Memorial Day

Lectionary: 353


For this very reason,
make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,
virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control,
self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion,
devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.




Every self-respecting book store has a self-help section; people want to read about improving their lives by managing themselves better. It’s not enough to control everything and everyone around them. In fact that doesn’t help at all. It’s better to govern oneself in both in public and in private. It makes sense to direct one’s life and plan to improve.

Genres of self-improvement and advice for the young are at least as old as writing. There is evidence of that in what scraps we have of prehistoric literature; and both testaments of the Bible have plenty of good advice.

Perhaps there has also been a counter-movement to that since ancient times. We might call it the All-You-Need-Is-Love solution. The gospels describe the odd questions the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment?” and “What do I need to do to attain eternal life?” They would skip the schools that address the relentless qualifiers and nuances that surround the mystery of human life. “Forget all that!” they might say. “What is the secret of life – in 25 words or less?”

Answers would include Jesus, love, conservative values, family, just say no and so forth. As H.L. Mencken said, “For every problem there is a solution which is simple, clean and wrong.”

The New Testament addresses the subtleties of human life with passages like today’s reading from Saint Peter:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.

Can we parse that sentence into bite-size pieces?

Supplement suggests strengthening or “shoring up. “ So faith must be strengthened with virtue, because faith that has no strength isn’t worth much. It’s more like make-believe faith. I may have every good intention of doing something courageous and heroic but if I have never actually acted courageously, if I habitually avoid challenging situations, I can’t expect much of my good intentions.

That virtue (or strength) needs a foundation of knowledge. Any fool can try something but only the one who knows what he is doing can hope to succeed.

Knowledge requires self-control. There are people with all the credentials who have lost their edge due to sheer laziness. I sometimes urge people who are out of work to attend daily Mass. At least it will get them out of bed in the morning and help them to maintain their disciplines.

Self-control needs endurance. We’re talking about practice, practice, practice. Life is a skill that must be practiced. Doctors practice their medicine. Musicians practice their scales. Christians practice their prayers daily. Without that deliberate, persistent, conscientious repetition we get rusty.

Endurance should cultivate devotion. The practice of devotion becomes my identity and I enjoy it. As a Christian I want to spend time with the Lord. As a Franciscan and a priest I observe the “Liturgy of the Hours” daily with great satisfaction. If it wasn’t satisfying; if I didn’t enjoy that prayer I’d better go back and start over!

Devotion to prayer leads to mutual affection in the congregation. No one thinks this way of life is easy; we’re wise to that. And so we support one another with patient affection, which finally matures into love.

This love, as Saint Peter calls it, is obviously not a feeling or an attraction for someone. It’s more like a belonging to one another that defies even death itself. I hope for eternal life because “his love is everlasting.”

His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion….






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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.