The virtuous agent (person) shows the excellence that is possible in human behavior, just as a superior athlete shows what can be done in a particular game. Virtuous behavior shows how human nature is capable of acting, and it shows thereby what human nature is, since the nature of a thing is most truly displayed when the thing is working at its best.
The God of Faith & Reason, by Robert Sokolowski, p. 64
The Catechism tells us that virtue “is a habitual and firm disposition to do good.” (CCC §1833) In addition it says the “moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them.” (CCC §1839) The quote above gives us an excellent analogy to help us understand even better what virtue is. Comparing the virtuous person to a superior athlete we see first of all that we ‘learn the game’ of being virtuous through ‘education’ – by being taught by someone who already knows how the game is played. You may have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t know the rules of the game then you will never succeed. Likewise, we should all learn how to be virtuous.
Next, there must be the ‘deliberate acts’ of practicing what you have learned. Just because you have the talent and have been taught the rules does not mean you will succeed. If you stay in the bleachers and watch everyone else practice you will never become great. Likewise, we should all put into practice what we have learned about virtuous behavior.
Lastly, there must be ‘perseverance in struggle’. Even if defeat seems imminent you can never give up. Although I am not happy about the outcome of the game, the latest Super Bowl is wonderful example of this point. Let’s be honest: Seattle should have won that game on the final drive; but, that one player for the Patriots did not give up, caught an interception, and saved the game for his team. Likewise, we should never give up in our struggle against sin. Even if we have fallen into a particular sin a million times before that does not mean it will continue. Therefore, we must struggle against it.
But this is where the analogy breaks down because, unlike the world of professional sports, we have God’s grace on our side. We must remember that we are called not just to be virtuous; as Christians we are called to become like Christ. It is primarily through the Sacraments of the Church that we receive the grace that we need in order to become like Christ. In fact, without grace, becoming like Christ is not even possible because we, as creatures, cannot participate in the life of God unless He gives it to us. And thanks be to God He does give it to us. But there is a catch; even though He freely gives us His grace to help us become more like Christ, He does not force us to use it. Instead, we must decide to cooperate with God’s grace if it is to do us any good.