Prudence: A Virtue by Another Name Smells just as Sweet
~ by Fr. Noah Bushelli ~
Prudence was definitely not in my lexicon growing up without Christ in the public school system. Though I did implicitly learn many virtues, those traditional words were eschewed by the progressives engineering the train-wreck that characterizes contemporary education.
But, I did know a pejorative derivative: “prude”. A prude, like a prune, was one too dried and wrinkly for the fun of pranks and mayhem that punctuated our dreary life of tests, text books, and empty pursuits. The prude did not recklessly abandon himself into the excitement and pleasures of the moment because he remembered that principals, parents, and even police would have to be reckoned with, as foreshadowings, perhaps, of the dread judgement seat of the Lord God Almighty. I sneered at these people and their antiquated notions; however, their calm self-control did its work on my soul, which longed for some joy that would not shrivel with age.
I am grateful to look back on the trajectory of my life and notice that, imperceptibly, despite myself, by God’s grace and the quiet loving witness of dear friends, I became a prude, one who does things prudently. And now I want to do my little part, as one deeply invested in education, to reclaim this word left in the dust of the cultural parade. The word prudence is worthy of our usage, yet it must be used with understanding. Not the schoolyard taunts of childhood but the dawning of tradition on the mind opening with humility as it ages. Three elements of prudence we should not forget, and a fourth to bring us to perfection.
First, etymologically, our English word “prudence” comes from Latin “prudentia”, an alteration of providentia — providence. “Pro” meaning ahead and “videre” meaning see. The word we think of as caution, wisdom, discipline, or good judgement has as its core, foresight or “seeing ahead”. The prudent, provident person is the one who, fore-seeing the outcome, chooses not for the present, short-term gain, but for the future, long-term reward. The prudent person provides “provisions” for the pilgrimage to paradise personally knowing the path.
Second, prudence is actually a means of joy, peace, and contentment. This is because things done well don’t as often backfire and at least our consciences aren’t smeared. As an Orthodox Christian priest, as well as a husband, father, and catechist, it is my duty and my joy, to imitate God, prayerfully borrowing God’s heavenly bifocals, to peer into the future and try to provide what my wife, children, parishioners, and students will need for earthly blessing and eternal bliss. God as our heavenly Father is the one true Provider and, yet, as he shares His fatherhood and priesthood and teacher-ness with me, I am blessed to cooperate with Him in Providence.
Third, prudence means foresight through this life and into the next. This has become deeply-meaningful to me recently with the sickness, death, and burial of my own earthly father. He had the prudence, the fore-sight, to provide for me in trust from his modest means. Despite the long-gathering clouds of disability and the mortality that darkened his final years and shortened his days, he saw into my future. My prayers for him, bolstered and purified by Christ’s sacrificial love which is stronger than death, have brought us closer than during his life, and helped me see by his fatherhood God’s.
Ultimately, prudence means looking ahead beyond the pale existence we call life to the consummation of creation, and letting all of our choices propel us up to the summit of God’s mercy. Our growth in prudence is merely the fruit of our roots growing ever deeper in God’s bottomless providence. With the remembrance of death, recently avoided as morbid, we keep our minds in the grave, the empty grave of our Savior, so we can focus our choices and bend our will beyond this fleeting life into eternity.
With these thoughts reframing our minds and stirring our souls, let us lift our voices with the Psalmist (89/90 vs 12):
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
May we all grow in prudence and all the virtues by our collaboration with our Loving Lord!