The Test of True Virtue

St. Catherine of Sienna recounts to us how Christ explained the nature of virtue to her.

Every virtue, he stresses, no matter how private it seems, is practiced in relation to others.

First, every true virtue is given by God, and performed for love of him. Next, every virtue redounds in some way to the benefit of those whom God loves, and desires to be saved.

In serving our neighbors, we serve God, and prove our love for him.

If this sounds nice, consider the point that follows. In serving our neighbor, we cannot expect God to reward us with showers of gratitude, for this would merely have the effect of spoiling us.

Since God loves us and desires our perfection, he provides us with opportunities for spiritual growth, through the mediation of our fellow fallen creatures.

If we are truly in possession of charity, we grow in patience when our neighbors insult us; in humility when we encounter pride; in faith when we endure infidelity; in hope when we meet with despair.

If our virtues are true, they cannot be lessened by the vices of others. If they are so lessened, we are then faced with an an opportunity to grow in self-knowledge, and to turn back to the Source of all virtue.

The prophet Isais advises us to seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near (55:6).

Paradoxically, one way we recognize the proximity of our loving Lord is when we are forced to wrestle with the apparent lovelessness of others.

By loving where we find no love, we demonstrate the power of God’s omnipotent love, and help to remedy the very source of our present suffering.

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