The Church teaches us about virtue most clearly during Pre-Lent
through her choice of readings for the Holy Eucharist. Today she asks us
to consider temperance, hope, and justice.
St. Paul speaks quite vividly about temperance in todayís Epistle. He
compares the Christianís struggle against the desires of the flesh to competition
in the athletic contests so popular among the ancient Greeks. Just as the
runner or boxer restrains his appetites for food, drink, and sexual relations
so that he may earn a laurel crown and win human honour, so the Christian
must govern his appetites with temperance, so that he may obtain the crown
of glory and see God.
This is not to say that food, drink, and sexual desire are wicked things.
They are gifts of God and, therefore, good. Nevertheless, they were made
for certain purposes, and to use them either more or less than those purposes
require, or even apart from those purposes, is a sin against temperance.
The abuse of food and drink is called gluttony. The abuse of sexual
desire is lust. Fasting, which will be discussed in some detail on Ash
Wednesday, is a useful discipline against both gluttony and lust.
Temperance is, for the Christian, a practical expression of hope. Hope,
the desire of the faithful soul for the heavenly kingdom, makes itself
felt in action by the prudent control of the bodily desires, lest they
become entangled in the things of this world.
The opposite of hope is despair, which is born of sloth, a spiritual
apathy or boredom. The slothful neither hope for heaven nor fear hell.
It is no wonder that it is the bored who commit the wicked deeds which
so unsettle our civilization today.
Todayís Gospel, the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, is about
justice. Our Lord tells of the owner of a vineyard who hired labourers
early in the morning, and then as he felt the need, at succeeding hours
throughout the day. The first group agreed to work the whole day for a
penny, which evidently they felt to be a fair wage. The succeeding groups
all agreed to work what remained of the day for whatever the owner should
feel was fair.
At the end of the day, the owner paid all the labourers a penny, whether
they had worked only an hour or all day. The men hired earliest complained
that this was not fair, but the owner in replying made two points. First,
these men had received all that they were justly entitled to by their agreement
with the owner. Secondly, his money was his to dispense as he wished. If
he felt that it was fair to pay the last the same wage as the first, then
it was his right to do so. In both cases, justice was satisfied.
Justice is shown in our steady determination to give each man his right
or due. Justice comes from the principle that we are not valuable for what
we do or own, but for what we are. Each of us was created by God for himself.
Thus, we all have a right to whatever we need to help us grow closer to
God. Since we are all equally deserving of this growth in the love of God,
and we must all respect this fact, the basis for justice lies in the sanctity
of the individualí (Mortimer).
Justice governs all relations between and among people. It is thus the
basis of all social life, governing the relations of individuals to their
community, of the community to individual members, and of individual to
Envy is the vice most opposed to justice, as it is to charity, for justice
is the concrete expression of charity. Envy begrudges another what is rightly
his. Covetousness is also directly opposed to justice, in so far as justice
so often has to do with business and finance. Both vices can be seen in
the reaction of the labourers hired earliest, and both are principal causes
of the political and economic turmoil surrounding us today.