’s being patient everyday.

This sounds great, but how do we do it? We start with a once off, not getting aggravated this morning. And then trying again tomorrow morning. And then again the next. And when we fail we start a fresh. One of my favourite lines from a saint is St Josemaria Escriva who said, “Begin and begin again” everyday, multiple times a day. Why? Because we become humble by acting with humility. We become temperate by acting with moderation. We become good by being good. We need to be intentional about cultivating our virtues. Snoozing our alarm for 5mins, taking an extra helping of food just because it is there, being late for an appointment. By themselves – these are almost insignificant, but each are a small decision that fosters our character and virtue. Any teacher may know, to repeat something 15 times is to create a habit. Just 2 weeks of snoozing our alarm or two weeks of making sure we are on time. The little details matter, because in the end that is what life is made up of – small details (“whoever is faithful with very little will also be faithful with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10)).

To be virtuous is to be our greatest selves and forming our virtues helps us reach true happiness. Transforming ourselves to be more like Christ. When we are virtuous, the moral law is not a set of rules, but a way to Christian hope. Our plan of life become a path of love. Because, when we are virtuous, we are not bound by the things of the world and therefore are more free. Free to give and therefore free to love. Because ultimately that is what it’s all about – saying yes to Christs’ repeated “Come, follow me”. And I’d like that yes to be the greatest yes that I can rally, a yes with no obstacles, no selfishness, no dark hidden corners, a free and total yes. And to give Him that, I need to be to the best possible me. I need to be fully me. Fully human. Virtuous.

About Author: Franci WillaimsonFranci_TCC_Photo

Tea, rainstorms and great literature are what make my world go round. When I’m not enjoying one of these I am a teacher who is in love with her job and the chance to help form young minds. The really and truly NEVER ending discovery of the joy of living the faith as a daughter of God constantly surprises and sustains me. I hope to always be enthralled by God, make perfect carrot cake, live in Rome and learn to play Dylan on the guitar.