(Editor's Note: The first part of this column was published in our June 11 issue. However, because of a technical error, we did not receive the entire article. This article now includes Sister Louise's full answer to the man's question.)
I read an article that when we find attractiveness in others, we should recognize and appreciate their attributes as gifts of God. I find the wife of one of our friend couples attractive in that we share professional occupations, similar backgrounds and dispositions but also physically.
Although we had recognized the couple as a "good match" for us, my wife wants us to break off any relationship with them. I have agreed but I dislike this position from both the social and spiritual perspectives. I love my wife and in every way plan to live out my promise of fidelity to her.
As I reflected on your situation, two words kept coming to mind. These are prudence and presumption. Before I go into the specifics of your concern, I would like to reflect on these two aspects of any decision.
St. Thomas Aquinas ranked prudence as the first of the cardinal virtues because it is the work of the intellect. It is followed by justice, fortitude and temperance.
"Cardinal" comes from Latin cardo which means hinge as they are the hinge for all other virtues. They can be practised and acquired by anyone and are the basis of natural morality.
They differ from the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity which are gifts of God and cannot be acquired by natural means but can be deepened and developed with God's grace.
Cardinal virtues are the result of habit and can grow through grace and have a supernatural dimension also. Through the practice of these virtues, one gains self-mastery over weak human nature which helps forge a strong Christian character.
Aristotle defined prudence as "right reason applied to practice." Prudence is an intellectual virtue. It enables distinguishing right from wrong, judging what is good and what is evil. To examine a situation and to exercise prudence, one must relate to three aspects of prudence: memory, docility and sagacity.
The first is look objectively at the concrete situation and deeply into one's heart to find one's inner reaction to the situation. Here, memory will alert us to know what turned out well and what did not in our own or others' past experience.
One practises docility by seeking and being open to the wisdom of the Church and those competent or more experienced judges of morality. One carefully examines what the Church says of similar situations both in its written statements and its verbal assessments.
With a clear vision of the situation and having the goal in mind, one can foresee the consequences of an action, consider the special circumstances and overcome the temptation to selfishness. This sagacity or insight enables one to decide what is good and then enables one to act in good ways to do which is good in God's eyes.
The other word I would like to consider here is presumption. Webster's Dictionary includes among its definitions: taking for granted, overconfident, arrogant opinion or conduct. It could be considered as the opposite of prudence.
Being over-confident in one's strength to resist temptation and thereby putting oneself in morally dangerous situations could be presumption. Are you really open to advice or do you think you know best?
Presumption is acting as if one does not need God or putting oneself above God. Many passages in the Old Testament teach us how God reacts to human arrogance.
After the flood, in their arrogance, the people wanted to build a tower reaching heaven. God confounded their language so they could no longer work together (Genesis 11.6, 8).
In your situation, yes, we should recognize God's gifts in others but that should not give us an excuse to compromise our integrity. You have committed yourself to one person, your wife. Therefore, your faithfulness to her should be your prime concern.
The Church tells us that putting oneself in an occasion of sin is already sinful. Have you examined this issue in all honesty? I would suggest you look deeply at what your heart and mind tell you.
Are you fooling yourself? Do you really believe that you can resist the temptations that might result? I'd like to give you the advice of a recent columnist who said that if you are attracted to someone already taken, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
Try the three-point process suggested earlier and see if that helps you thoroughly understand this issue and come to a conclusion which will enhance your personal and marital happiness and be in accord with God's will.
(Other questions? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)