We live in a culture in which everything happens too quickly. We have text messages with rapid responses, Twitter feeds that fill us with the latest news, Instagram with real-time photos and Snapchat with photos deleted in a matter of seconds.
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But is this affecting our decision-making process? Are we taking the time to carefully mull over options before diving into action?
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The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers perspective on this dilemma with the definition of prudence: “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.” Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.
A fellow priest prudently advised me to wait one week before addressing the issue.
“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.”
Several years ago, I was supposed to give a morning of reflection to a large group of ladies. A stomach virus hit me really hard the night before, and I simply could not pull myself together for this talk. I told the seminarian going with the substitute priest, to simply tell the ladies that “something came up and I was not able to attend.”
I did not want the ladies to worry about me, nor did I want to be hyper-analyzed for the next few weeks by women who I would soon see in spiritual direction, so this was a simple way of dismissing the issue. Unfortunately, the seminarian did tell many of the ladies that I had spent the night throwing up and I was really sick, in bed.
Later that morning, text messages started coming in, medicine was dropped off, and for the next few weeks, many ladies came up to me with a concerned look, asking if I was feeling better. My first impulse was to get angry with the seminarian the second he stepped in the door. A fellow priest, however, prudently advised me to wait one week before addressing the issue. This would allow my boiling emotions to calm down and to put everything in perspective. Although this was very difficult in the moment, I took his advice.
One week later, I calmly asked the seminarian why he had told the ladies all the details of my condition. I listened to his heart-felt explanation and his apologies, and later heard from my fellow priest that the seminarian could not believe I had waited a week to calmly confront him on this issue.
When I was in seventh grade, we were allowed to leave school early because of a brutal snow storm that was quickly approaching. As I was walking home with my good friend, Andy, he invited me to join his brothers and dad for a last-minute ski trip. They were leaving in 15 minutes, so I had to get ready quickly. Unfortunately, nobody was home, I forgot my key and the doors were all locked. I imprudently tried to push the basement window to the side and it suddenly shattered onto the ground.
“You will need to fix that window, but your honesty is the most important thing in my book,” said my dad.
I panicked, jumped in the house from the basement window, grabbed my skies, and within 10 minutes, I was traveling to Kandahar Ski Club for a day of skiing with my buddies. My conscience was bothering me all day, because although I left a note on the table explaining where I was to my parents, I did not explain the broken window.
So with great trepidation, I approached my dad the next day as he came home from work, looked him directly in the eyes and explained what happened. My dad smiled softly and said, “Michael, you did the wrong thing by trying to break into the house, but I am so glad you told me the truth. You will need to fix that window, but your honesty is the most important thing in my book. I know that you are not perfect, but I need for you always to be honest.”
He then extended his hand and gave me a pat on the back. My dad always focused on forming my conscience in moments like this one.
Don’t go on bubbly emotions or passing feelings.
He rarely employed anger or raw emotion, just calm reason and real wisdom, and this more relaxed approach allowed me to listen and absorb his words more carefully.
Parents, I encourage all of you to form this virtue of prudence in your children — most importantly by how you govern your own life!
Before making a big decision, pray about it, consult your good friends and if necessary a holy priest or a spiritual director, step back and make sure that you have pondered all possibilities and then make a decision. Don’t go on bubbly emotions or passing feelings.
Allow the Holy Spirit to gently show you the path of God’s will, which is always the best path for you and for all those souls that have been entrusted to you.
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Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.