‘The supernatural virtues are faith, hope, and charity. They are called “supernatural” because they have their foundation in God, are directly related to God, and are for us men the way by which we can reach God directly.’ (YOUCAT 305)
Our treatment of ‘the supernatural virtues’ highlights God’s initiative. At Baptism, God, himself a Trinity, pours into his children a trinity of virtues on which to construct our lives. He gives us faith to believe that he exists and is good. He gives us hope that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can share his happiness in Heaven. And he gives us love; which is to say he gives us himself in the most consistent, intimate way possible.
The impulse to turn to God in prayer, whether the prayer is one of desperation, question, complaint, praise, or petition is itself a sure sign of faith, ‘for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.’ (Heb. 11:6) By faith we believe that God loves us. Faith tells us that God gave us his Son to make a way for us to share in the love of the Holy Trinity.
The Rite of Baptism brings us a catechesis on faith. The words spoken by the priest or deacon, ‘this is our faith, this is the faith of the Church, we are proud to profess it’ lead us to examine the content of our faith, the Creed just professed. They also encourage us to explore the communal and active aspects of the virtue of faith.
Where faith is present, hope cannot be absent. ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb.11:1). The virtue of hope is evident in the lighted candle and the white garment from the Rite of Baptism. The heart’s longing to keep the light of Christ burning and white garment unstained expresses the new-found hope given to the baptized.
Yet, we know we do not always keep the light brightly burning; our white garment becomes stained by sin. Thus, we are led to consider the Sacrament of Penance. Here we find a rich source for catechesis on the virtue of hope. What signs of hope can we find in an Act of Contrition? The words of Absolution are full of hope. Faith is there too, giving witness that God’s love is available to us in the grace of this healing sacrament.
From a solid faith foundation, we hope. Even when we experience doubts and fears we have hope ‘as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm’ (Heb.6:19). The intrinsic desire for happiness in the heart of every human person finds its response in the virtue of hope. ‘[Hope] keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.’ (CCC 1818)
In the introduction to Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI points us to the cross, specifically to the pierced heart of Jesus. ‘Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love.’ When we look at Jesus’ death on the cross with eyes of faith we see God’s love for us and for the whole world. Such love calls forth a response from us. Knowing we are loved, we dare hope for our salvation. From this firm and certain hope, love for others flourishes.
The theological virtues are so intimately entwined that it is impossible to find one present without the others. To grow in love is to be strengthened in faith and hope. And yet love has a distinct preeminence, as is clear in this statement by St. Paul: ‘So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.’ (1 Cor 3:13)
Every sacrament overflows with love, and the sacrament which corresponds most fully to the virtue of love is the Eucharist. Just as love is the source and foundation of every other virtue, the Eucharist is the source and foundation of every other sacrament. In the Eucharist, Jesus’ re-presents himself to us under the forms of bread and wine so we can be united with God in a substantial way. His fiery love purifies us inasmuch as we are open to receive him. In the Eucharist, Christ gives us the power to love others with God’s own love. ‘Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love.’ (CCC 1827)
The catechesis that began with God’s initiative ends with our response. How can we grow in the supernatural virtues? The simplest way is by faithful participation in the sacramental life of the Church. The traditional Catholic prayers known as Acts of Faith, Hope, and Love have proven efficacious for those willing to pray them. Finally, we find help in the Holy Scriptures. Consider how St. Paul links faith, hope, and love in the first five verses of Romans Chapter five.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This article is originally found on page 14 of the printed edition.