The first reading today seems to lump a series of random virtues together in a generalized exhortation to holiness. However, this is not totally arbitrary; the truth is that virtues are interconnected – as are vices. When we start with one, and it grows, it will bring others with it, for better or worse.
We see this clearly in the Gospel reading today. The King Herod we read about here (who is not the one that ordered the death of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem) was corrupt, but not totally; he liked listening to John the Baptist, even though the fiery preacher attacked Herod’s vices. