Prudence and Superheroes

23 Jun
Prudence Mosaic - Cathedral of Saint Paul

Prudence Mosaic – Cathedral of Saint Paul

I used to teach ‘the virtues’ to children at a Catholic summer camp. I don’t think they walked away with enlightened minds devoted to my message: how to live a fully human life, but ran from the classroom with this on the forefront of their little minds instead: “I am Ironman.” My particular lesson that day was on the human virtue of Prudence as laid out by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Prudence is the ability or habit of right judgment. For 9-year-old boys—who cares? But it is little known that there are subcategories or ‘powers’ specific to the virtue. These are what caught their imagination: circumspection, foresight, and caution.

Jason Bourne has this one down—circumspection. It is the ability to look around a room, or one’s state in life, and see everything in relation to each other. Bourne can tell you where the nearest firearm is hidden outside a diner window. Foresight is the power of probabilities. It is the ability to recognize patterns and human behaviors to predict what will happen next. It is done by calculation, similar to JARVIS keeping Tony Stark from self-destruction, or by reliance on strong intuition. Caution is the power to sense danger. The cautious are sensitive to deception, disorder, and missing pieces. They can sense bad intentions and risky situations; they like risks but only the right ones.

While I taught the anxious little ones, they were surprised to find out that people could become ‘powerful.’ They thought humans are humans and God is God and that every once in a while if a human goes off-course God will swoop in with something called “grace” to either stick them back on track or give them a present for being good. Grace does play a role in our lives; without it we would cease to exist. But grace does not usually work like a spider bite or freak accident. Sometimes grace works more slowly, under the skin, through tragedy and the mundane. These kids idolized Bruce Wayne’s sense of justice and Steve Roger’s fearlessness. But at the same time they could not make the connection that with practice they could live out similar virtues.

I don’t think Saint Thomas wrote a load of a lot on the virtues because it helps us ‘believe,’ but because it is useful for a meaningful, faithful life. Prudence acts on what is at hand. It does not give us a principle to use, but it is specific to the moment of danger. The habit of prudence also connects everyday actions to the significant and makes us reach for something higher than ourselves. It changes our minds from seeing God as a watch tower to seeing him as powerful, intimate, and eager for us to think and act wisely under pressure. It seemed simple enough for kid boys to take on—they ran from the classroom karate chopping each other, which means they heard something—well done, boys.

-Laura Eusterman

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One Response to “Prudence and Superheroes”

  1. MaryBeth June 24, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Thank you Laura, what a beautiful way to start our Sunday!

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