Cardinal Virtue

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Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Opening Prayer: Holy Spirit, fill my heart and my mind in this moment of prayer so that I can appraise my situation in life in your light, and approach each decision with clear-sighted prudence.

Encountering Christ:

  1. Prudence: The first of the four cardinal virtues, and the rule for the other three, is prudence. Now it goes against the grain of present-day thinking [as of 1951] to see in prudence a virtue, let alone the first of the four cardinal virtues. The reason for this is that we often have an entirely wrong idea of the virtue of prudence. “Prudence as virtue has nothing to do with […] the timorous attitude of undue caution […]. Prudence is the quality of clearsightedness. The prudent man approaches each decision with his eyes open, in the full light of knowledge and faith. He discerns reality objectively, sizes up a factual situation for what it is, and weighs the real value of things. Only after careful consideration does the prudent man make his decision” (Josef Pieper, What Catholics Believe, 73).
  2. Foolishness: Today’s Gospel passage weighs prudence against foolishness. At first glance, the mishap that befell the five foolish virgins might seem coincidental. However, in the light of the explanation of prudence above, we can appreciate that the situation around the virgins’ shortage of oil was preceded by two sets of behavior, by two decision-making processes, and two ways of approaching reality: “Whoever follows the impulse of his will before appraising the facts and the circumstances of a situation accurately and objectively is imprudent and unwise” (idem).
  3. Behold, the Bridegroom! “Virtue is the utmost of what a man can be; it is the realization of the human capacity for being” (Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, 9). If the clear-sighted virtue of prudence is imperative in daily life in order to “realize the human capacity,” in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that it is even more imperative for the spiritual life. Much like the maids-in-waiting, we know that the Lord will come.To be prudent in our spiritual life means that today we “size up this situation for what it is, and weigh the real value of things” in its light.

Conversing with Christ: My Lord, today you invite me to grow in prudence. Help me to approach each situation with my “eyes open, in the full light of knowledge and faith.” Give me the grace to discern proper actions and then follow through for your glory.

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will practice the cardinal virtue of prudence by taking a minute before making a decision to consciously discern its implications in the light of faith and reason.

For Further Reflection: “The fire that rekindles the gift is the Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts. So St. Paul goes on to say: ‘Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Timothy 1:14). And again: ‘God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and prudence’ (v. 7). Not a spirit of timidity, but of prudence. Someone may think that prudence is a virtue of the ‘customs house,’ that checks everything to ensure that there is no mistake. No, prudence is a Christian virtue; it is a virtue of life, and indeed the virtue of governance. And God has given us this spirit of prudence. Paul places prudence in opposition to timidity. What is this prudence of the Spirit? As the Catechism teaches, prudence ‘is not to be confused with timidity or fear’; rather, it is ‘the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it’ (#1806). Prudence is not indecision; it is not a defensive attitude. It is the virtue of the pastor who, in order to serve with wisdom, is able to discern, to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit. Rekindling our gift in the fire of the Spirit is the opposite of letting things take their course without doing anything. Fidelity to the newness of the Spirit is a grace that we must ask for in prayer” (Pope Francis, homily on October 6, 2019, during the Holy Mass for the opening of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region: Complete homily).

Written by Father Gabriel von Wendt, LC.

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