Monday, 10 June 2013

Is the virtuous life boring?


Nothing wakes up the soul after a long winter like seeing the flowers again!  It is always easier to fall into a vice (a bad habit) when we are tired and worn out.  Spring is a new beginning in nature and in our souls.  

This post is about a topic that has lost its flavour in our media.  We don't hear much about living virtuously.  Our movies portray that living unvirtuously is far more attractive and exciting ... but is it?  This is the question we'll explore.

1.  What does it mean to live virtuously?

Aristotle tells us that to live virtuously is to shoot for the mean between vices.  For every vice there is a contrary and the middle between them is a virtue.  For example: Courage is a virtue.  On the one side we have the vice of rashness and its contrary is cowardice.  So living virtuously is constantly trying to hit the mean between the vices in all the different virtues.

Spring in Trumau

Below is a park (Spielplatz) where the kids play.  Austrians practice the virtue of eco-sustainability and thus we get quite a beautiful field of dandelions.  The trees in the background are there because for each baby born in Trumau a new tree (Lebensbaum) is planted in this park.

Oh my dear - you are so so so cute.  I just want to eat you!

 Kate trying to eat a dandelion!  Yuck!

2.  Why try to live virtuously?

This question must be answered well for otherwise there is no reason not to indulge in the appetites of our senses without restraint.  Put another way: Why not get drunk?  Why not sleep with this girl before I'm married?  Why would I fast when I don't have to?  Why would restrain from looking at porn when I feel like looking at it?

Instead of trying to answer every particular question with a particular answer (which would be impossible) I will try to answer in a more universal way:

It is impossible for us to will to do evil.  We always do what we deem to be good for ourselves.  Even suicide is seen as a good to the one doing it.  Rape is always an evil act, but is perceived as good by the rapist.  Even when we choose an action we know to be wrong we choose it as a lesser good then we should.  One could choose to surf the internet for porn pictures knowing they should not - this is seemingly a good to them but a far less good then choosing not to.  This understanding is important.  All of us seek the good.  It is innate.  It is a part of our nature.  The problem comes in the choosing and acting.

So why try and live virtuously?  Because living virtuously leads you to happiness - the goal and end of every human being.  In other words, living selfishly, acquiring vices, and not exercising virtues will lead to slavery rather than freedom.  And the proof is in the pudding: simply someone strangled with vices and ask if they are happy.  Every moral act moves us either towards a virtue or towards a vice.

Familianwanderntag: hiking with the parish

Austrians have this down pat!  We hike for an hour or so.  We end up at a hutte where there is refreshments.  There is a big nature park for the children and a microbrewery.  Then you relax, the kids play and it is a great way to end a hike!
Above: Tristan and Benedict on the tower overlooking the valley.

The hutte and the tower.

Eating palatshinkn!  Austrian pancakes with icing sugar and chocolate!

My hiking boys!

3.  What are the virtues I should be trying to attain?

The first thing we have to understand is that a virtue is simply a habit that creates a disposition to act in a certain way.  So I continually choose not to lie and telling the truth becomes a habit and thus I become disposed to telling the truth without thinking or deliberating or fighting it.
There are many many virtues.  St. Thomas narrowed them all down to being a part of either the intellect or the will.  The virtues of the intellect like knowledge, understanding, prudence, cleverness and so forth are of a higher importance than those of the will like justice, temperance, continence, and bravery. Why?  Because the intellect governs the will.  We don't do anything that we haven't reasoned first to be good for us.  So we should focus on our ability to reason rightly and this will in turn help our will.  

But of the intellectual virtues the highest virtue would be the virtue that lends itself to governing the rest and this would be (according to Aristotle) the virtue of understanding - Understanding what is good and fine and best and divine.

So how do I attain an intellectual virtue of understanding?  Study.  Study.  Seek.  Learn.  
What should I study?  What is highest and most best and most fine - which according to Aristotle, Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas is: God.  

 Benedict showing Therese his new pet snail!

Virtue in action: learning to look after a pet and keeping its slime off mommy's table.

 4. How do we teach our kids to be virtuous?

The catechism calls this a 'grave responsibility of parents.'  It is necessary that this begins at home in a family where a) virtues are being taught and b) where virtues are modelled.   So the answer is found truly in us parents living virtuously.  Our children will model what we do.

