“Unless you strive after virtues and practice them, you’ll never grow to be more than dwarfs.” (St. Teresa of Avila)

learning-the-virtues-guardiniFather Guardini’s  book, Learning the Virtues that Lead You to God, is a re-printing of his book first published in 1963. He was an Italian-born German priest and a successful Catholic educator who won wide acclaim for his teaching and writing. According to the book’s biographical notes, “He was notable for being able to detect and nurture those elements of spirituality that nourish all that is best in the life of Catholics. His writings include books on meditation, education, literature, art, philosophy and theology. His most famous book was The Lord, which has been in continuous print in several languages since first published in 1937.”

Fr. Guardini (1885 – 1968) begins his treatise by reflecting on the nature of virtues and his understanding of them as “something living and beautiful.” His meditations on sixteen specific virtues follow in the succeeding chapters. One leads into the other and connects the entire book to guide the life of the reader in Christ.

A few were surprising until one realizes that they are, indeed, virtues with a direct path to the cardinal and theological virtues of the Church. The meditations on Disinterestedness and Unselfishness are linked to Charity and Justice. The Kindness, Courtesy and Gratitude meditations can help guide our everyday lives connected to Charity and Prudence. Silence as a virtue isn’t given much thought in our culture today. Does the noise ever stop? According to Fr. Guardini, “The man who is never silent dissipates his humanity” and “only in silence is true knowledge attained.” Yes, silence means turning off the electronics, but also means being alone with ourselves. And in our culture of frenetic activity ‘aloneness’ is not popular. Silence is Temperance and Fortitude, with perhaps a small serving of Hope.

With the concluding chapter, Justice Before God, he brings the theme to conclusion by expanding on his earlier reflections in the chapter on Justice.  With emphasis on free will and the constant need to seek God, this chapter reminds us that Christ gave himself willingly – the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

Fr. Guardini writes with depth, thought and expression. However, this is a book to be read – yes, in silence, and is an excellent companion for Adoration, meditations before Reconciliation, or just simply for everyday reflection. Part of the enjoyment of this book is realizing that it is arranged as a mini-Rosary. Each meditation leads to the next and is connected to the previous; reading them more than once always gives new insights.

The virtues never change, but this book allows us to view them with fresh eyes. Finding the connection to virtues in our everyday lives is encouraging and brings us closer to God. Fr. Guardini’s insights give us an opportunity to strengthen our faith, our prayer life, and our relationships with those around us – family, friends and strangers.

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