Bede is an artist who studies theology to find the meaning of life.
When it comes to the practice of virtue, I'm as brittle as an old pine needle. How can the situation improve unless I were to find a good role model? Hence, I'm in need of an exemplar whose strength of character will serve as a catalyst to virtuous living. After all, the word virtue derives from vir, which is the Latin word for "man." Besides strength, his or her actions must harmonize with their teaching, because fine words count for three or four but a good example is worth 10x more.
Thus, after scanning the centuries, I've concluded that Jesus of Nazareth is the most integrated and virtuous person of all time. If I study his example, there is hope to change for the better. The following list of Jesus' key virtues is in alphabetical order to help with better recall.
Jesus' Virtues, A-Z
Children drew near to Jesus like hummingbirds to an orchid. If he were a mean-hearted misanthrope, who would dare approach him? As it is, his friendly character reveals itself in his ease among the people. He instantly won the hearts of his disciples, who left everything to follow him. He was often invited to dinners. His affability appears to be based on a sincere love for all persons rather than glittery charm.
St. Peter tells us that Jesus "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). The word benevolence comes from two Latin words, bene (good) and volens (to wish or will). Jesus' acts of wishing well to those he encountered, particularly the downtrodden and broken, are manifold. While most of us can't heal cripples or give sight to blind persons, Jesus nonetheless encourages the performance of basic deeds: "I was hungry and you gave me food." Prayer for others is also an act of benevolence within everyone's reach.
The Latin word compassio means "suffering with." Jesus was especially drawn toward the outcasts and suffering members of society. Scripture says he had compassion on the crowds because they were like "sheep without a shepherd" (Mt 9:36). One of many examples is the episode in Luke, chapter 7, where Jesus and his disciples run into a funeral procession near the city of Nain. The person who died was the only son of a widow. Jesus took pity and raised the dead man.
He who taught of the fleetingness of earthly treasures and the value of heavenly riches was a person wholly detached from worldly wealth and honors. He was born poor, lived simply as a humble laborer with poor parents, and died poor. In his public life, he appears to have been homeless, as he says, "Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Lk 9:58). While not condemning the proper use of the good things of earth, he teaches by word and example to seek what is permanent.
Jesus' mission was, above all, to accomplish the will of his Father, who sent him to gather as many souls as possible into heaven. Jesus' very name means "God saves." He was therefore driven by the Spirit to preach, teach, heal, give a perfect example, and ultimately lay down his life for his sheep. While he could have easily established an earthly kingdom, he had "his face set toward Jerusalem" (Lk 9:53). This means he was determined to consummate his mission, even to death on the cross.
Jesus' example of patience is all the more remarkable, considering his state of glory before his incarnation. He was altogether rich, powerful, and in need of nothing. Yet, he became poor, weak, and needy; he suffered cold and hunger. His life on earth was a continual exercise of patience. For example, he lived in obedience to his parents in Nazareth, endured the odors and ignorance of his apostles, and ultimately showed supreme forbearance as he suffered his passion and death.
The richness of our world reveals the bounty of God. It wasn't enough to create a few varieties of birds and flowers. The sheer diversity and quantity bewilder the mind. The same can be said of the stars, varieties of food, trees, insects, and every living thing. Hence, it comes as no surprise that Jesus, God made man, should exhibit immense magnanimity. His first miracle was changing jars of water into approximately 180 gallons of fine wine. Later he multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 men, besides women and children (perhaps 10-20 thousand persons, altogether). Everyone was satisfied, and there were twelve baskets left over.
Jesus said that "he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Mt 14:11). Why is Jesus exalted to the heights? Because no human being could ever match his self-abasement. He humbled himself to the extreme by becoming a man and, more astonishingly, by laying his life down in humiliating circumstances. When he says, "imitate me for I am humble of heart," he is expressing the plain truth. As St. John Paul says, "He could have chosen to demonstrate his omnipotence even at the moment of the Crucifixion." Instead, he submitted as a "lamb lead to the slaughter" (Is 53:7).
Few teachers in history have so perfectly united their teaching with example as well as Jesus. He lived as he taught and never commanded what he himself did not first accomplish. His actions authenticate his words of wisdom.
Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues, along with temperance, prudence, and fortitude. It consists in giving proper due to God and neighbor. Justice towards God means obeying his commands and fulfilling his will. Concerning one's neighbor, it involves honoring his rights, dealing honestly, and giving him his due, which in Jesus' mind means mercy. "What if someone offends me, then I must fling it right back in his face, right?" Not so, says Jesus. He, the Just One, died for unjust sinners; therefore, mercy fulfills the justice of God.
Chapters 7-8 of Mark's gospel reveal Jesus' kindness at work. For instance, he guides a deaf man away from the noisy crowds and heals him in private. Why? Perhaps to prevent the clamor from overcoming the man. Shortly after, he leads a blind man by the hand away from the noisy village into the countryside. Could he not have healed him on the spot? Of course, but perhaps Jesus thought that peaceful surroundings were the best first glimpse of the world.
The Book of Wisdom speaks well of God's clemency: "Though you are master of might, you judge with mildness, and with much lenience you govern us" (Wis 12:19). As God's representative on earth, Jesus repeatedly showed leniency toward fallen persons, such as Mary Magdalene or Peter, and later, to Paul. It is well to adopt Jesus' attitude in our times when personal vengeance is all the rage. He forewarns, "the measure you give will be the measure you get back" (Lk 6:38). God is merciful to the merciful.
The Latin word for "mercy" is misericordia, which means "a heart given to the miserable." Consider how the Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to him with the intent that she be stoned to death. Jesus responds, "Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." As they all drift away, Jesus asks, "woman, has no one condemned you?" When she responds in the negative, he says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go in peace and do not sin again" (John 8:1-11). Overlooking the faults of others and having compassion for the hurting is to imitate God.
