Character counts, and a man can be neither manly nor godly without the rock-solid habits of the virtues.
And what are the virtues? The building blocks of character—traits without which “our moral lives will eventually collapse under the pressures of the world and we will fall short of our proper destiny,” according to Tim Gray and Curtis Martin.
In this brisk study guide, serious yet engaging, the authors challenge their readers to become authentic men of God. It's a blueprint for a rigorous spiritual workout, made enjoyable by the pair's presenting pursuit of the virtues as an exciting adventure.
“Loving God with all our strength,” they write, “will raise the sails so that they can catch God's grace, which will empower us to move across the rough waters of this world to the tranquil harbor of heaven.”
Given the target audience, it's not surprising that Gray and Martin employ sports metaphors early and often. Example: By diligently practicing the natural virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance), we come to habitually do what is good and right—just as Tiger Woods, by diligently practicing the fundamentals of a good golf stroke, habitually finishes his holes at or better than par. The result is that we “win” a moral life, rich in spiritual rewards and satisfying on multiple levels.
Gray and Martin repeatedly remind us that God so loves us that he created the means to become truly virtuous: the Church and the “living presence of the Holy Spirit.”
Gray and Martin know their subject well. They avoid the trap of portraying the cardinal (natural) virtues as mere sidekicks to the “leading man,” the theological (supernatural) virtues—faith, hope and love. The “cardinals” are good in and of themselves and, as Peter Kreeft has written, they are the “seed bed” for the “flower of supernatural virtue.” Without the latter, however, it is very difficult to excel with the former. Could one act with justice toward the poor if his heart was not softened by love, which Aquinas called the “mother” of all virtues? Hardly.
Recalling Aristotle's conclusion about the goal of virtue, Gray and Martin argue that living the moral life is about becoming the kind of man who can be a good friend. Reflecting Aquinas, they explain that the theological virtues extend this horizontal relationship vertically, making friendship with God possible.
“Motivated by love, we can be transformed by the noble actions that lead to good habits and end in solid character,” they write. “Over time, through God's grace and our arduous effort, we can build up the habits that dispose us to be virtuous. This positive inclination, which the virtues bestow upon us ... liberates our will to do the good we desire to do, rather than capitulating to our passions. This is what Saint Paul meant when he spoke of the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21).”
Young men (and women, for that matter) need the virtues to navigate, for example, the Internet. In the quiet of their rooms, as they surf through cyberspace, our children need a foothold to keep them from drifting to the outer reaches of hate, pornography and violence. At some point, sitting there in front of their flickering monitor, the virtues we have imparted in them will be the only foothold they have.
Whether understood as skills, tools, blueprints, a pattern of habits or a road map, the virtues, though ancient in origin, are as up-to-date as the latest “dot-com.” The virtues begin by teaching us that the universe does not revolve around us, but around the Son.
Here's hoping this book helps many a man stay in Christ's orbit.
Dave Andrusko is editor of National Right to Life News.