Love can only be channelled through virtue

Doug McManaman
Fall, 2000
Reproduced with Permission

The stack effect is depicted in Figure 1A.

For more than half a century the western world has been celebrating love through song, poetry, and film, yet we have witnessed and continue to witness a monumental failure of love. Why? Why is it that we have not, as apeople, become more loving? Why is it that we have not achieved the peace and universal justice that we like to listen to others -- like John Lennon -- sing about? A case may even be made to the effect that we have become much less loving than in former times. I believe the situation we find ourselves in today can be illustrated accurately via the following parable.

In a small town of less than twenty thousand people, an old house is engulfed in flames. The townspeople call an emergency meeting at the townhall to discuss the nature of the situation and the best possible response to it. Some are confused because the town has a huge reservoir of water, so no house, it is believed, should have caught fire. So one person suggests that everyone donate some of their time and energy to make the reservoir bigger. And so they do just that. After a day or so, the reservoir is much larger. In the meantime, the house burns to the ground.

But a week later, to everyone's amazement, another house catches fire. The people meet once again at the townhall to discuss this puzzling situation. One person speaks up and suggests that they make the reservoir bigger. So they all set out once again to make the reservoir bigger. In the meantime, the burning house is razed to the ground.

A month later, another house catches fire, and another emergency meeting is called. They all agree that the reservoir is evidently not big enough, and so once again they decide that the best solution to the problem of the fires is to enlarge the reservoir. But someone at the back of the room raises his hand, steps forward, and offers a rather new and unheard of solution to the problem. "How about using a hose," he suggests. The people in the room are stunned, to say the least. They look at one another, dumfounded. They begin to laugh. "A hose has never been known to put out a fire," one person remarks. The rest agree. "Only water is known to quench fires, not hoses," another one points out. And so they laugh even louder and begin to ridicule the man who suggested such a ridiculous alternative. He is eventually thrown out of the townhall and told, in no uncertain terms, never to return.

We sing about love, and we are convinced that love is the solution to our problems, and in many ways this is true. But marriages continue to burn and families disintegrate, and it seems that kids are becoming increasingly violent. The problem may be that our solution -- more love -- is too simple; for human nature is far too complex. Our solution is as about as rational as that of the townspeople, namely, to build a bigger reservoir.

Now one person was clever enough to see how irrational the townspeople were. He steps forward to suggest a hose. But he's quickly ridiculed; for the townspeople are convinced that hoses have never been known to put out fires. And the townspeople are right. Hoses do not put out fires, water does. But they misunderstood the man's solution. He was not suggesting that they throw hoses onto the fire. The hoses would burn. Rather, he was suggesting the hoses as a channel through which (not with which, or by which, or from which) the water would reach the fire. The hose was conceived as a bridge between the reservoir and the burning houses.

And that is what the Church has been insisting on for two thousand years, which is that love requires a channel, namely virtue. Love can only be channelled through virtue. We may have all the love in the world, but if we lack the virtue of patience, for example, that love is not going to reach the beloved, especially if the beloved requires a great deal of patience, that is, if he/she is a child. We may have a great reservoir of love, but if we lack magnificence, or the virtue of justice, or courage, or perseverance, or chastity, or sobriety, or meekness or clemency, that love will remain in the reservoir, and the world around us will continue to burn. If we are impetuous, thoughtless, or inconstant and negligent, if we are, like many people, unable to learn from experience (memory), and if we are intemperate,that is, not indifferent enough to the pleasures of touch, our love will not stretch beyond our selves in order to bring life and light to those in our lives. The solution to the social problems of our world is not more love, and much less is it more money. The solution is to learn to cultivate the virtues in our lives. But as the word 'cultivate' suggests, this work is hard labor. It is much easier to cultivate a field, for it takes much less time. Cultivating the virtues takes a good part of a lifetime.

And this is the reason for the irony of the situation in which this world finds itself in regard to love. For love is easy. Peace is easy. And singing about them is easier. But virtue is difficult. That is why we witness today a failure of love. It was St. Gregory who said that "the entire structure of good works is built on four cardinal virtues", that is, the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. And in the book of Wisdom we read: "If one loves justice, the fruits of her works are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more profitable than these." (Wis 8, 7) But the world loves pleasure first, not justice, and so the fruits of its works are not the virtues, but exploitation and poverty, mood altering drugs, abortion and euthanasia, divorce and custody battles, and finally war. There are no global solutions to these problems. The solution is one person at a time. Each person must take it upon himself to begin the difficult work of perfecting his practical mind with prudence, his will with justice, his humane emotions with temperance, and his aggressive emotions with fortitude. Until this begins to happen, the world will go on as it always has. It will become increasingly advanced technologically, but morally regressive.