Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Ultimate Meaning of Excellence

           Now that another year is about to start, let us be reminded that a new year means a new struggle, as St. Josemaria Escriva used to say.  Struggle for what?  Struggle to be a humanly virtuous person.  And what human virtues are most important?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a quickly reply:  "Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called 'cardinal', all the others are grouped around them."

          The queen of all human virtues is prudence.  Even Adam Smith, who is often wrongly quoted as having said that virtue is not important for a progressive economy, stressed in no uncertain terms that the business man needs above all the virtue of prudence.  This has dramatically been illustrated by the recent experience with the failures of big banks all over the world.  More than human greed, the root of the billions of euros or dollars lost was the taking of irrational risks by financial institutions as in the case of the subprime loans.  Such irrational risk taking was evidently a lack of prudence.

          As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (1806), "prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it, 'the prudent man looks where he is going.'  'Keep sane and sober for your prayers.'  Prudence is 'right reason in action,' writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.  It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation.  It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure.  It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience.  The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment.  With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid."

          The second moral virtue direly needed especially in Philippine society is justice.  The Catechism (1807) defines justice as "the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.  Justice toward God is called the 'virtue of religion.'  Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good.  The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor.  'You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.'  'Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.'"

          The year 2011 saw the 150th birth anniversary of National Hero Jose Rizal and the 100th death anniversary of General Miguel Malvar (my maternal grandfather).  Both were paragons of the moral virtue of fortitude.  They were willing to die for a cause.  As the Catechism states (1808), "fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.  It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life.  The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions.  It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause."

          Finally, the notoriety acquired by formerly prestigious and respected top officials because of morally scandalous behavior, especially as regards illicit sex, reminds us of the importance of temperance, particularly for those who are surrounded by the trappings and luxuries of this world.  The Catechism defines temperance as "the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.  It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable.  The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good, and maintains a healthy discretion.

          Is it too much to ask people of business, among others, to cultivate all these four cardinal virtues to a heroic degree?  "Be you perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" was the command that Jesus Christ gave to us.  Perfection means just that:  living all the virtues as heroically as possible.  For us Christians, we have the superabundant help of God’s grace that we obtain through prayer, sacrifice and the Sacraments.  For our happiness here on earth and in the life hereafter the excellence we have to search for cannot be less than the perfection Christ asked of each one of us.  Happy New Year to all.  For comments, my email address is