Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Applying the Cardinal Virtues to Motherhood, Cont...

Applying the Cardinal Virtues to Motherhood, Part V
A Thesis by Jacquelyn Barten, Guest Blogger

On Justice
The Catechism defines justice as the constant and firm will to render to God and neighbor what is due.[1]  The word “jus” means “right” and indicates the right thing itself.[2]  Pieper wrote that “Through justice the will is applied to its proper act.”[3]  Applying the virtue of justice is a constant need and is gravely significant because as Josef Pieper stated, “Every external act is of social consequence.”[4]  For example, when we speak, we are heard, when we use something it is someone’s property.[5]  Fostering the cardinal virtue of justice helps humans gain confidence that their external acts are of good consequence, that they respect individual rights and the common good.  Justice is the fundamental principle of existence and coexistence in community here on earth.[6]  Ultimately, however, humanity’s hunger for justice, insatiable here on earth, turns us to God who “is justice itself.”[7] 

Applying the cardinal virtue of justice to motherhood is not as straightforward as the application of prudence to the maternal role.  Pieper quotes St. Thomas on the subject:
“Justice properly speaking demands a distinction of parties.”  Because father and child are not entirely separate individuals, because the child, instead, belongs to the father, and the father feels toward the child almost as he feels toward himself, “so between them there is not a simpliciter iustum, the just, simply,” not justice in the strict sense.  Because the loved one is not properly “someone else,” there is no formal justice between those who love each other.[8]

Although there is no formal justice between a mother and her children, there are many ways to attain the virtue of justice in the home, especially in regards to the virtues categorized under justice.  Mothers can teach their children justice by following the Ten Commandments, tithing, demonstrating the importance of obedience, and teaching their children to be just citizens.  Teaching a child to be just can be as simple as writing a thank-you note or telling someone “thank you” in person; this is an important moral act according to St. Thomas.[9]

Pieper writes that “in the affairs of the world, everything depends on the rulers’ being just.”[10]  In a sense this phrase could easily be reworded for present purposes as “in the affairs of the [home], everything depends on the [parents’] being just.”  Christopher Kaczor and Thomas Sherman, S.J. authors of Thomas Aquinas on the Cardinal Virtues, give several examples of what the virtue of justice looks like in motherhood: it allows one to act with joy and ease and does not give too much liberty to the children in the wrong situations so that they might become evil.[11]  For instance, another virtue connected with justice is vengeance.  As St. Thomas says, vengeance outside the order of divine appointment usurps what is God’s and is sinful.[12]  Kaczor and Sherman expound upon this and note that parents have due authority to raise their children properly.  It is a parent’s duty to care for, love, and educate their children in knowledge and character, and they can train them with discipline or due punishment.

The virtue of religion is another virtue St. Thomas connects with justice, and this virtue clearly lays out acts to be undertaken in the home.  Under the virtue of religion, it becomes clear that man can never be even with God, and children can never honor their parents, the ones who gave them the gift of life, enough.  Likewise, a parent should act in such a way that it is not difficult for their children to give them honor.  A mother should demonstrate the providential love of God to her children.  Kaczor and Sherman play out a wonderful example, observing that, if parents ask a child to “say please,” they remain before and after resolved to give the child something if she says please.  Likewise God gives mankind what He has promised them if they just ask in prayer: “Just as a mother works to better the child through making him use good manners in making requests, so too God intends our perfection through prompting us to commune with Him in prayers of petition.”[13]  Mothers need to ask for His help continually, because in doing so they “acquire confidence in having recourse to God” and “recognize in Him the Author of our goods.”[14]  Kaczor and Sherman describe what all mothers come to discover: “although God is the best and most worthy of our time and attention, there are circumstances when we should focus our immediate attention on other things, even though at these times God can remain our final end and the ultimate reason we do whatever we do.”[15]  For example, the seasons of motherhood which need to take into account the needs of the children (i.e. something as simple as diapering) could prevent or enable a mother to attend daily Mass.

Justice is the constant and firm will to render to God and neighbor what is due.  A mother’s actions affect her children; quite simply her behavior is reflected in their behavior.  Parents are the first and foremost teachers of the faith and its virtues for their children, but in return children teach their parents to perform morally good actions.  It may be discouraging when misbehavior is mirrored back at parents, but at the same time it is therapeutic.  St. Thomas Aquinas stated that, “The punishments of this life are medicinal rather than retributive.”[16]  The just man uses his goodness for himself but also for others to a higher degree than the brave or temperate man.[17]  For justice is not about man’s passions as are fortitude and temperance, but it is about man’s relations with another.[18] 

[1] Catechism, 1807.
[2] Kaczor and Sherman, 67.
[3] Pieper, 68.
[4] Ibid, 62.
[5] Ibid, 62.
[6] Pope John Paul II, General Audience, November 8, 1978, (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1978), [accessed October 2, 2010].    
[7] Ibid.
[8] Pieper, 54.
[9] Kaczor and Sherman, 197.
[10] Pieper, 89.
[11] Kaczor and Sherman , 109 & 66.
[12] Aquinas, II, II, 108, 1.
[13] Kaczor and Sherman, 162.
[14] Aquinas, II, II, 83, 2.
[15] Kaczor and Sherman, 158.
[16] Kaczor and Sherman, 129.
[17] Pieper, 65.
[18] Kaczor and Sherman, 79.

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