Advent is a time to direct our hearts and minds to the birth of Christ. In this season, we give thanks for our blessings and grow in our relationship with God. As we reflect on the new life in Christ, we look at Advent as a time of new beginnings and renewed hope.
Advent is a time of reflection — to look inward and see the good that we should reflect outward to others. From a secular perspective, the time from Thanksgiving until Christmas is considered a "season of giving." But from a Catholic perspective, reflecting outward in a sense of giving should be driven by our faith and love of God.
This year, we invite you to reflect on the virtues as you prepare for Christmas. As we give to others, we should reflect on how this giving can be an exercise in practicing a virtue-filled life.
For Cathy Gilmore, practicing virtues is like food for the soul. The Holy Infant parishioner founded Virtue Works Media, a ministry focused on promoting faith and virtues through the consumption of media, including books and movies. Moved by a lack of what she called "spiritually empty and morally toxic" reading and entertainment, Gilmore is working on creating an online information hub to find quality books, movies and other types of media — all of which will be rated on virtues.
The project, which is still in development, will use a rating system based on 30 everyday virtues (see related glancebox), inspired by Richard Johnson. The Catholic psychologist from St. Louis developed the Johnson Model of Spiritual Personality, which focuses on the power that habits of spiritual strength (aka virtues) contribute to spiritual and emotional healing and growth.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses on four cardinal virtues — prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance — along with other virtues, including the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (See related glancebox.) Virtues, said Gilmore "make the soul vibrant and alive. That's why I named the ministry Virtue Works. Virtue always works, whether in business or family life. If people conduct themselves with virtue, it always works."
Virtues must be internalized, meaning in how they guide our feelings and how we think about things. But we must be intentional and project them outward toward others, Gilmore said. "So many times, people think that good habits are passive or you just fall into it and hope to have that habit," Gilmore said. "People think of virtues as nice things to do, but you can have virtues within your feelings. It's an internal goodness inside of us. When we use it with the power of grace and the sacraments, then it superpowers it."
Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good. The human virtues are stable dispositions of the intellect and the will that govern our acts, order our passions and guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith. They can be grouped around the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. (Catechism of the Catholic Church,1833-34)
Prudence disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going." "Keep sane and sober for your prayers." Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
Justice consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the "virtue of religion." Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." "Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven."
Fortitude ensures 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. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song." "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
Temperance moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: "Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart." Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites." In the New Testament it is called "moderation" or "sobriety." We ought "to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world."
Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1830-31)
The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.
Modern Moral Compass of Everyday Virtues
Faith, Humility, Acceptance, Mercy, Hope
Vision, Humor, Peace, Adaptability, Modesty
Faithfulness, Wisdom, Steadfastness, Integrity, Charity
Joyfulness, Trust, Devotion, Empathy, Gratitude
Cooperation, Patience, Fortitude, Transcendence, Self-discipline
Honesty, Inspiration, Kindness, Courage, Perseverance
Source: Modern Moral Compass created by Virtue Inc. © 2017Based on the Spiritual Strengths Personality Model from Dr. Richard Johnson of the Johnson Institute
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A Lights of Christmas Tour | Reading and entertainment gift ideas for Catholics
By Cathy Gilmore
Pretend we are on a drive to go see the "lights" of great Christmas reading and entertainment that are shining in what often may seem like cultural darkness. These are all talented authors and movie-makers who are Catholic. In much of their work, no mention of the Catholic faith ever appears. Yet, they embrace their work from a Catholic worldview and gently invite us to imagine and internalize compelling stories that demonstrate faith and virtue. Often, successful Catholic authors and movie-makers hide their faith deep in their work in such a way that often readers and viewers may hardly notice it.
Because subtlety is their strength, Catholic consumers often have a hard time discovering them because too many raunchy and spiritually reckless titles tend to rule the marketplace. Buying from these authors and artists makes us patrons of Catholic arts this Christmas. These books and movies enrich our ability to imagine, value and exercise virtue and selflessness. With our support, they will be enabled to make more. Together, we help shine a cultural light of virtue in our families, our children and our communities.
FIRST STOP: Great reads for grownups
A Catholic suspense and romance novelist, St. Louisan Irene Hannon has won dozens of awards and published more than 50 titles. Catholic moms and dads, teen guys and gals will be delighted to find their best new binge reads from Irene Hannon.
The other novelist who many are surprised to discover is a Catholic is Dean Koontz. He is the epitome of a gifted storyteller whose suspense thrillers are built on a world view of faith. His bad guys are stark shafts of darkness and his heroes are sublime glimpses of light. Giving either of these accomplished author's books as a Christmas gift can begin effortless, and non-confrontational, faith conversations for Christmas.
Leslie Lynch and the Catholic Writer's Guild. Leslie Lynch is a Kentucky girl who has authored three novels in which she doesn't flinch from creating characters who experience trauma and gritty darkness, but she writes from a strong foundation of faith. She takes readers on surprising journeys of healing and restoration. Her novel, "Hijacked" was a Romance Writers of America 2013 Golden Heart Finalist. Readers also enjoy her two Christmas novellas. If you check out the Catholic Writer's Guild and their Seal of Approval list on Goodreads, you'll find a large collection of books for all ages that are well-crafted and faithful to the teachings of the Church.
With gems from guild authors like Leslie and others like Ellen Gable and Brian Kennelly, we can help everyone on our gift lists to meet a new favorite author or book.
SECOND STOP: Reading choices for Catholic teens
A simple, natural way to spiritually nourish the soul of a teen or preteen is a well-crafted fun-to-read faith and virtue rich novel. Reluctant readers discover humor and inspiring depth in Catholic author-illustrator, Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel, "American Born Chinese."
