Natural and Supernatural Virtues ~ The Catholic Teacher’s Companion


This is an excerpt taken from a treasure of a book published in 1924 called The Catholic Teacher’s Companion – A Book of Inspiration and Self-Help.

It spoke to me…as we are all teachers, whether it is of our own children, those around us or a teacher in an actual school.

It was originally written for teaching Sisters….

Even with the best of intentions and hardest of efforts, the teacher cannot expect to remove from her pupils all dangers temptations. Dangers to faith and morals surround them on all sides.

The best service that the teacher can render to her pupils in regard is to train their conscience so that will always have with them a trustworthy guide to warn and advise them in every situation.

Only by equipping them individually for dangers that they must face alone and individually, can she prepare them for the battles of the present age, that lacks so many of old-time safeguards of virtue and innocence.

The first requisite is that the pupils be imbued with a strong, living faith in the personal God.

They must learn to realize vividly and habitually that God reigns supreme, that we depend upon Him for all that we are and have, and that He is in supreme control of the most trifling event. They must be habituated to adjudge everything in accordance with the will of God, and hence they must be taught very carefully how they may and must distinguish between the good and the bad.


Blessings upon the teacher who succeeds in training her pupils to make a daily examination of conscience! But in making the examination of conscience the pupils must not be content with asking themselves about the sins committed during the day, but must make it a rule to ascertain the causes as well as the occasions of their sins.

Consequently they must ask themselves: Why is it that I lacked the strength to overcome this or that temptation? What should I have done to gain the strength needed to overcome the danger?

Instead of abusing her pupils for their faults and mistakes, the teacher should show them the causes of the failings and instruct them about removing these causes. In this way the children will learn to realize the danger in time, and thus be better able to avoid the danger.

But to instruct the children properly, the teacher must herself possess a well-trained conscience. A teacher with either a lax or a scrupulous conscience cannot train her pupils to have just the proper kind of tender conscience.


What the world needs urgently today for healing of its moral and social ills, is self-denial. The teacher has a further reason for training her pupils to acquire this virtue since it is essentially necessary for contented living.

If the teacher considers the dreadful increase crime, suicides, and venereal and mental diseases, she will realize that the school faces momentous task in equipping the child for the world, in which the temptations to self-indulgence are alarmingly on the increase.

Some school-men expect salvation from physical culture and sex hygiene, but the Christian ideal of education is vastly superior to the Spartan. A youth may be an athlete, and yet a moral coward.

The teacher must train the will of the child to desire only that which is pleasing to the Lord, and to shun all that is contrary to the will of God.

But such training is impossible without constant acts of self-denial. The teacher should closely observe her pupils so as to discover their inclinations for good or bad. She may often ponder on Herbart’s warning: “The smallest fault may grow large through habit, and the smallest desire if unchecked may grow into an overwhelming passion.”

Fortunate the pupil whose teacher is wont, in the moment of struggle, to encourage him with the words: “Force yourself, child, force yourself.” Such a word of encouragement suggests to the child that victory is possible, that he can overcome his laziness, his stubbornness, his selfishness, and thus trains him to habits of self-denial—the safeguard of righteousness.

The order and discipline of the school will break the self-will of the child and incline his will toward the good. Obedience demands self-control, but is self-denial only when rendered willingly.

The teacher must make it plain to the child that he can do what he earnestly wills to do. She may say to him: You can be attentive; you can pray devoutly if only you will make up your mind earnestly to that effect: given this good will, you must concentrate your mind, control your wayward fancies, guard your eyes, and put away distractions.

The School Sister may be encouraged in these efforts by considering Cardinal Newman’s eloquent exposition of the power of the will:

Why is it that we, in the very kingdom of grace, surrounded by angels, and preceded by saints, nevertheless can do so little, and instead of mounting with wings like eagles, grovel in the dust, and do but sin and confess sin alternately?

Is it that the power of God is not within us? Is it literally that we are not able to perform God’s commandments? God, forbid! We are able.

We have that given us which makes us able. We are not in a state of nature. We have had the gift of grace implanted in us. We have a power within us to do what we are commanded to do.

What is it we lack? The power? No; the will. What we lack is the real, simple, earnest, sincere inclination and aim to use what God has given us, and what we have in us.

I say, our experience tells us this. It is no matter of mere doctrine, much less a matter of words, but of things; a very practical plain matter.

When a man complains that he is under the dominion of a bad habit, let him seriously ask himself whether he has ever willed to get rid of it. Can he, with a simple mind, say in God’s sight, “I wish it removed?”

A man, for instance, cannot attend to his prayers! His mind wanders; other thoughts intrude; time after time passes, and it is the same.

Shall we say, this arises from want of power? Of course it may be so; but before he says so, let him consider whether he has ever aroused himself, shaken himself, awakened himself, got himself to will, if I may say so, attention.

We know the feeling in unpleasant dreams, when we say to ourselves, “This is a dream,” and yet cannot exert ourselves to will to be free from it; and how at length by an effort we will to move, and the spell at once is broken; we wake.

So it is with sloth and indolence; the Evil One lies heavy on us, but he has no power over us except in our unwillingness to get rid of him. He cannot battle with us; he flies; he can do no more, as soon as we propose to fight with him.

There is a famous instance of a holy man of old time, who, before his conversion, felt indeed the excellence of purity, but could not get himself to say more in prayer than “Give me chastity, but not yet.”

I would have every one carefully consider whether he has ever found God fail him in trial, when his own heart had not failed him; and whether he has not found strength greater and greater given him according to his day; whether he has not gained clear proof on trial that he has a Divine power lodged within him, and a certain conviction withal that he has not made the extreme trial of it, or reached its limits.

Grace ever outstrips prayer. Abraham ceased interceding ere God stayed from granting. Joash smote upon the ground but thrice, when he might have gained five victories or six. All have the gift, many do not use it all, none expend it. One wraps it in a napkin, another gains five pounds, another ten.

It will bear thirty-fold, or sixty, or a hundred. We know not what we are, or might be. As the seed has a tree within it, so men have within them angels.

More willpower is the need of the hour. Without self-denial there can be no persistent diligence, no serious study. Real progress is out of the question if the schoolroom is turned into a playroom.

The pupil must learn by precept and practice that no virtue is possible without self-denial, and must be trained to regard his favorite fault as his greatest enemy and one that must be conquered at all costs.

The pupil must learn even in his early years that it is cowardly and disgraceful to give way to temptation, and that it is a high honor to oppose it, and to gain the victory over one’s lower nature.

If  he will habituate himself to practice self-denial for the love of God, he will not find it too difficult to overcome sinful curiosity, to control his moodishness, his anger, stubbornness, greed, and envy.

He will learn to be obliging, to love work, to rise promptly in the morning, to be agreeable in play, and so forth.

It is not difficult to induce children to practice small acts of self-denial, for after each such act they have the sweet reward of the approval of their conscience—a token that God rewards each act with new graces and new strength.

“Who shall blame a child whose soul turns eagerly to the noise and distraction of worldliness, if his parents have failed to show him that love and peace and beauty are found only in God?” – Mary Reed Newland, http://amzn.to/2mTKR3w (afflink)

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