A few years back, in one of his homilies, my pastor made a point concerning vice and virtue. Although I don’t recall the exact words he used, the gist of the message was this: vice, by its nature, does not need the grace of God to grow. Vice does very well all by itself, with no assistance. Most of us have no problem giving in to our vices (sins, bad habits, whatever you want to call them). On the other hand, we find it hard to live a virtuous life. Virtue needs God’s grace to grow, because, by our nature, we find it difficult. It has been so since the days of Eden when humanity chose not to trust in God, but rather to take our lives into our own hands with the encouragement of the one who leads us astray, to this very day. And here we are!
Our life’s journey challenges us. We are challenged to examine what it means to live a virtuous life by examining the virtues themselves.
Today’s Gospel gives us the parable of the fruitless fig tree, ready to be cut down and burned because it had been fruitless for years, using up valuable resources. The gardener pleaded with the owner of the garden to wait one more year, to allow him to fertilize the tree further, with the hope that it will soon bear fruit and be useful. Is it our time to be nourished and nurtured by the Grace of God through the efforts of our gardener, Jesus? Is it our time to stretch our roots to receive the nourishment of God’s grace, and to spread our branches upward toward the Son? Feel the warmth!
A life so nourished will begin to find that a virtuous life, although never easy, is a fruitful and satisfying life. Through the grace of God and our attention to the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance, it will prove worthy of the gardener’s efforts. He is tireless!
Take a look at each virtue and how to take ownership to better our lives and the lives of those we touch. We will be challenged to look more deeply into our hearts: what weakens and hinders our growth – what can make us strong.
Take time with this parable of the fig tree. Find your place in the garden and be planted. If you recognize that you are not always bearing fruit, then be ready to be nourished and fertilized. It may not always be a pleasant process, but it will be great in the end!
Faith: The virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes we believe, because God is truth itself. By Faith, we completely commit our entire selves to God.
Hope: Hope goes hand in hand with Faith. By this virtue, we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Fortitude: The moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and consistency in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome the obstacles in the moral life.
Prudence: The virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. The prudent person looks where he is going.
Charity: The virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.
Temperance: This virtue moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable.
Justice: The moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called “the virtue of religion.” Justice toward humanity disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good.
Perhaps some time we can explore each of these in depth. For now, ponder them and know that, like that gardener thousands of years ago, our Master Gardener, Jesus, will not give up on us. As with the fig tree, there is always hope.
Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.