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Prudence: The Second Evangelical Virtue

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By Marc Massery

Last month, we talked about chastity, the first Evangelical Virtue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this issue, we'll discuss the second of the Blessed Mother's Evangelical Virtues: prudence.

The Blessed Virgin Mary always exemplified the virtue of prudence. She first demonstrated this virtue in the Gospels when the Archangel Gabriel came and greeted her saying, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). The Gospel goes on to say that Mary was "greatly troubled at what was said," and so she "pondered what sort of greeting this might be" (Lk 1:29).

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "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' [Prov 14:15]" (1806). In other words, a prudent person carefully deliberates before speaking and acting, always seeking to cooperate with the will of God. This is why Mary "pondered" after Gabriel greeted her in the way that he did. She was thoughtful and considerate of herself and others, never giving in to reckless impulses or outbursts.

A couple of other times in the Gospel, Mary and Joseph exemplified the virtue of prudence together: for example, when they fled into Egypt to protect their Son and did not return from there until the death of Herod (see Mt 2:13-14, 19-21). Then, she and Joseph prudently avoided the place where Archelaus, the son of Herod, ruled (see Mt 2:22).

Ancient philosophers identified prudence as a natural virtue. This is different from supernatural virtues (such as faith, hope, and love), which are given through grace. Natural virtues, like chastity, temperance, fortitude, etc., can be gained through good decision making. Making the right decisions is what prudence is all about.

Take chastity, for example. A person can only live chastely when one has acquired the habit of prudently deciding the right course of action in the face of natural inclinations and varying circumstances. In other words, one needs to be prudent if one wants to be chaste. The Catechism says that prudence "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" (1806).

So, if you want to become more holy, more prudent, more like the Blessed Mother, pray that she helps you attain prudence. Contemplate the ways in which she exemplified this virtue in the Gospels and try to imitate her graceful deliberation in all that you say and do.

Next month, we'll reflect on the third of the Blessed Virgin Mary's 10 Evangelical Virtues: humility.


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