Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Desert Island Virtues

The premise of Desert Island Disks is that a celebrity is encouraged to choose the eight records they would choose to take with them to a desert island. One would assume that they would have the means of playing them. Can we play the game with the virtues? If we had to live life cultivating only two virtues, which would we choose?

Yes. It's silly, and yet...

The fact of the matter is that, of course, we'd like to acquire all of the virtues in order to be in perfect harmony with God and to live a life worthy of our calling into being. However, the fact is that we may spend our time trying to acquire one virtue (or eradicate one vice depending on your viewpoint) and fall into other vices. Then when we realize this, we give them better attention and, while doing so, neglect the virtue we've been trying to acquire. Living the virtuous life is like trying to fit an oddly-shaped carpet into an oddly-shaped room which may or may not be the same shape as the carpet.

This is why Pelagianism is wrong. We cannot earn our way into Heaven. We cannot acquire the virtues without God starting us off, without His constant assistance, without Him perfecting the virtues in us. Why bother, then? If we can't do this for ourselves, why not just sit back and let God do all the work? If He is the one to save us, then let Him save us and we'll just carry on living life.

Oh dear!

The only means of Salvation is Our Lord Jesus Christ. We have to become like Him: that is the destiny He wants for us. The trouble we find is that while Our Lord has two natures, Divine and Human, we have only one, and that is our trouble! We are separated from God by reason of our fall; our nature is flawed and that is a cause of separation. We need to recognise that this fallen nature of ours impedes us from ever obtaining any of the virtues by which we can become Christ-like.

However, this recognition of fallen-ness is itself a virtue. It begins in Christ because Christ reveals Himself to us as a man - a perfect man. This is the virtue known as Humility. Humility is an attempt to know oneself as one really is, warts'n'all. It is a knowledge of our existence as human beings, and the knowledge of our incompleteness being human beings. Humility is a difficult virtue to acquire because it is so painful. Our fallen humanity is the cross we have to bear. It is the cross that the Lord bares and through this very cross opens the door to reunion with God.

We are only half-formed and we must realise that there is nothing in us that can generate the perfection that brings us back to God. Humility brings us back to the dust from which God formed us. It is the virtue that Our Lord preaches and practises throughout His life; it is the virtue that scandalises the Pharisees to the extent that they seek to kill Him; it is the virtue that resists temptation to be anything other than human; it is the virtue that brings us to repentance and thus to the feet of God.

Humility begins with God when we lift our head to see Him, and in seeing Him recognise our imperfections. The second virtue we need is Love because, as St John tells us, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God". It is love that helps us complete our repentence, but requires us to be seeking the constant presence of God, because we cannot know love without God. The time from the giving of the Law and the Incarnation demonstrates this clearly to us just as it demonstrates our lack of Humility.

We see then that, just as Our Lord has two natures in one person, so He embodies Humility (from the nature of Humanity) and Love (from the substance of God). We are to seek the Kingdom of God. Humility is accepting the Kingdom as we are; Love is accepting God as He is, even if we cannot comprehend either. It is my opinion that the development of Humility and Love puts us on the path to develop the other virtues and thus enable God to work greater miracles in our lives until He completes that work in our resurrection from the dead and subsequent salvation.

I hope, with God's good pleasure, to reflect on these two virtues further, especially from a Benedictine point of view.

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