On the subject of language and speech, I offered an initial list (by no means comprehensive!) of some things I hope we stop saying in 2017 because these words and their meanings have been twisted and malformed so as to make madness seem normal and sanity seem cruel.
It’s good to start by naming the madness and refusing to speak the perverted language, but it’s only a place to start — not a place to live. We have to do more than opt-out of the insanity. We have to intentionally inject sanity into the culture again. We have to purposely re-infuse our society with truth again, and just as corrupting the language reaps destruction, restoring the truth of our words and recovering some lost wisdom will reap healing.
So here’s another list to get us started.
The Language of Virtue
Let’s begin speaking the language of virtue. The cardinal virtues of fortitude, temperance, prudence and justice, as well as the virtues of chastity, fidelity and courage.
1. Chastity is a word we must learn to speak without embarrassment or hesitation, since it is a virtue everyone is called to regardless of their state in life. Chastity is lived differently for a single person than a married person, but the virtue is the same. It is the “integrity of the powers of life and love” in the person, and involves an “apprenticeship of self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2338 and 2339)
Simply put, chastity is happiness. Have a look out there — people, relationships, and families are more broken and miserable than ever. That’s because the person dominated by passions is neither free nor happy. Everything most people do nowadays is centered on their feelings, so people are constantly tossed about on the wind of emotions and changing desires. “The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” (CCC 2339)
The culture out there is not making people happy. That’s our cue to talk about the means of being happy. Along with chastity, let’s talk about the virtues of fidelity and temperance.
2. Fidelity? What’s that? For the hook-up generation, everything is permanently temporary. When I was a child, only a few kids in my class had divorced parents. Today, it’s exactly the reverse. So few children have an intact home with both their parents. Fidelity must make a strong comeback.
The younger generations need to know that people can keep their vows; people can say no to promiscuous sex; men and women can respect one another and not use one another for animalistic gratification. People can learn to love and be faithful — yes, even til death.
3. Temperance is that virtue that helps us moderate even good and pleasurable things, keeping balance in our lives, being directed by our will and not our instincts or desires. (CCC 1809) It’s learning a measure of self-denial for a higher good. It’s one cookie rather than five. It is discretion and restraint. It’s a healthy level of detachment from “stuff.” It sets us free to love God and love other people.
4. When’s the last time you heard someone extol the virtue of prudence? (Never mind the SNL skits of President Bush the elder.) Let’s dig up this pearl and keep it in our pockets once again. Prudence is “right reason in action” says St. Thomas Aquinas. Prudence helps us discern the true good and choose what is right. (CCC 1806) In this dangerously confused age, we need men and women of virtue who will think and act with prudence.
5. Justice is a virtue most people today will eagerly get behind, even though they likely misunderstand it and apply it unevenly and, ironically, unjustly. The “social justice warriors” are a new class of citizen-activists who are determined to enforce behavioral standards that satisfy their vision of justice, no matter how unjust those standards actually are.
True justice, first of all, requires giving God what God is due. Justice is then found in “habitual right thinking” and uprightness of conduct toward our neighbor. (CCC 1807) Justice promotes the true common good. (How can we determine the true common good? Ask prudence, temperance, chastity, and fidelity.)
Justice demands that we recognize the humanity of the child in the womb and protect the child from being killed. Justice requires that we provide for our children what we are obligated to give them, and not deprive them for the sake of our own wants and preferences. Justice insists that we protect the elderly, the disabled, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, those whom we are tempted to consider “less than.”
6. Fortitude is the virtue that strengthens us to choose what is right when it seems easier to compromise. It’s the inner steel that bolsters our resolve, and pushes us on “in the pursuit of good.” Along with courage, it enables us to “conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions.” (CCC 1808) Fortitude turns sinners into saints.
When our neighbors talk about the necessity of contraception, we should be talking about the freedom of chastity. When they talk about the “rights” of women and “reproductive justice,” we must answer them with true justice and defend the child in the womb.
When excess and self-indulgence is celebrated, we need to encourage temperance. When the prevailing opinion says we must go along with madness, we must call on prudence instead, and have courage!
When they say, “I won’t impose my personal beliefs on others…” we need to instruct them in fortitude. When they announce their impending divorce, someone must be brave enough to counsel them to choose fidelity instead.
Obviously, just talking about virtue isn’t going to get the job done. We have to walk this talk. We will not get very far without the grace of God. It is divine grace that gives us mere mortals the power to live a virtuous life. God will help us begin, and begin again, and again, for as long as we ask.
So let’s begin! People want to be free. They want to be happy. Let’s show them the truth — real happiness will never be found apart from virtue. (For more from the author of “What We Ought to Talk About in 2017” please click HERE)