Sunday, 24 February 2013

SERMON: On Virtue

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s great tale of spiritual rebirth, begins with a powerful contrast. We first meet Monseigneur Bienvenu  a pure and charitable man whose life is “full to the brim with good thoughts, good works and good actions” Then we meet an unfortunate convict, Jean Valjean, who lives “constantly in the darkness, groping blindly as in a dream” Released from prison nineteen years after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, Jean Valjean seeks a nights refuge with the bishop.

That night the convict awakes and, possessed by the thoughts of the bishops silver plates, cannot sleep. Stealing into the bishops unlocked room, Valjean pauses at the good mans bedside. “At the moment when Jean Valjean paused before the bed the cloud broke as if purposely, and a ray of moonlight crossing the high window, suddenly lighted up the bishops pale face. He slept tranquilly….Over the side of the bed hung his hand, …which had done so many good deeds, so many pure acts. His entire countenance was lit up with a vague expression of content, hope, and happiness. It was more than a smile and almost a radiance. On his forehead rested the indescribable reflection of an unseen light. The souls of the upright in sleep have a vision of mysterious heaven.

“A reflection from this heaven shone upon the bishop. But is was also a luminous transparency, fro this heaven was within him; this heaven was his conscience. At the instant when the moonbeam overlay, so to speak, this inward radiance, the sleeping bishop appeared as if in a halo. But it was mild, and veiled in an ineffable twilight. The moon in the sky…added something strangely solemn and unutterable to the venerable repose of this man, and enveloped his white locks and his closed eyes with a serine and majestic glory, this face where all was hope and confidence, this old man’s head and infants slumber”

What was Bienvenu's secret? What was the radiant hope and confidence? Latter day revelation suggests a possible source to these secrets.
“Let thy bowels also be full of charity  towards all men,…and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly, then shall thy confidence was strong in the presence of God…The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy sceptre an unchanging sceptre of righteousness and truth” (D&C 121:45-46)
As Latter Day Mormons we should always be aware of the fact that virtue is a quality of soul that brings with it peace and power to those who possess it. The Latin word "virtus" means "strength." We often think of virtue as chastity, and indeed, moral purity is one important aspect of virtue that requires strength and yields confidence. It frees us from the tensions and guilt associated with wrongdoing; it brings blessings of health and a strong character. However it is important for us especially as Latter Day Mormons to remember that virtue is more that just chastity. In fact, the virtue that brings the confidence and serenity personified by the bishop in Les Miserable and promised by the Lord in scripture is really a composite of good qualities.

The teachings of Christ expanded mankind’s concept of virtue, and defined it in terms of moral, not just political, goodness. So the early Christians added to the four cardinal virtues three others, which they called theological virtues. These three are faith, hope and charity. Surely as Latter Day Mormons our own daily experiences confirm to use that all these virtues must be balanced. Without wisdom, the most loving parents may be too indulgent with their children. And we all sometimes face difficult situations where we need faith to guide us beyond the limits of our own wisdom. Virtue is more like well-rounded goodness, a wholeness of soul.

So as Latter Day Mormons, what is the process of becoming virtuous people in Christ? Perhaps it is not so much a frantic striving to master a long list of separate virtues. With our focus on Christ, and with a desire to follow him, our daily task becomes much simpler to follow his commandments and our own inner sense of right. Christian philosopher C.S Lewis put it this way “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature”

So in conclusion, as we follow principles of truth, acting on our impulses to do good and heeding the promptings of the Spirit, we will slowly become Latter Day people of virtue. We will gain the power to choose the wise thing, the compassionate thing, the temperate thing, the just thing in more and more situations that we find ourselves in. And as we do, we will gain the wholeness and confidence that are among the greatest blessings that followers of Christ we can have.

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