A good friend was speaking to me about growing up in her family. She has great parents, so I am always eager to hear about them. She told me that one of the things they taught their children was to seek out friends with qualities they admired—such as friendliness or self-discipline—and then to imitate that virtue until they had acquired it for themselves. In one sense, there is nothing remarkable about this advice: Most of us choose friends for their virtues and then, hopefully, learn from them. But what is remarkable is the purposeful intent. Most of us do this in a passive, unconscious way.
Doing it in a conscious, purposeful way encourages a sane cheerfulness about the world: looking for friends’ virtues instead of their faults, admiring and rejoicing in those virtues rather than being jealous of them, putting in perspective your own small virtues, seeing vice as mendable and therefore being merciful.
One virtue I then began seeking out in others and trying to imitate myself is magnanimity. It’s the quality that most won me over to Christianity. I met Christians who gave so generously of their time and their hospitality, and they did it with an ease and openness that made it easy to receive.
Magnanimity is not a virtue we discuss much, and there are different ways of defining it, but by it I mean a kind of heroic generosity that gives without counting the cost, that loves without calculating the risk. It’s an expansive charity. So it’s curious to find out that it is rooted not in the theological virtue of charity but in the cardinal virtue of fortitude. But a bit of reflection shows how much sense this makes. It takes courage to give freely, and that courage is possible because of hope.
As Catholics, we look not just to the living, to our friends and family, for examples of virtue; we look primarily to the lives of the saints, learning from them. This issue looks at two great saints: St. Damien of Molokai (story by Matthew Bunson, page 14) and St. John Vianney (story by Kenneth Whitehead, page 20). Not until I looked at the stories side-by-side did I realize how many similarities there are between them. But the greatest similarity was their heroic generosity. And you can bet that they went through life with a purposeful intent.