Jesus was a descendant of King David and thus of royal blood. However, because he came to establish an eternal kingdom, Jesus' dignity ultimately derives from his divine sonship. Hence, he teaches that even the most indigent fellow on earth can become noble through the gift of divine adoption. Jesus freely shares his royal blood through the sacraments.
The works of God proceed in an orderly fashion: the flow of the planets, the seasons, the growth of an acorn into an oak tree, and the development of a human being. Dozens of physical laws govern the universe and keep it stable. It should come as no surprise then that Jesus' life unfolded in an orderly way. Centuries of prophecy foretold his coming. As a boy, he could have worked prodigies, yet he let events develop gradually. In addition, he reveals a certain love for order, as when he multiplied the loaves and fishes. He instructed his disciples to have the people sit down in groups of fifty. A sense of orderliness is a great virtue to develop.
God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
— St. Paul, 1 Cor 14:33
The gospels frequently reveal Jesus going off to the mountains to spend the entire night in solitary prayer with his Father. Likewise, he taught his disciples that one ought to pray always and not lose heart and gave instructions on how to pray (Luke 18:1). He says that we should retire into solitude and pray to the Father who is present "in secret." He also advises persistence and confidence and gives the very words to use in the "Our Father."
The story of Zacchaeus perfectly sums up Jesus' mission to seek out and save the lost sheep. Zacchaeus was despised because of his occupation as a tax collector. Despite his wealth, he wanted something more. He climbed a tree to see Jesus, who was passing that way. Jesus paused there and told him to come down. As they were dining in Zaccheus' house, the Pharisees scoffed because he was "the guest of a man who was a sinner." Jesus responded by saying, "The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:1-9).
The word righteous sometimes has a bad connotation, as in "self-righteous." However, its basic meaning of doing the right thing in the eyes of God is always relevant. Jesus' actions were consistently upright and holy. Even his "righteous anger," as when he drove the money changers from the temple, emerged from the desire that his Father's honor be upheld. He says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:20). In other words, the state of righteousness is not merely external but must emerge from "a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith" (1 Tm 1:5).
In the Old Testament, the blood of calves and goats served as a means of expiation before God. Jesus came to establish a new covenant in his own blood. As Scripture says, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb 9:22). Jesus willingly laid down his life to save souls from final death. While we can't imitate Jesus' sacrificial death, our small sacrifices and alms are accepted by God.
Jesus consistently taught the need to trust in the Father's goodness and providence. To illustrate his message more clearly, he gave a perfect example of trust. In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of his Passion, he begged the Father that the cup of suffering might pass. Nonetheless, he accepted, saying, "Thy will be done." Likewise, as he was dying on the cross, his trust was pushed to the extremity, as he felt completely forsaken by the Father. The test ends in perfect trust: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).
Jesus placed a high emphasis on purity:
- "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8).
- "He who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28).
He castigated the Pharisees for their obsession with external purity while neglecting to "cleanse the inside of the cup" (Mt 23:26). In our present situation, where the tide of impurity is rising high daily through internet pornography, for example, Jesus reveals the beauty of keeping our insides clean.
Jesus always spoke and lived the truth. He identifies himself as the personification of Truth (Jn 14:5). His concept of happiness is radically different from the worldly concept of success (see Mt 5, the Beatitudes). He suggests that money and pleasure can never fully satisfy the heart, but only the attainment of truth can set a person free (Jn 8:31).
To the abhorrence of the Pharisees, Jesus welcomed sinners and dined with them. He mingled with lepers, tax collectors, and prostitutes so as to direct them to a higher life. He welcomed children who drew near to him. He teaches that one should likewise welcome others, no matter how lowly, because, at the last Judgment, the commendation may be heard: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Mt 25:25)
On one level, this attribute of Jesus is impossible to imitate. We simply don't know the inner workings of another person's heart as Jesus does. He knew and often revealed a person's secret thoughts. What we can imitate, however, is the virtue of seeing beyond the walls of time into the vast expanse of eternity. X-ray vision also sees beneath surface glitter to perceive the reality of things.
Jesus reveals a yearnful spirit: he longed to dine with his beloved disciples on the eve of his death; he yearned for his passion to be accomplished; he repeatedly shows his desire for the salvation of souls. Ultimately, he longs for the Kingdom to be established. He inculcates the need to keep one's heart fixed on what endures forever because life on earth is very short.
While Jesus' foremost revelation of himself is one of mercy and meekness, he is by no means namby-pamby. He spoke with fire and conviction: "No one has ever spoken like this man," said the temple police who were sent to arrest him (Jn 7:46). Jesus shows his zeal on several occasions, as when he boldly drove out the money-changers from the temple, or in his imprecations against the Pharisees (see Matthew 23, for example). Jesus desires his disciples to also be on fire: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:16).
He Walked the Walk
Christians have long cherished an ancient devotion known as the "Stations of the Cross." It consists of fourteen stages (or stations) with meditations on Jesus' journey from Pilate's judgment seat to his burial in the tomb. In churches, paintings or carvings bring these scenes alive to help facilitate the act of meditation and prayer.
Personally, I think the Stations of the Cross is a beautiful devotion because it showcases all of Jesus' magnificent virtues. One cannot help but think: "here is a man who literally 'walked the walk,' not merely 'talked the talk.'" May Jesus, the King of kings, now strengthen us with his grace to follow in his footsteps and share in his virtues!
The following video takes a brief journey through the Stations of the Cross to the accompaniment of guitar music.
Via Crucis: The Stations of the Cross
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Bede