‘Before Him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account...” — Heb 4:13

In our first reading (Wis 7:7-11), we read: “I prayed, and prudence was given to me.” What is prudence and why do we need it?

As Catholics, we believe prudence is a virtue: a habitual disposition to do the good thing. It is a habit that allows the person to do good actions and give the best of himself.

What’s the ultimate good? Being with God Himself!

Human virtues are those that every human being can acquire through human effort. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.”

In Catholic terminology, we state that prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues. This does not mean they are tied to the cardinals of the Church, but that they come from the Latin term “cardo,” which means “hinge.” These are the four virtues on which the moral life hinges. Catholics believe these virtues to be prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.

What is prudence? In the catechism, we learn that “prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; ‘the prudent man looks where he is going.’ ‘Keep sane and sober for your prayers.’ ‘Prudence is “right reason in action,”‘ writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.

“It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue, we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.”

Why is prudence important? This virtue is all about looking at a situation in our life and knowing the right thing to do. Prudence, as a virtue, helps us know what must be done and when and how to do it. Prudence is about taking our Catholic moral principles and practically applying them to our lives.

In order to be prudent, we first have to know what the good of human nature is and what the basic moral principles are. The basic moral principles, for example — “Do good, avoid evil;” “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” — make sense.

We know in life that there is basic right and wrong, good and evil. To say that there are shades of grey in a situation in and of itself indicates that there is black and white. There is an objective truth, and the human being, because of basic reason, can come to it.

To be prudent, we have to learn to apply these basic moral principles to what lies ahead of us in our daily life. What do we really want, ultimately? Happiness! What will bring us happiness, ultimately? Our life with, though and in God, knowing Him and serving Him in this life and being with Him in the next. How do we get to this life in Christ? By living Christ-like lives now.

The prudent person knows who he or she is and is created to be; knows that the end goal is our salvation, our life in Christ; and seeks to bring himself or herself, in daily actions, to that goal. Prudence is a virtue necessary for our salvation!

(Other readings for this Sunday are Heb 4:12-13 and Mk 10:17-30 or 17-27.)