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Learning to do Good

Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Tuesday 2 of Lent

Readings: Isaiah 1:10, 16-20; Psalm 50; Matthew 23:1-12.

"Learn to do good... come now, let us reason together, says the Lord"
- Isaiah 1:17-18

What does it mean to do good? Is it simply to keep the commandments? But surely the scribes and the Pharisees did that assiduously? St Thomas Aquinas would say that the good life does not consist just in doing good things instead of bad things, but in doing them well, and that means from the depths of one's character. A good person does good things because that is who that person is; to be holy is to act for the good and to do it wholly according to one's own character. Such personal integration brings delight and happiness in life.

How does one become a good and happy person? By learning to do good and, as with any learning, practice is required. Lent is like an intense learning period in which we take on acts of prayer, self-denial and charity so as to increase our appetite for the truly good things in life. Initially we do these Lenten practices because we're told to, or because we feel we ought to, but gradually, such behaviour becomes second nature to us, and then, and only then, do we acquire the natural disposition which Aquinas calls the (moral) virtues. As Herbert McCabe says: "Then we are grown-up. Then when we do good actions they are our own, springing from the personality that we have created for ourselves with the help of others" and God's grace.

Moreover, Aquinas says that "right choosing involves having a right goal and suitably acting to achieve that goal... the disposition to act suitably to achieve the goal must dispose reason to plan and decide well, and that is the virtue of prudence." Lent is that time of grace when we can evaluate if we have the right goals in life and if we are on course. This involves prudence, practical reason which helps us to judge rightly and act accordingly. Prudence cannot be exercised without the moral virtues - which we have acquired - but in order for prudence to be exercised effectively, we also need the divine virtues of faith, hope and love. These are given by God alone, hence in learning to do good, we rightly reason together with the Lord.

This Lent, as God continues to school us in virtue, let us be good students of Christ, our only Teacher (see Matthew 23:8).

Lawrence Lew OP


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