Stephanie Engleman's book, "A Single Bead," gently weaves the Rosary into an exciting and mysterious story. Parents, grandparents and teachers can find terrific Catholic young adult fiction writers and books, including Stephanie's, all in one place at Catholic Teen Books.com. Catholic author and publisher Regina Doman has written an amazing collection of must-read novels for teens that have a subtle Catholic heart called Fairy Tales Retold.
THIRD STOP: Children's and Middle Grade Books
Storytelling that is well written and affirms faith and virtue can make a big difference for young adolescents as they begin to decide for themselves what to believe.
Deanna Klingel has written numerous titles enjoyed by middle grade readers. My 13-year old son loved her 2-book Civil War series. Anthony Kolonek offers a captivating and mysterious series for pre-teens in his Chronicles of Xan Trilogy. Check the CatholicReads.com site for a good collection of reviews and recommendations for middle grade books and books for all ages. Catholic Children's Illustrator Ben Hatke also brings alive characters through his amazing artwork.
FOURTH STOP: Filmmakers Who Value Virtue
Leo Severino and the team at NOVO Media Group are faithful and work hard to create excellent entertainment, movies like Little Boy, and Bella and Crescendo. "We aim to broaden the quality of content and develop productions that are inspiring and have meaning and substance," said James Henrie of NOVO Media Group. "Our goal is to develop and produce superior films, television shows and digital media that positively impacts and inspires the audience."
Eric Groth, founder of Catholic Film production company, ODB Films, is worth following. They created the beautiful and prayerful film, "Mary, Full of Grace." Groth is currently directing the movie, "Paul, Apostle of Christ," starring Jim Caveziel, due to be released in 2018. The ODB team has an incredible collection of short films, many available for free on YouTube with teens in mind. Finishing off our Christmas lights list is Dos Corazons Films who gave us the excellent film, "For Greater Glory." Their efforts make Catholic stories come alive in fresh and vivid ways that we can enjoy patronizing.
Gilmore is founder of Virtue Works Media and a member of Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin.
>> Advent events to fill the heart
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will lead an Advent Day of Recollection Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
The annual event is a time when the archbishop leads a reflection on the season of Advent, in preparation for the birth of Christ. The day will begin with a 10 a.m. conference with the archbishop, followed by the Rosary and then lunch in Boland Hall. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament will follow the first conference, and the sacrament of reconciliation will be offered through 4:45 p.m.
The archbishop will give the second conference at 1:30 p.m., followed by "Advent Stations: Office of the Ancestors of Christ." Seven Advent stations will provide a way to ponder the mystery of how God prepared to receive His son at the moment of the Annunication. Evening prayer and Benediction will take place at 4:30 p.m., followed by 5 p.m. Mass.
The event is free; however, a freewill offering to offset the cost of lunch is appreciated. Advance registration is requested. Call Mary Ann Fox at (314) 373-8208 or email [email protected].
Elsewhere in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Pallottine Renewal Center is hosting several Advent-related activities.
Father Gregory Heille will present on Tuesday, Dec. 12, "Mary Untier of Knots." He will explore the power of intercessory prayer to Mary in the context of the fullness of the Reign of God and the coming of Jesus in the Incarnation. The day runs from 9 a.m to 3 p.m; lunch is included. Cost is $30.
"Week of Grace and Prayer: A Retreat in Everyday Life" is a weeklong retreat experience in just one hour per day. It will take place from Sunday-Saturday, Dec. 3-9. Beginning with a group gathering on Sunday, participants will pray independently for 30 minutes a day and meet with a spiritual companion for 30 minutes per day. The week closes with a celebration on Saturday. There is no registration fee, but registrants are encouraged to contribute as they are able. For more information and to register, visit www.pallottinerenewal.org or call (314) 837-7100. The center is located at 15270 Old Halls Ferry Road in Florissant.
The Daughters of St. Paul will host their annual Birthday Party for Baby Jesus for families from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at Pauline Books and Media, 9804 Watson Road in Crestwood. The free event will feature picture-taking with Baby Jesus (costumes provided/bring your own camera), birthday cake, a visit from St. Nicholas, Nativity stories and more. For information, call (314) 965-3512.
The Daughters of St. Paul also will host an Advent Morning of Reflection with Father Larry Brennan on Saturday, Dec. 9, 8:30 a.m. until noon, at Pauline Books and Media, 9804 Watson Road in Crestwood. After Mass at 8:30 a.m. in the sisters' chapel and a lite breakfast, Father Brennan will give a presentation about Advent, then be available for confession. Registration is $15. To register or for more information, call (314) 965-3512.
An Advent and Christmas performance by the Catholic Student Center Choir will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10 at Mercy Center, 2039 N. Geyer Ave. in Frontenac. This contemporary choir from Washington University will celebrate in song both Advent waiting and Christmas joy. The choir, a blend of non-students and students, regularly leads music for Mass at the Newman community. A free-will offering will be given to the choir to support their music ministry. Register by Dec. 8 at www.stlouisreview.com/j9V.
The La Salle Retreat Center will host two sessions Wednesday, Dec. 13, to explore the O Antiphons — ancient verses that proclaim our longing for the Savior — and allow guests to slow down, open their hearts and truly prepare for the birth of Jesus. The morning session (9-10:30 a.m.) will start with Mass and will be followed by fellowship (coffee/muffins) and reflection using O Antiphons. The evening session (7-8:30 p.m.) will be family oriented, with reflection using O Antiphons and activities for all ages, including interactive prayer stations. Cookies, hot cocoa and coffee will be served. La Salle Retreat Center is at 2101 Rue De LaSalle Drive in Glencoe, on Highway 109 north of Eureka. For registration, visit www.LaSalleRetreat.org.