Virtue must be cultivated

The proverb “practice makes perfect” is easily used in everyday conversation, but only artists and craftsmen really know in a concrete way all the sacrifices and time investment required to acquire the art of painting, music, or sculpture. It is a work of will which, in spite of the slow progress, the sustained efforts to be made and the privations to be endured, perse- veres until the good reflexes are acquired and the practice of such or such an art becomes like second nature, that is to say of a perfect, prompt and delectable realization.

It is at this price that famous men such as Mozart, Michelangelo, or Van Gogh were able to master perfectly the artistic field which fascinated them. The key to their success lay in the preponderant love that drove them to develop their talent through the sustained practice of their art. In a word, it is the constant repetition of acts that gradually gave the ability to reproduce them always a little better, always a little faster and always with a little more pleasure. We are naturally inclined to admire what is well achieved. It is a feeling that arises spontaneously in our will when we see a good thing, which consists in the fact that all things, because they have been created by God, have a fundamental goodness in them, and then in the fact that reasonable creatures must acquire an additional goodness which is realized when they act in accordance with their nature in order to orientate themselves freely towards God.

All creatures are good from the first fundamental goodness that comes to them from their nature created by God, but some turn away from their Creator by their disorderly action, which makes them evil, that is, in disorder both in regard to their nature and in regard to God; or again, this feeling of admiration can arise when we are struck by the beauty of being, which consists in the harmony of the parts which are arranged in such a way that they form a perfectly proportioned whole. So a face is beautiful because the ears are well oriented, the curve of the nose elegant, and the line of the chin firm.

The field of art abstracts the good because its rule is beauty and nothing more. Thus, one will not judge the beauty of a painting by questioning the intention of the artist to know if he exercised his talent for love of God or for love of glory, but by evaluating the harmony of his work. Therefore, we can admire an artist for the quality of his talent, but, at the same time, we can disapprove him for the disorders of his per- sonal life: this man is talented but he is not good. Only the man who is good in all his aspects, that is to say, rectified and ordered towards God in each of his actions, can attract our admiration without reserve, for a man can be good without being talented, the absence of natural gifts is not a fault, while the absence of rectitude in his actions is one. That is why only saints can attract our admiration unconditionally.

But how can one become good? Simply by the constant and applied practice of virtues. And what is virtue? It is the ability, strongly rooted in the soul, to perform acts that are rectified in relation to their ultimate rule, that is, in relation to God. The rules for acquiring this disposition are the same as those for developing a natural talent: a preponderant love that leads to the repetition of acts with perseverance. The difference with art is that natural talents are unequally distributed among different people, so many men have no predisposition for sculpture; they certainly never will, and no one can reproach them for it. On the other hand, it cannot be said that some men have no predisposition for sculpture; they certainly never will, and no one can reproach them for it. On the other hand, it cannot be said that some men have no predisposition for good and therefore cannot be reproached for not doing it, simply because good does not presuppose certain particular natural talents, it only requires the proper use of the gifts that have been granted by God to such and such a man, even if they are not exceptional. This is why a man who is not naturally gifted has the possibility of being more virtuous than another who has more talents but uses them badly, seeking his own interests rather than those of God.

We cannot all be artists of great talent, but we must all become saints of great virtue, for which it is enough to acquire a great love of God and to act constantly in accordance with His will, no matter how many natural gifts we have been given. It is by frequently performing good and righteous acts that we will achieve this union with God and gradually acquire the virtues, that are in the life of the good man what talent is in the life of the artist, that is to say, a disposition to produce the perfect act, that increases in proportion to the frequency and quality of the acts one performs.

Thus appears the importance of giving, from the earliest age, good habits to children, because there is no other way to make them acquire virtue. This is why we see in good families a true school of virtue through the regular practice of good works. In the Lefebvre family, the family of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Mass is on the program every morning and the mother likes to take her children with her when she makes charitable visits to the poor of the surroundings. In Padre Pio’s family, the Rosary is recited every evening and the poverty of the parents gives the children the habit of living in sobriety and sacrifice. St. Therese of Lisieux lost her mother at the age of four, yet she remembered very well the first prayers she made with her, repeating the simple words she spoke, her little hands held together in the reassuring hands of her dear mother. One day Saint Dominic Savio made this prayer to Don Bosco: “Help me to become a saint”. And the good priest answered him: “I will give you the secret of holiness. First of all, joy. That which troubles you and takes away peace does not come from the Lord. Second, attention in class, application in work and prayer. Do not do all this out of ambition, to get compliments, but out of love for the Lord and to become a man. Third: do good to others. Always help your companions even if it costs you. Holiness is all this.” Nothing complicated in itself; the difficulty comes from perseverance in accomplishing these simple things, but the more you do these things the easier it becomes to accomplish them, and this good disposition is virtue. If a child is taught to deprive himself of the little objects he loves, to share what he possesses, to obey promptly, to give service spontaneously, to pray frequently, then strong virtues grow in him; if, on the contrary, he is allowed to indulge in all his whims, then vices, which are dis- positions to commit evil skillfully, quickly and with delight, take deep root in his soul.

To conclude, it is never too late to set things right and to straighten out what had been twisted and distorted, but, to do so, one must be willing and take action. The worst state is when a person sees the good that he should do, but has so little will that he cannot even try to do it. This situation could be ours, because without God’s help we are totally powerless, which is why we must act as if everything depends on us, but pray as if everything depends on God. As St. John Bosco said: “Help yourself; Heaven is already helping you”.

By Father Alexandre Lambert