I have been fascinated by virtue since I attended my first Steubenville conference and heard Sarah Swafford’s talk about virtue. She showed us these Simply Irresistible lists of virtues, and I just found the lists so attractive. Over time, I have learned much more about the importance of virtues in human life.
Since then, I have explored virtue in different classes, programs, and more, and I continue to find virtue fascinating. It is so beautiful and to see it in action is to see God at work.
The health of mind, body, and soul is so essential for virtue. This health gives us the grace, mindset, healing, discipline, and accountability needed to pursue virtue intentionally. Now that we have explored health, it is time to explore virtue. This article will discuss the definition of virtue, how it impacts vocation, and habits for intentionally growing in virtue.
Resources for Learning the Importance of Virtues in Human Life
Before we begin, here are some books you can read to learn more about the importance of virtues in human life and how to grow in virtue:
What is Virtue? The Importance of Virtues in Human Life
The source for everything in this article is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In paragraph 1803, we learn that “a virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” Virtue is about performing good acts and giving our best in everything we do. In essence, being virtuous is to act like God.
That’s a pretty tall order.
The Catechism then goes on to talk about the human virtues. The human virtues are those virtues that human effort alone can attain. These virtues are super important because they help make us ready to be united with God’s love, and they are the foundation of all good actions.
The Cardinal Virtues
The four cardinal virtues are essential because they help organize all other virtues. These virtues are:
- Prudence: This virtue helps us to see what is good in every situation and figure out how to achieve that good.
- Justice: This virtue allows us to give everyone what is due to them, including God.
- Fortitude: This virtue helps us keep going in the pursuit of what is going even when faced with temptations and other obstacles.
- Temperance: This virtue helps us have balance when it comes to enjoying the pleasures of this world.
The Theological Virtues
The theological virtues are an essential foundation for living out our Christian faith and living close to God. These virtues are given to us by God and help us to achieve Heaven. Therefore, these virtues are gifts from God and can’t be acquired by our efforts, like the cardinal virtues. However, these virtues then make acquiring the human virtues more attainable.
Here are the theological virtues:
- Faith: This virtue helps us believe in God, Revelation, and the teachings of the Church.
- Hope: This virtue helps us to desire Heaven and trust in God’s grace to achieve it.
- Charity: This virtue is the greatest. This virtue involves loving God and others above all things.
All of these virtues are very important, and understanding them helps us to know where we may be lacking in virtue, thus giving us a focus on our journey towards Heaven and perfection.
Why Virtue is Important for Vocation: The Importance of Virtue for Human Life
As we discovered earlier, virtue is about doing what is good and giving our best selves to everything we do. In our vocations, we are following God’s call for our lives, and through this call, we become an image of God for the world. How can we do so if we are not doing what is good and giving our best self?
How to Grow in Virtue
Because of our wounds and sin, growing in virtue is extremely difficult. That is why Jesus came to offer salvation-He is the only way that we can grow in virtue. We must constantly ask for His grace and participate in the sacraments because of this. We can only grow with His grace.
But this doesn’t mean that if we receive the sacraments, we will automatically attain all the virtues. We also need to put in our effort as well. There are a couple of ways to do this:
- Educating ourselves about the virtues
- Deliberately striving to avoid vice and choose virtue
These efforts can only be fruitful with God’s grace. To summarize, we need both our human effort and the grace of God to grow in virtue.
If we take care of our health, we should already be constantly asking for grace and receiving it in the sacraments. We also will be educating ourselves about virtues by learning the truth. That is why health is so vital for virtue.
When it comes to deliberate striving, there are two habits I have found to be helpful.
1: The Virtue Challenge
This challenge is described in Emotional Virtue by Sarah Swafford. Here are the steps to the virtue challenge:
- Pick a virtue that you want to grow in.
- Pick three ways that you can strive to grow in that virtue this week. Be practical and realistic. For example, if you’re struggling with gossip, don’t vow to go cold turkey-maybe focus on avoiding gossip about one person, etc.
- Then, list some obstacles to that virtue that you will face. Do certain situations, TV shows, etc., trigger you to act against that virtue?
- Then, go through the week, and keep track of your progress. Evaluate your progress at the end of each day, and then at the end of the week, be honest with yourself about how it went.
You can either do this alone or in a group. The nice thing about doing it in a group is the accountability. (See how physical health is helpful here?)
2: Intentional Fasting
In his book Broken and Blessed, Fr. Josh Johnson explains how fasting can be a tool used to combat vice in our lives.
Fr. Johnson writes that when he had severe struggles with lust, he realized that he was struggling with temperance. He used fasting to learn how to deny himself pleasure. Fr. Johnson did this by taking cold showers, denying himself music to listen to, and making sacrifices when it came to food. By learning to deny himself in these ways, he learned how to deny himself and avoid lust.
Here are some steps for using fasting to combat vice:
- Become aware of your vices.
- Figure out what virtues counter those vices.
- Think of a fast to help you grow in that virtue. You don’t need to be limited to food.
Conclusion: Next Steps in Applying the Importance of Virtues in Human Life
I hope this article has encouraged you to grow in virtue and to see the importance of the health of mind, body, and soul for this growth. It is essential to have a good foundation of healthy habits to get started with growth in virtue. Need some help with that? You can subscribe to the email list below. You’ll receive a free workbook that you can use to choose and plan a healthy habit.
To learn more about the importance of virtues in human life, I recommend the following books:
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church: The section about virtue starts on paragraph 1803 and gives lots of information about the seven virtues we talked about above.
- Emotional Virtue by Sarah Swafford: This book includes those “Simply Irresistible” lists that fascinated me all those years ago, as well as some practical advice about growing in those virtues.
- Broken and Blessed by Fr. Josh Johnson: This book includes more information about fasting to help break the chains of sin.
Finally, check out these articles to learn more about the Radiant as the Son progression.