After modelling virtuousness, then we have to teach them the virtues.  I'm sure there are a plethora of ways to do so - but here are a few things we do:
- chores that need to be done well
- beginning every day with prayer and Bible reading - even when we don't feel like it
- saying what we are thankful for while we eat supper- complaining about others or the food is not allowed
- here's a new one: we got sick of hearing begging every supper for dessert so we came up with this solution which teaches temperance: every Saturday they receive a chocolate bar (one that breaks up into pieces) and they can eat as much as they want for dessert but they don't get another one till the following Saturday.  Thus, Winter eats a few nibbles every night and Friday night eats all that is left and Tristan eats his in a couple nights and has to ask others to share or go without.  Result: no more whining about dessert!
- homeschool work needs to be done at a level of excellence or high proficiency before moving on
- violin lessons!  Oh the virtues learned through learning an instrument go on and on!

We'd love to hear your ideas - share them in the comment section below.  We are always looking for new ways to teach our kids virtues.

Kenton's turn at the Vienna Opera House

We picked up the cheap seats for 15 Euro and headed off to see: La Traviata.  The set was pretty blah, but the leads were passionate and amazing and I left feeling like singing out in passionate love!  My seat was in a booth - but at the back, so I had to stand and look over the heads of those in front of me - a bit awkward, but I was able to see most of the stage so that was good.

Sister Mary Magdalena and myself waiting to get our tickets.  We actually could've sat outside as the opera house sets out chairs and has a huge screen outside for folks to watch the show for free.

 875 years old!

Trumau celebrated its 875 birthday.  It began with Holy Mass with many dignitaries and then we went out to eat lunch - but there were a few speeches first.  So we biked home and changed into a bit warmer clothes and came back and the speeches were still going on.  

So we tested out the motorized tricycle you see below...

 We roasted bannock on a stick and still the speeches weren't done...

We had some coins smashed with an imprinter so we could get Trumau coins

... and still the speeches weren't done...

 Finally! Two hours of speeches later we were given lunch and beer and dessert! Boy were we hungry!

Baby Shower for the 3 new moms:

It is pretty amazing to live in a Catholic community where everyone understands and obeys the teaching of the Church on being open to life, contraception and the value of children.  The families are open to life and there are always new babies on the way.  Here are the next three - Vyrka, Maria, and Becca.  Becca and Vyrka are due on just about the same day.

Mother's Day

Mother's Day isn't a huge holiday here and I don't think it is celebrated everywhere in Austria, but it was celebrated in Trumau.  Thus, a wonderful, beautiful, virtuous mother was honoured on this day.  

This a Mother's Day poem that Winter memorized in German and recited it to Rebecca with her breakfast in bed.

Pentecost: a 4 day weekend celebration!

Pentecost in Austria is a national holiday.  The country gets the weekend off plus Pentecost Monday.  But as most people need an extra day to relax after celebrating a whole weekend - many folks get the Tuesday off as well (schools included).  
Here is our Pentecost dance after our BBQ on the terrace.

Sermon from the Vineyard: Clearing muddy waters

Have you ever found it confusing when we hear talk about the theological virtues and the cardinal virtues?  What do they do?  If I receive faith, hope and love at my baptism does this mean I had no faith prior?  How do the gifts of Holy Spirit we receive at confirmation fit into the mix?  St. Thomas Aquinas cleans this up for us quite nicely.  

I.  Everyone is born with a natural faith and hope and love.  This is given by grace in a sufficient amount so that every person to ever live can find their Creator.  If we find our Creator we can find out why we were created: our End.  
Faith is the virtue that works with our intellect and helps to believe in that which we can't see.  Ex:  I believe that my car is still in the garage.
Hope is the virtue working with will to move us to towards something.  If we had no hope that our car was in the garage we wouldn't walk out to look.  
Love is the virtue that also works with our will to attain that which we hope for.  We move from hoping to loving.  Love completes the act.  I drive my car out of the garage and receive pleasure from doing so.

2.  Everyone is born with the capability to act rightly.  Every time we act rightly we begin to create a habit.  Once a habit of acting rightly is created we call it a virtue.  There are many virtues, but they can all be collected under the title of Cardinal Virtues:
Prudence: intellectual virtue that helps us know the right act to do, the right time to do it, in the right way, with the right means, to the right extent and so forth.
Justice: virtue of the will which helps us to want justice and act justly
Fortitude: virtue of the irascible part of our will - the part of our will that acknowledges a good/evil that is difficult to attain/resist and fortitude helps to attain/resist it.  Ex: Standing firm to protect your loved ones from bad guys.
Temperance: virtue of the concupiscible part of the will - the part of our will that acknowledges a good/or bad that is easy to attain/resist and temperance helps to attain/resist.  Ex: resisting eating an extra chocolate.

