segunda-feira, 25 de maio de 2015

The Great Part Played by the Virtue of Prudence

Taken from Dominican Life by Fr. Joret, O.P.

A Dominican soul, even more than others, must shun falsehood and dissimulation.  What could be more illogical than a lack of truth on the part of one who displays Veritas as his motto and claims kinship with St. Dominic, of whom Blessed Jordan of Saxony declares that in him was never seen the faintest shadow of deceit or dissembling?  Simplicity, straightforwardness, frankness, sincerity, these must be the characteristics of our conduct.  In a Dominican soul they should spring up as from their very source.  Our danger will probably lie elsewhere, and we shall rather need to take care that humility and charity temper what may easily become an exaggeration of those qualities.  Sincerity must beware of being self-assertive.  Frankness must avoid degenerating into a harshness which is wounding to the feelings of others.

"Tell the truth courteously," was the advice given to a penitent by Fr. Antoine Chesnois (1685).  "Tell it without heat, without dealing out blame ; and renounce every form of self-love.  We must uphold sweetly the truth for which Jesus Christ died, and this we must do for the love of God Who cherishes it, and for the love of our neighbor, to whom it is useful."

If veracity is a moral obligation we owe to others, it is also, and primarily, a duty of fidelity to oneself.  We are endowed with reason, that is to say, designed for the truth by our very nature;  we owe it to ourselves to act accordingly, to be true.  Now this fidelity to reason is not limited to our relations with others, as, for instance, when we are speaking to them or when we assume some significant attitude before them.  Always and everywhere our life must bear its stamp.  Through our reason, reinforced by faith, we are in a position to know the principles which regulate life, and therefore under the obligation of conforming our whole conduct to them.  If we do this we shall walk in the truth.

Do I seem to be setting my readers on a road opposed to the one along which I was leading them before?  In the earlier part of this work it was definitely stated that all perfection consists in charity.  We have heard St. Paul reduce to this primary virtue the sum total of Christian virtues:  to his eyes they appeared only as divine manifestations of charity in a soul.  Has not the love of God a sort of instinct which discerns what ought to be done and deters from evil?  Ama et fac quod vis.  Love, and do as you will !

Yes, charity is the starting point for everything in Christian conduct;  it is the foundation which nothing can replace.  But with St. Thomas we must definitely maintain that it does not suffice.  One cannot abandon oneself exclusively to general inspirations of the love of God.

Moreover, it is so very certain that such and such an inspiration is the outcome of charity ?  It is for our reason to discriminate between the genuine inspirations of divine love and those natural instincts which are its counterfeits.  How often human passions are mixed up with divine inspirations, and even simulate them in order to supplant them.  Some day there will come One Who, as His forerunner has told us, will have a fan in His hand to winnow the grain from the chaff.  But the divine Judge has endowed us with reason to enable us to exercise that judgement beforehand on ourselves.

Thanks to Him, our reason is qualified through the supernatural gift of prudence, not only to exercise the necessary discernment, but also, and herein lies its chief rôle, to organize and direct all the powers for good which God has given us.  It is our faculty of government.  It is impregnated with the tendencies communicated to it by divine love.  It sees everything from the point of view of God Whom it seeks to please in all things.  It strives ever to maintain itself on a high plane, beyond the reach of spurious forms of prudence, carnal prudence, worldly prudence, natural prudence.  And this super-natural prudence of ours, itself regulated by charity, will endeavor unceasingly by its injunctions to bring all our conduct into conformity with charity.  It is the menas through which the good impulses of divine love are realized in the details of daily life.  Veritatem facientes in caritate.  In charity, it says to us, let us do the truth.

To that end it seeks the happy medium between the extremes to which our human passions are ever tending.

Do not be afraid that the happy medium implies mediocrity.  For the ends are ever in view, those magnificent ends which charity prescribes.  Prudence selects the means of attaining those ends.  To be proportioned to their supernatural goal they must necessarily transcend the natural means which will satisfy the sage of this world.  What a difference there is between the temperance of a Greek philosopher or an ordinary plain man and the life of that disciple of Christ who "chastises his body to bring it into subjection," who practises perpetual virginity.

And yet even in the use of the very best means exaggeration is quite possible.  Here again our reason will find the happy medium, whilst never losing sight of the end to which all these means are subordinate.  "The excellence of a religious rule," writes St. Thomas, "lies not in the rigour of the observances practiced, but in the perfect adaptation of these observances to the end aimed at.  Take poverty for instance:  what constitutes its religious value is the release it gives from earthly anxieties and the consequent facility it affords for concentration on divine and spiritual things.  Poverty is therefore not necessarily the better for being more strict, seeing that it is not good in itself,  it is not our goal.  Holy poverty is but a means;  its value depends upon the measure of its success in freeing us from the anxieties and thus making us better disposed to practice our contemplative and apostolic charity."  For the same reason the ideal does not mean wearing oneself out by mortifications and prolonging pious exercises to an extra-ordinary extent.  All that should be regulated by the holy virtue of prudence.

It is not always easy to apply these principles.  To do so successfully in the various cases in which we become involved will require much refelection on our part.  Rectitude is essential, but by itslef it is not sufficient.  We shall recall personal experiences, happy or unhappy, in the past.  If necessary we shall seek advice, and this is where spiritual direction has its place.  It would be an abuse to be for ever running after a director and to expect him to make all our decisions for us.  But often,  especially in the early stages of the spiritual life, he will assist our deliberations so that we shall be able to judge and decide.  If we think we have obtained the light of the Holy Spirit without having reflected very much, we must most certainly submit those inspirations to scrutiny, because they may quite possibly have no such exalted origin.

We must then decide upon our course of action, taking special care not to allow any prejudice, any movement of passion to cloud that singleness of vision mentioned in the gospel and thus warp our judgement.

Finally, when once our decision is taken, we must insistently and constantly school ourselves to bring about its practical realization.

These are, all of them, intellectual acts.  Of course, charity is always necessary; it is necessary at the outset, as we have seen, and it remains essential to the very end, because if we lacked the fervour of love we should neglect to take the decision and to abide by it, in spite of all the excellent reasons which support it.  Prayer and communion, which stimulate prayer, are also of a primary importance.  But it is by the acts of prudence that we are enabled to introduce truth into our life.

Let us every morning foresee and plan our day; let us relentlessly watch and control our behavior throughout the day; and at night, in a final examination of conscience, let us review the past hours to judge them and to make the necessary amends.

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