As we grow older and have left our childhood homes, I think most of us find that we take more of those childhood experiences with us than we ever would have imagined. Currently, there is a commercial on TV from Progressive Insurance that depicts a husband taking on the qualities, characteristics, idiosyncrasies and common sayings of his mom. The commercial is presented in a comedic fashion and is pretty entertaining, yet it possesses an undeniable truth for many of us watching – that many of the lessons our parents try to impart really do stick! The line from the commercial that really struck me is when the wife says “some of the things he says are very helpful;” she, unlike most of us (especially when we are young), is willing to give credit where credit due. The lessons of our parents do not only stick, but they also prove valuable to us throughout our lives; and that is why we, in turn, share them with our children.
After seeing this commercial several times, I began thinking of some of the things that were my parents’ common mantras. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” “Patience is a virtue.” “Think before you speak.” “Some things are just worth waiting for.” “You will never know unless you try.”
Do any of your parent’s mantras come to mind? Over the years, have they served you well?
As I examined these and many more that had been shared, most all of them taught virtues that my parents wanted to cultivate within their children – virtues that I believe they saw as helping us develop good habits which, in turn, I am sure, they prayed would become our natural inclinations as we became adults. In addition to these frequent mantras, my parents would point to certain practices that had high priority – honesty, respect, and responsibility for our actions. My parents, without ever naming it, were trying to teach us to live a virtuous life.
In 1993 William Bennett’s book, “The Book of Virtues,” was on the bestseller list for 88 weeks. His book seemed to spark the resurgence within our society of the need to revisit the importance of teaching virtues in a very intentional way. Bennett’s book is filled with wonderful poetry, essays and stories – all of them communicating a virtue that would be a treasure of unmeasurable worth for anyone who took possession of it. When asked in an interview why he decided to put this book together, he said that, as he talked to people across the country, this was the common thread – a noticeable disappearance of values and virtues within our culture.
We as Christians have another starting place to find virtues clearly illustrated and intentionally lived out – on the pages of Scriptures. The stories that are shared throughout the Old and New Testaments (especially in the books of Wisdom and Proverbs) teach us in their telling and hearing the good habits that we should strive to develop if we want to live the life God envisions for us. The book of Wisdom tells us, “if anyone loves righteousness, her labors are virtues; for she teaches self-control, and prudence, and justice and courage.” We are called to live a life that distinguishes itself by these practices not for our own purposes but instead for the common good – for the welfare of others. These virtues are known as the Cardinal virtues or “hinge virtues” because a habitual inclination to practice these will lead to the fruits of the spirit – charity, kindness, goodness, generosity and peace. We are not expected to do this without help all these things may be accomplished through the powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I never would have guessed that, in viewing a commercial, I would be led to this thought process, but I am not surprised; God always shows us the way and has very natural ways of reminding us of what we may be forgetting. I would like to close with the words of St. Paul: “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is the journey to holiness!