The human body is a fleeting thing, but a virtuous name will never be blotted out. (Sirach 41:11)
For the law prevails even over affection for parents, so that virtue is not abandoned for their sakes. (4 Maccabees 2:10)
Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
“This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:7-11)
Virtue has often been described as moral excellence, with morality defined as adherence to laws or rules. Jesus challenges our understanding of what the “law” might actually be. For Jesus the law is more than a precept or doctrine used to govern behavior from the outside. Written words are easily misunderstood and interpreted based on the intention of the one that claims the correct meaning. Jesus points to our inner condition. It is only in the context of our intention that the meaning of the actions can be taken. But good intention does not guarantee good results, even when strictly adhering to law, so we are bound to know and understand our affect on others. The fruit of our work must be considered also. Within this kind of context—one that seeks moral excellence, where intention and result are considered essential to understanding our actions and how we take responsibility for those actions—virtue can be defined with deeper meaning. We might call this context the spirit of the law. Virtue, moral excellence, is the result of pure intention and faithful action taken to fulfill our purpose as human beings. Our purpose is found in the expression of God’s love and in bearing witness to truth. Virtue is the embodiment of moral behavior (as described above); in effect, what we become, our destiny, is the result of the things we intend and the things we do. With virtue, with moral behavior, comes the understanding of the need for moral action. In the practice of our faith, in the work of spiritual growth and development, we learn the life lessons that lead us to wholeness and oneness with God.
Gracious God, let our intention be love and the virtue that comes from loving perfectly. We take responsibility for our thoughts, our words, and our actions, knowing that a pure heart fulfills your law. Where we are in error, correct our understanding and lead us to the wholeness found in union with you. May we embody at all levels of our being the perfection that is found in the spiritual foundations of your divine law. May we be mindful that it is in service to you and service to others that we fulfill the commandment to love as Jesus loved us.
From The Readings
2012-83 It’s helpful to think of change in two different ways. One is: What is the source of the change? And then second: What is the capacity for change? It is possible to see and understand that change comes as a result of the intention, the experience, and then the integration of these two things with the result. The soul knows when these three things are present in the mind and the body; it understands and integrates the wisdom and knowledge that has been learned. This is where intention is so important to a person teaching spirituality. Is the intention to set people free? Or is the intention to bind and control people? If the intention is to set people free, then the experience of that freedom can be integrated into each person in such a way that they understand their choices, leading them to wisdom. There is movement toward God out of freedom. If the intention is to control, there is no movement toward God because God’s intention is to leave each soul free, in a state of freedom and choice.