These virtues help us to reach the natural end of our goals.  Every choice we make is towards our own happiness to some extent.  Virtues (habits) make it easier to get there.

3.  At our baptism we receive infused virtues of faith, hope and love and infused cardinal virtues.  These virtues, received from the Holy Spirit work with our naturally attained virtues but help us to realize and attain a supernatural end.
Faith: I believe that God exists and has a purpose for my life.
Hope: Because I believe this I begin to move in a direction to get to know this God.
Love: Because of this hope that moves me I attain Him whom I seek and this is done through love.
The paradox is that we can't be happy until our will is at rest.  Our will will only be at rest when it beholds God.  Thus, these new virtues help us to live holy lives so that we can now behold our supernatural End: God Himself.

4.  At our confirmation we receive the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These are: knowledge, understanding, wisdom, fear, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear.  These gifts work along side the virtues, but more so to perfect them.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit help us to be more perfectly disposed to the impulse of the Holy Spirit.  For example: without the gifts it may take some deliberation to decide whether to walk across the room to see if this person is ok.  With the gifts one is so disposed that they receive the impulse of the Holy Spirit and walk across the room to check out the individual.

Remember this:
Virtuous acts create virtues which help us to act virtuously.
Every right act we do makes us stronger to act right the next time.  The opposite is true as well.  We call it a vice.  Every wrong act we do makes us more apt to act wrong the next time until a habit of acting wrong is developed (a vice).  To break a vice one has to develop a new habit (virtue).

St. Thomas, ora pro nobis!


Corpus Christi

Trumau celebrated Corpus Christi (a national holiday) with a procession of the Holy Eucharist through the town as the people followed singing and praying.

The girls who received their first communion this Easter followed throwing flower petals on the ground.

We were to process to 4 altars and to pray for the people of Austria, but we were rained out at the first altar.  So we processed directly to the last and prayed there in the Schloss Garten.

Deutsch Theatre

I took an elective this past semester in German Theatre.  We performed some of the pieces written by St. Therese of Lisieux on St. Joan of Arc.  We also wrote our own monologues in German from the perspective of someone in St. Therese's life.  Here is my monologue from the perspective of her father.  The gist is that my body is breaking down and I'm old and I won't be able to hold my little Therese again as she is a Carmelite in the convent - but one day I'll hold her hand again in Heaven.

Pictures for the Grandparents:

Winter and Tristan with their violin teacher Anna Marie.

Winter's table puppet show entertainment!

Kate loves her motorcycle!
click here to watch a bigger screen

Kate takes on Benedict in a sword fight!
Larger format

Well, that  is all for now.  I start my summer semester with courses in Latin and the book of Psalms.  

Prayer Needs:

1. Pray for a healthy mommy and baby and a great delivery in July.
2. Pray for health for me.  I am battling with asthma to a horrid degree and I put out my back a month ago and it still isn't healing.

Have a wonderful rest of June!
Pax Vobiscum,

Love, Kenton, Rebecca, Winter, Tristan, Benedict, Kate and the new baby

Mailing Address:
Schloss Trumau
Schlossgasse 21
2521 Trumau, Austria


  1. I just read Aristotle's take on 'the good life' last night. I think he also said something about politics being the highest good(hmm). St. Thomas must of taken Aristotle's perspective on the greatest good and used it in regards to God being the greatest good. Is that right? Was that one of the five ways?

    Miss you so much buddy! Hope your learning lots. I pray that God will watch over you and that our Holy Mother will keep you in her maternal care. Let's Skype soon! Please keep us in prayer when you visit those shrines. We are still hoping for another baby!


    1. You are correct. St. Thomas went to university and studied Aristotle completely and was definitely an Aristotelian. Aristotle is said to by St. Thomas to have almost perfect logic when it comes to understanding nature. Aristotle and Plato - 400 years or so before Christ came to the conclusion via logic that there was a Greatest Good: Plato called him "The Good" and Aristotle called him "The Unmoved Mover." Politics is the highest ruling science due to its governing role in the Greek understanding. Political science "legislates what must be done and what avoided, its end will include the ends of the other sciences and so this will be the human good." (Book 1, Ch.2 NE) Just as political science seeks the good of the individual and the community so also does the highest good and in this way the highest good is like political science.
      We will keep praying for you guys to have another baby! I wish you could be here - a homeschooling trip maybe???


  2. Thinking of you guys and just thought we would let you know that we are praying for you.

    Hugs & love,
    Greg and Rebecca &
    our eleven in Red Deer.