JOHNSON: Cooped up at home? How about exercising the ‘virtutes humanae’ muscles

April 14, 2020

Sigh. There’s the treadmill in the garage with about two years of dust resembling a layer of old, powdery frosting. The bicycle is on the other side of the aforementioned garage with a busted tire. Our local and national leaders have ordered us to stay home to control the spread of a nasty virus, but at the same time have recommended we exercise, keeping a safe distance from others if done outdoors, of course! I guess a good brisk walk will have to do.

While we do what we can to exercise our quads, hamstrings and glutes, we may want to look at how well we’re doing with exercising the major muscle group for living the Christian life. How are we doing exercising the “virtutes humanae” muscles? Before you run to the internet to ask the wise Sir Google where the virtutes humanae muscles are exactly, I’ll let you off the hook.

The major muscle group of the Christian life are the human virtues. These are exercised with every muscle group and every bone in our body, as well as the heart, mind and soul. Whether you are a single person living alone or are a part of a large family managing work and school with seven children, being cooped up at home presents an opportunity to learn about and practice the human virtues.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part III, Article 7 (CCC 1803-1845) one can find the “textbook” definitions for the human virtues. Textbook definitions, while a bit dry at times, are essential for a proper understanding of things. But it’s in the application, or the exercise of the virtues, where we flex that muscle and reap the present and eternal benefits.

Loosely paraphrased, the catechism states that virtues are well-established habits for actively choosing good things and thus avoiding bad things. Virtues are good habits that direct our actions and our passions according to faith and reason. The practice of virtues puts us on a path where it’s possible to have a good life. Even sheltered in place, there is no question that we have plenty of opportunities to practice virtuous living.

The Church groups the virtues into two categories: The theological virtues, which guide and put in proper order our relationship with God (faith, hope and charity), and the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance), which flow from the theological virtues. These are primary and fundamental virtues from which all other human virtues flow and help us to properly order our relationships with people.

Faith, hope and charity are crucial during this time when we have been disconnected from the Holy Sacraments of the Church. The Sacraments are our spiritual food and our armor against attacks from the enemy. In a very real way, we are in a period of fasting from our spiritual food and those things that help us reinforce our armor. Our faith in God, the hope we have in Him, and the charity (love) He has for us can certainly be a source of comfort and strength for us in times like these.

The human virtues have definite practical applications during this time. Prudence helps us know the difference between what is truly good and what is not. For example, do you have 24-hour coverage of the present epidemic constantly running on your TV? Prudence would have us reduce that to maybe an hour per day, if that. Why is there a run on canned goods and toilet paper when there is no real shortage of these things?

A good practice of the virtue of justice would help us see that hoarding is contrary to helping everyone in the community be able to get what they need. Growing in fortitude helps us to conquer our fears. Are we overly anxious and afraid during this time?

Exploring prayer as a way to connect with God and grow in fortitude is definitely a way to work this spiritual muscle. Finally, are we driven to dull our senses with alcohol, drugs, or sex, or fly off the handle and lash out violently at the people around us because of stress or job loss? Temperance is the virtue that keeps our acts within the limit of what is good and honorable.

So while we are at home, we have a great opportunity to grow in virtue and train our spiritual muscles. Pray, read Scripture and the catechism, and connect to the different online resources available. The While at Home Campaign sponsored by Family Life Ministry is currently underway and has some ideas for you. Going on a nice walk is nice too.

Teresita Johnson is the associate director of marriage preparation for the Office of Family Life Ministry.