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Prudence: Working Life’s Jigsaw Puzzle

March 4, AD 2014 7 Comments

Jigsaw Puzzle

What I first loved about Catholic moral teaching was the logical consistency. It all fit together, how we are body and soul, how we have intellect and free will, how we can practice virtue, how we are responsible for our consequences, how our nature is perfected by grace. I didn’t step back and try to see the whole picture though. I tried to memorize the shape and image of each piece of the puzzle, to figure out exactly what to do in every imaginable scenario so I would be prepared to match up the pieces when the time came. I thought that would secure a good moral life, the complete picture of goodness, and I wanted that security.

Instead I got anxiety. Cataloging endless snapshots was overwhelming. Every news story became an exercise in mapping out potential cases. I scanned every parenting decision, every marital reaction, every civic responsibility, every religious obligation to make sure I mapped it all out case by case—so I would know what to do. I was a casuist, trying to view human life all clean and shiny, abstracted from the mess of the rest of the puzzle, trying to avoid dealing with the pieces I held in my hands in the bedraggled here and now.

I was leaving God out of the picture.

Lately I’ve been reading about the virtues, particularly prudence, and it has reoriented my thinking. I didn’t see it before, but anxiety stems from forgetting the first step. For a person of faith every thought, judgement, decision, or action should primarily be directed toward the right supernatural end, which is to do the will of God. A person who has no faith, at most, directs his thoughts and actions to the end of his life. However, even the most devout Christian risks imprudence if he or she lacks faith, hope, and love, if the will of God is not always the ultimate end toward which all decisions and actions are directed. Prudence is knowing how to solve the puzzle; faith, hope, and love are the light; happiness with God in Heaven is the picture.

To forget the first step is to work in the dark.

If we accept it, we can receive the gift of grace to be authentically prudent in each situation even when it seems we’ll never complete the puzzle. When we fail to be virtuous enough, we can return again and again to the wellspring, “Lord, grant me the grace to do Your will.” Therein lies our security.

Create a jigsaw puzzle

Recommended reading: 
The Four Cardinal Virtues by Josef Pieper (free ebook)
The Virtue Driven Life by Fr. Benedict Groeschel

Hello, and thank you for reading. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge. Read more about me here, with pictures. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. "Like" my Facebook page Science Was Born of Christianity to follow updates about my book. God bless you!

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  • Bill S

    As a cradle Catholic who only goes to church to make my wife happy, I have always wondered why anyone would convert to Catholicism. I’ve never been big on rules, and the Catholic Church has plenty of them. So I could never understand why anyone would want so many rules imposed upon them. I saw so many rules as being a deterrent to becoming Catholic. It never occurred to me that some people like having rules to guide them through life.

    The only problem is, are the rules based on a real need to avoid those things that the rules prohibit? Or are they just rules that get one in the habit of being disciplined by following them whether they make any sense or not? If they are just rules for the sake of having rules, I just can’t do that anymore.

    • Charles Clarke

      “I’ve never been big on rules, and the Catholic Church has plenty of
      them. So I could never understand why anyone would want so many rules
      imposed upon them.”

      I have always liked structure in my life. Rules provide that. I am a cradle Catholic and served 24 years in the military. I did not realize until later in life, how much I liked a structured life.
      The “real” world is inclined to be competitive and dog eat dog. I don’t particularly like that.
      It is inclined to be very self oriented. The Church has accumulated a multitude of rules over 2000 years but the essential rules are fewer. Our society has few rules and as a result is quite chaotic, which I do not see as a positive attribute. The Church on the other hand guides us without restricting our freedom to think or act. Society has difficulty defining right and wrong and most definitely has problems with truth. Relative truth is useless as it can be what ever the individual wants it to be. Structure in my humble opinion is the better of the two. Structure or Chaos.

      • Bill S

        Having no self-discipline right now, I can see where I could have used it. That is one good thing about the Catholic faith.

        • Charles Clarke

          Discipline is a function of rules, whether self imposed or imposed from an external source. Dealing with the multitude of unpleasant tasks we encounter in life is an example of discipline. Society has somehow decided that discipline is synonymous with punishment, so mostly reject it.

          • Bill S

            That sounds about right. I desperately need the self imposed kind.

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