This Lent, while it is good to give something up, we should also work on strengthening virtues for our spiritual growth. The saints whose feasts fall during Lent can light the way.
This year Lent begins Feb. 14 — Ash Wednesday, which is also St. Valentine’s Day.
Courage or fortitude is one of the virtues of St. Valentine, notes Sam Guzman, founder of The Catholic Gentleman (CatholicGentleman.net). He explains the Latin name Valentinus means “strong” or “filled with valor,” adding that, despite being faced with martyrdom, Valentine had the “courage and strength in choosing to obey God rather than man. We, too, should have the courage to do what is right in God’s eyes.”
Two new, young saints — Fatima’s Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto — are celebrated Feb. 20. Francisco was 11 and Jacinta 10 when they went to their heavenly reward, but their virtuous lives were examples that continue to touch — and teach — countless others.
In her memoirs, fellow seer Servant of God Lucia dos Santos recounts and describes some of her cousins’ virtuous acts.
Lucia reveals that those who visited Jacinta when she was very ill admired her manner, “which was always the same, always patient, without being in the least demanding or complaining.”
As Lucia recalled, “She never showed the slightest impatience or repugnance, but merely told me later: ‘My head aches so much after listening to all those people! Now that I cannot run away and hide, I offer more of these sacrifices to Our Lord.’”
Whether we’re standing in a supermarket line that doesn’t seem to move, caught in traffic or listening to some tiresome talk, we may, like Jacinta, offer up such difficulties.
Francisco also offered up his difficulties.
In his book The True Story of Fatima, Father John de Marchi relates that a priest who was Francisco’s classmate told the author, “Francisco distinguished himself from the others by reason of his humility and kindness, virtues which, however, caused him much suffering, thrown as he was among companions under the influence of a teacher without Christian formation.” Because Francisco was very dull with lessons, he drew criticism and attacks from the teacher and students. But “Francisco would humbly bow his head and, we may be sure, with his soul united to God, received the censures of his master and companions.”
Patience and courage are two virtues also associated with St. Katharine Drexel, whom the Church celebrates March 3. As her own words tell us, “The patient and humble enduring of the cross, whatever nature it may be, is the highest work we have to do.”
“Press forward and fear nothing,” she also counsels.
And March 17, we remember St. Patrick.
In one of his homilies, Servant of God Jesuit Father John Hardon reflected on three of the saint’s virtues — deep, simple faith, humility and boundless zeal to convert souls to Christ.
Father Hardon said that contained in The Confession of St. Patrick, “almost sentence after sentence, is the language of a very humble person.”
“The last thing that Patrick ever did was boast of his own achievements,” said Father Hardon. “We couldn’t have a better Gospel than the one we’ve just read — humility; wondering, marveling, stupefied that God would choose a man like him to do the work of the Lord.”
St. Joseph, whose feast we celebrate March 19, illuminates our steps with an abundance of virtue. Pope Blessed Paul VI said on his feast day in 1969, “St. Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies ... he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things — it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.”
In his book Joseph: The Man Who Raised Jesus, Father Gary Caster examines several of St. Joseph’s virtues, noting the Gospel calls Joseph “a just man,” “which means he built his life upon these cardinal virtues.” These four, from Wisdom 8:7, are moderation (temperance), prudence, justice and courage (fortitude).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (1806).
One way St. Joseph shows us to be prudent is through his silence. Father Caster explains Joseph’s silence “should remind us that there is a right and a wrong time for speaking. Not everything we want to say needs to be said. … Prudence helps us control our speech and enables us to share the truth in love.”
Father Hardon points out that St. Joseph also instructs us that prudence is “correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of things that should be avoided.” It’s the intellectual virtue by which we recognize “in any matter at hand what is good and what is evil.” Joseph’s life illustrates that he knew what was good and right — honoring God and caring for his family.
Purity is another of Joseph’s hallmark virtues. A well-known prayer seeking his intercession is: “St. Joseph, father and guardian of virgins, to whose faithful keeping Christ Jesus, innocence itself, and Mary, the virgin of virgins, was entrusted, I pray and beseech you by that twofold and most precious charge, by Jesus and Mary, to save me from all uncleanness, to keep my mind untainted, my heart pure and my body chaste; and to help me always to serve Jesus and Mary in perfect chastity. Amen.”
Justice is another of Joseph’s virtues; justice is the moral virtue consisting in “the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the ‘virtue of religion,’” says the Catechism (1807). As a practicing Jew, he taught Jesus Scripture and worked for the good of his family as a carpenter.
Humility is also central to St. Joseph. As Father Hardon notes, “Humility is the moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors. Religious humility recognizes one’s total dependence on God.”
Joseph humbly submitted to God’s will, protecting the Holy Family and going in haste to Egypt when told by the angel.
St. Joseph also had fortitude, or courage, in the wake of difficulties such as no room at the inn and needing to flee to safety in Egypt, ensuring “firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions” (Catechism, 1808).
Despite the difficulties we face, Father Caster finds assurance for us in this: “St. Joseph is a sign of hope that everyone who cooperates with the Holy Spirit and frequents the sacraments can become a person of exceeding virtue. A virtuous life is not the honor of a few but a promise for the many.”
Saints of Lent, pray for us!
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.