Posted July 30, 2004
Book: Moral Wisdom: Lessons and Texts from the Catholic Tradition
Author: James F. Keenan, S.J.
Sheed and Ward, New York, pp.190
An Excerpt from the Introduction:
Within these texts certain specific lessons have frequently arisen over the centuries that define more specifically the contents of our wisdom. Therefore, before examining the texts our teachers used, I examine the lessons we have learned on love, conscience, sin, and suffering. My colleague and the Gilbert Stark Professor at Yale University, Margaret Farley, argues that despite all the doubts we encounter in the postmodern world, love an suffering are two truly human experiences universally shared by people throughout the ages. For Christians, I would add that the experiences of conscience and sin are two other certain realities of our lives. Together these four experiences and the lessons they teach are the most important in the history of Christian moral wisdom. This book is an invitation to explore these experiences and lessons more fully and to apply them to our daily lives.
I believe, then, that by reflecting on each of these texts and lessons, you and I can get into contact once again with the formative influences of the heritage we share. We can come once again to appreciate and understand what gives meaning to our lives and what enhances our relationships with friends and family. As we finish these eight chapters, realizing that by looking back we can better understand where we are, I turn to the concluding chapter to look ahead. There I conclude the book looking to the future and at leadership through the lens of hope.
An Excerpt from the Book:
In light of the Church’s crisis at the beginning of the third millennium, many turn to virtues like integrity, honesty, humility, trustworthiness, and prudence to launch discussions about fundamental qualities for good leadership. I argue here, in ten points, that hope, a frequently overlooked virtue, provides a worthy training ground for becoming both the type of leaders the church needs as well as the type of people who live with moral wisdom.
First, hope is the theological virtue that, according to Thomas Aquinas, resolutely pursues the end, which is God, who is live. As such, hope is particularly applicable to the ambiguous time in which Christians live, that “already but not yet”: The time of our redemption by Christ is already here, but the time of our fulfillment in the kingdom of God is not yet.
The Christian tradition accords an extraordinary privilege to hope and the two other theological virtues, faith and charity. Paul ties them together into an original triad in the earliest scriptural texts of the New Testament. Together, they become one of the first ethical claims made on the earliest Christian communities. Just as Christians were known for their faith and love, similarly they were known for their hope for the coming of the kingdom.
Moreover, the three theological virtues are complements. Thomas calls faith “the substance of things we await, the evidence of things that appear not.” He describes charity as union with God, neighbor, and self. Hope is the virtue that makes possible the journey from faith to love.
The wisdom of Paul, Augustine, Thomas and others is to see that the virtue of faith must turn to hope and hope to charity: By knowing God, we hope in God’s promises and live in God’s love. As Paul, Thomas, and others in the tradition have taught us, faith without love is not living faith. There are those who believe that following rules precisely and being loyal to doctrines is faith, but faith is much larger than institutions or rules in and of themselves. Faith is the virtue of one who believes in the living God of love. When the church focuses on embodying and witnessing love for its own members and the world, it is at its best.
Second, we need leaders who are models of hope. Hope supports us in faith through the journey of pursuing love as the unity of minds and hearts in God and in the kingdom. Inasmuch as hope prompts us to pursue this end, we look to those who live in hope to become leaders. Because we need guidance for the journey and because we need to move from the shared faith to a shared love, we need to be led in hope.
Third, Christian hope is deeply realistic because it is rooted in the cross. As such, Christian hope never lets us dream of imaginary worlds: Christian hope rejects utopian and any other pipe dream. Christian hope is, rather, the virtue for a very real journey. It allows us to see where we are and where we need to go. By Christian hope, the prophets are able to read the signs of the times. They can see where we are because of their hope in God. Prophets always see the journey as difficult, and this again is an insight of Paul when he writes about the groans of those in hope and of Thomas Aquinas when he writes of the arduousness of hope.
Table of Contents:
Chapter one: Love
Chapter two: Conscience
Chapter three: Sin
Chapter four: Suffering
Chapter five: Jesus in the New Testament
Chapter six: The Ten Commandments in the catechism
Chapter seven: Practicing the corporal works of mercy
Chapter eight: Cultivating the cardinal virtues
Chapter nine: Hope and leadership
Conclusion: “To Live Likewise: