The Virtue of Care

DONALD DEMARCO

The heart of virtue is love. Love without virtue remains unexpressed.

Caring Equals Loving

The degree of intimacy with love is more evident in some virtues than in others. In the case of courtesy or justice, for example, the degree of intimacy with love may not be readily apparent. But with care, more than with any other virtue, its identification with love is unmistakable. When people care for one another, ministering to each other’s needs, as a mother cares for her new baby, a doctor cares for a sick patient, or a teacher cares for a struggling student, the connection between love and virtue is evident. The popular expression “tender loving care” reveals the deep intimacy between the virtue of care and its heart of love. Care, then, is the virtue that is most synonymous with love.

A human being is, most fundamentally, one who is called into existence by love and called into existence to love. Pope John Paul II, therefore, says that “love is the fullest realization of the possibilities inherent in man.” Because the virtue of care is so deeply associated with love, it comes the closest of all virtues to coinciding with it. And because love personifies the human being, care is the name that comes closest to revealing his identity.

The inability to care, more than anything else, shows a human being to be inhuman. To care is to express humanness, to reveal love. Not to care is to place a barrier between oneself and one’s own humanity. It is to remain unloving.

The Truest Way to be Human

Roman mythology teaches that the truest name for the human person is “Care,” and offers an imaginative and instructive fable to illustrate how this name came to be chosen:

One day, Care was amusing herself by molding earth into various shapes. She fashioned one shape that especially amused her. Wanting this new form to enjoy life, she beseeched Jupiter to grant it a soul. Jupiter obliged Care by breathing life into the earthly form. Care then requested that this new creature be named after her. When Jupiter objected, they asked Saturn, the god of time, to serve as arbiter. Saturn decreed that when the new creature died, its body had to return to Earth, which was its origin; its soul had to return to its father, Jupiter, who had given it life. But all the time it was alive it was to be entrusted to Care.

Harvard scholar and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who had a great affection for the myths of antiquity, also wrote about the primal place of time and care in the constitution of man. He conceived an image that exquisitely parallels the Roman myth:

The every-day cares and duties, which men call drudgery, are the weights and counterpoises of the clock of time, giving its pendulum a true vibration, and its hands a regular motion; and when they cease to hang upon the wheels, the pendulum no longer swings, the hands no longer move, and the clock stands still.
The absence of care is the death of personality. Care may seem to be a weight, but in fact it is the counterweight that gives life its balance, its vibrancy, its authenticity.

Shouldering the Burden

Yet the central problem with care is precisely that many view it as drudgery. People long for the so-called “care-free” life, one that exempts them from the burden of having to care for other people, especially the very young and the very old. Yet this “care-free” ideal is infected with ominous implications for abortion and euthanasia. No doubt, caring can be inconvenient on occasion and can place considerable demands on our time. Indeed, the many cares of life can be exhausting. Shakespeare said that we needed sleep to knot up the raveled sleeve of care. And Milton, in L’Allegro, derided Care as a wrinkled old hag.

Ironically, the virtue that makes us authentically human — caring — often appears so burdensome that a person prefers to be other than who he is. Sluggishness, indifference to others, is therefore commonplace. Thus, Mother Teresa of Calcutta could say, “The greatest disease in the West is not tuberculosis or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.”

Despite the horrifying ordeal she experienced at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, CUF advisor Wanda Poltawska has never lost her caring concern for others. As a psychiatrist, she draws from her experience to provide specialized care to others who have suffered from the horrors of war and genocide.

When John Paul II was shot in a failed assassination attempt, the first thing he did upon his release from the hospital was to visit his assailant in prison and pardon him. Even those who contest his words do not challenge his integrity and his abiding care for others — including those who have trespassed against him.

Care does not allow suffering, either in the self or in the other, to prevent love from being expressed. It is the virtue that allows love to overcome its first and most fundamental obstacle, namely, inconvenience. It is never too inconvenient to love as long as one has care. “He’s not heavy,” said the lad who seemed to be struggling under the burden of the young tike he was carrying, “He’s my brother.”

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

DeMarco, Donald. "The Virtue of Care." Lay Witness.

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness.

Lay Witness is the flagship publication of Catholics United for the Faith. Featuring articles written by leaders in the Catholic Church, each issue of Lay Witness keeps you informed on current events in the Church, the Holy Father's intentions for the month, and provides formation through biblical and catechetical articles with real-life applications for everyday Catholics.

THE AUTHOR

Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2003 LayWitness


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