“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
Ordinary of the Mass
“Arise go thy way;
for thy faith hath made thee whole.”
So what is this thing that we call “Faith”? In the Collect of today's Mass (the
short prayer that is read just before the Epistle), we asked God to give us an
increase of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
These three are called the “theological virtues.” That is to say that they are
the virtues that enable us to draw close to God.
The word “virtue” comes from the Latin
word “virtus,” meaning a “strength,” or a “power.” There are many
virtues that are important in the conduct of our lives. Some of them are
natural, while others are supernatural. Justice, fortitude, temperance,
truthfulness, and chastity are examples of the natural virtues.
Generally speaking, the virtues direct
us along the “middle way,” between extremes; between too much and too little;
between excess and deficiency.
For example, the virtue of fortitude helps us to persevere in doing what is
good, in spite of the obstacles that might get in the way. It directs us along
the “middle way,” so that we don't follow the foolish path of one who has no
fear of anything, nor the path of the timid who never act at all.
It helps to understand the concept of
virtue if you think of them as “good habits.” For, like any habit, the virtues
become easier to practice the more often we exercise them. The more often we
are truthful, for example, the easier it becomes for us to be consistently
truthful in the future.
Now, I mentioned that there are
supernatural virtues as well as natural ones. While the natural virtues aid us
to live a good life in the world, the supernatural virtues direct us in our life
with God—the spiritual life. The supernatural virtues are given to us as free
gifts of God—the theologians speak of them being “infused.” That is to say that
we cannot acquire them on our own, but must seek them from God.
Let's take Faith, Hope, and Charity as
examples. Having Faith means believing what God has revealed to us on His
authority alone. We can prepare ourselves for Faith by learning what God has
revealed—by reading the Bible, or the works of the Fathers of the Church, or
listening to sermons, for example—but the supernatural gift of Faith is more
than just an intellectual matter. By the infusion of divine Faith we are
transformed; “justified” as the theologians say; made able to receive God's
other graces and to earn His rewards for the good we do in this life.
The theological virtue of Hope
transforms us in a related way, taking us from the hopelessness of being trapped
by sin, and giving us the absolute confidence that God has redeemed us and will
give us every grace necessary to work out our eternal salvation if we but
cooperate with Him.
Charity transforms us as well, giving
God to us as the permanent object of our love, in place of the temporary
attraction offered by people and things in this world.
Now, there is an important distinction
that we must make. While God is the only source of these and the other
supernatural virtues, and only God can grant an increase in them, it is still up
to us to exercise them. Think of a person who has a talent for music or for
playing baseball. The talent is God-given, and probably cannot be developed
very much in those of us who lack it. But even among the talented, the great
musicians and the great baseball players are those who practice.
The same thing is true for the
supernatural virtues. They are given by God, but it is up to us practice them.
The gift of Faith is wasted on those who never ponder God’s truths. Likewise
the gift of Hope goes undeveloped in those who never consider the realities of
Heaven and Hell. And certainly, there can be no Charity—no love of God—in those
who spend no time with their Beloved.
To make proper use of the supernatural
virtues God has given us it is necessary to exercise them. Many prayer-books
print brief acts of faith, and hope, and charity for us to read. Prayer in
general is such an exercise, and certainly the Sacraments and attendance at Holy
Mass, or just coming to church to visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Reading the Scriptures and other spiritual books ought to be mentioned as well.
All of these things help us to exercise the virtues by helping us to know, and
to trust, and to love God.
believe in Thee, but increase my faith;
“Thou art my
only hope, but strengthen my confidence;
“I love Thee
above all things, but increase this love so that I may seek for nothing
outside Thy holy will!”
Ten Lepers were
cured—one returned. Hopefully, more of us will return to
God to thank Him and to exercise the virtues He has given us. Then we too will
hear the words “Arise go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole.”