“A ship in the harbor is safe. But that’s not what ships are built for…” —Anonymous
I will complete my master’s degree next week and, even though I have done quite well, I am still struggling through my Moral Theology course (a second time — the first time I had to drop the course because I could not get a handle on the subject matter).
In this particular course, we started with Aristotle and Plato, moved into Aquinas and Augustine, and we are finishing with newer thinkers regarding modern topics. While I still have a hard time grasping many of the concepts and ideas, I have a good handle on the ideas of virtue and vice.
Both virtue and vice are related to habit and, subsequently, to character. Most of us are taught at an early age the difference between right and wrong, somehow incorporating the overall “right” into our lives. And, I would argue, most of us act out of what we believe is right. These actions become habitual and, eventually, we do what is right without thinking about it. I do not believe that we do what is right solely to avoid negative consequences (a belief that puts me at odds with the justice and prison systems in this country).
But there is more to this habitual action and more to virtue. It is necessary to be tested (I hesitate to use that word). I do not mean tested like telling an alcoholic to go into a tavern and make good choices. I mean tested in the way that we have to be willing to hold onto the core of who we are through difficult times, much like a ship must weather a storm and endure harsh waves.
You could easily argue that the “Fruits of the Spirit” are virtues — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — but I think there are more. I personally believe that my strongest virtue is determination. I am determined to make it through difficult times. I am determined to rid myself of bad habits and pick up good ones (I just bought a new pair of running shoes — ask me in a few weeks how many miles I have on them). I am determined to complete the tasks at hand. I am determined to make friendships and relationships both healthy and long-lasting.
When it comes to faith, the same virtues are necessary. When we encounter storms in faith — doubts or things that shake us to our core — we must be faithful in working to figure out how to move forward. Sometimes, that means changing our position. We must have patience to recognize that we will not have immediate answers (faith is a lifelong journey — not just a destination). It takes a lot of determination to carry on rather than simply giving up. Not knowing the answer should not mean simply giving up (yes, I am still seeking).