Guinness and God – The Human Virtues – Prudence


  • The human virtues.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a very useful resource for us to understand what human virtues and human vices are.  You might wish to consider examining this from section 1804 and following of C.C.C.
  • Human virtues are firm attitudes to do the good.  They are stable dispositions.  They are repeated habits of the intellect and will that govern actions.  They make possible self-mastery and joy in leading a morally good life.  They are acquired by human effort but are purified and elevated by grace.  At the same time we must never underestimate the human capacity for self-deceit.  We are wounded by sin.  Vices abound.  We need to fixate our whole being on Jesus Christ, our new humanity.
  • There are four main virtues.  They are sometimes called cardinal virtues (CCC 1805 and following).  They are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
  • Tonight we will be considering prudence (CCC 1806 and following).  Prudence is discerning the good correctly.  Through our intellect and will we also discover the means of achieving the good.  St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) sometimes described prudence as “right reason in action.” So much of his teaching in these areas comes from Aristole (384-322 BC).  Prudence is practical wisdom to choose right actions which keep in mind our entire human good.  Sometimes prudence is called “The charioteer of the virtues.” In other words they guide other virtues.  Prudence helps us to apply principles to practice.  It is the opposite of fear and timidity, duplicity and craftiness.  These are human vices which are the opposite of prudence.
  • Prudence is not something rarely used by us.  Even today, each one of us has tried to find out what is the prudent thing to guide our actions today.  For example, how to break bad news gently?  When to ask the boss for a raise?  Whether to punish a fault or to let it pass this time?  Whom to pick out for a particular job?  What legislation’s best for all the citizens?  How to work for a peaceful solution to a certain situation?  All of us have got challenges every day.  Prudence helps us to discern what is the good action and the right action correctly.

Could I offer you now ten “pillars” that might help you to construct a way forward in developing and deepening prudence in your behaviour.

I’m sure there’s more than ten aspects of advice that could be given.  But these come to mind:

  1. In making decisions,  the prudent person will often wait till their emotions come back to a normality.  Never make decisions when you are very depressed or when you’re feeling as high as a kite.
  2. Let us learn from our mistakes.  This can help us to act prudently.  For example, if many mistakes are made under the influence of alcohol or because I’m an impulsive person, its best to know about this.  Self-knowledge can really help us.
  3. The saints of the Church, especially St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a master in spiritual discernment, often counsel us to pray longer when we have a problem.  Quite often the impulse is to pray shorter.  Problems need to be placed before the Lord to ask him for his advice and to place the issues at the foot of the Calvary Cross.  This takes time.  We should pray longer, rather than shorter in problem times of our life.
  4. The famous phrases from St Francis of Assisi comes to mind – “Do few things, but do them well, take your time, go slowly.  Going slowly breads depth.  Going fast at a hectic pace will often place ourselves in a situation of making major mistakes.  What is required is depth not superficiality in making human decisions.
  5. Try to seek out a soul friend in your life.  Sometimes people call these people spiritual directors.  But it can be just somebody who you can be totally honest with.  Somebody who has your best intentions in mind.  Somebody who can say with honesty, what you’re planning to do is right or wrong.  Ask God to send somebody, a soul friend into your life.  Seek one out.
  6. Try to lead a balanced life.  Try to avoid addictions, obsessions, ideologies, fanaticisms.  A balanced life creates a good environment where prudent decisions can be made.
  7. Always place your life at the service of the Lord and the Word of God.  Keep on walking towards Jesus like St Peter on the water, with your eyes fixed on Jesus.  Once you take your eyes off Jesus and start looking at yourself you’ll start to sink in the waters of the problem.  Also seek out the wisdoms of the Church’s tradition.  The sources of our great wisdom are the scriptures and summaries of our Catholic Tradition (eg Catechism of the Catholic Church).  Between these great two resources so many of the issues of our life can be prudently worked out.  Make sure you keep a copy of both the Bible and the Catechism nearby and look up the issues in the Catechism that confront you at the moment.  The index in the Catechism is enormous.
  8. There is an expression that goes “You see from where you stand.” When we’re close to the poor and the marginalised, and stand alongside them we see reality quite differently from other points of view.  Let’s always stand alongside the poor and make our prudent decisions from the prospective of those who have no voice.
  9. Particularly in our Catholic tradition, keep close to Mary the Mother of God and the Saints.  Like Mary, “Ponder and treasure” all that’s going on in your life.  Clearly making prudent decisions is for everybody whether they are Christian or not.  But having the Saints along our sides brings a bright light into the issue that can illuminate a way forward.  I’m reminded here of Mary’s prayer when she proclaims that she “Magnifies” the  Lord.  Coming close to the Lord is like placing a magnifying glass on the situation that might be otherwise overlooked
  10. Keep close to the Sacraments of the Catholic Church, particularly the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession.  Our capacity for vices and self-deceit can never be underestimated.  Confession and the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist bring us closer to the Lord in his merciful love.  There he feeds us and guides us deep within us. Gives us motivation and hope for the way forward.

I hope these ten “Pillars” maybe of some assistance.

Please remember that all of us whether Christian or not – the mere fact of being a human being – means that we are called to make decisions.  And prudent ones at that, please God. But with Christ in our life and participating in the life of the Church a very bright light is shone upon the issues of our humanity.  It’s never as if there’s humanity on one side and Christianity on the other.  Knowingly following Jesus Christ there is both fullness of humanity and a true Christian response offered in the unity of Jesus.  This new life in the Risen Lord Jesus must be discerned prudently through prayer and reflection.

Thank you for inviting me tonight.