Provide a school of virtues


3/ Provide a school of virtues.
Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1804).

In the centuries leading up to the twentieth, it was widely understood and generally accepted that the cultivation of personal "virtue" — such as justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude — was the necessary foundation for living a responsible, productive, and happy life.

The replacement of this rich "virtues" understanding and language with the ambiguous idea of "values" has contributed significantly to the moral illiteracy and moral confusion that is today so much in evidence in Canadian and American society. An understanding of and respect for the categories of virtue is a solid base upon which an investigation of the larger claims of meaning and purpose put forward by the Catholic Church can be undertaken. The task before us then is one of re-introducing, using contemporary language and modern methodologies, the classical understanding of the virtues as embodied in the Catholic tradition.

The family — which is the first school of the virtues — needs to be deeply informed by this understanding. Resources used in our Catholic elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, as well as those used in our catechetical programs must also be consistent with and supportive of this foundational Catholic understanding.

It is recommended therefore that we:

  • Assist parents in their role as the primary educators of their children by obtaining and promoting the use of parenting guidelines and parenting programs that are consistent with the Church's virtue-based understanding. Principles of sound character formation will need to be understood and utilized in the home if our children are to develop those habitual strengths of character that will enable them to mature into responsible men and women who live by Christian principles.

  • Establish guidelines to help teachers and parents choose reading material which nourishes virtue in the hearts and minds of their children and that a list of recommended books and films etc. be made generally available through our parishes and schools. Our efforts to educate our children in virtue will be compromised, and we will find ourselves at cross-purposes, if we employ books which, while stimulating a superficial interest in reading, end up undermining our primary goal of communicating high ideals, virtue, and a faith-based perspective to our children. Literature, which serves well the goals of Christian education, should impart praiseworthy ideas, but even more importantly it should convey the great adventure, the majesty and mystery of the moral cosmos.

  • Ensure that programs offered in our schools which touch on the moral life and development of the child are all deeply rooted in the Church's understanding of the human person and the moral virtues. Programs founded on a shallow understanding of personal autonomy, self-esteem, or a moral relativism model — as well as all those paying only superficial lip service to the virtues — must be carefully avoided. All our educators — parents, teachers, and others — should be encouraged and affirmed in this virtue-based perspective. They should, through guidance and guidelines, be assisted to adopt sound Catholic principles of moral education that support the virtuous upbringing and Christian formation of our children.

  • In advancing a comprehensive virtue-based understanding of the moral life in our schools and parishes, we should familiarize ourselves with the varied expressions of the virtues as found in the many different cultures present in our communities. Drawing upon the existing understandings within these various cultural groups will help us make a natural bridge to the fullness of Church teaching.

  • Implement some means for assessing the success we have in communicating the life of faith through our moral and religious education programs.



These recommendations are taken from the "Synod Study Paper on Teaching the Faith", prepared for the Vancouver Archdiocesan Synod in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. This document was the working paper and formed the basis for one of the final documents of the Synod, "Teaching the Faith".

Next: Presenting Catholic History and Culture

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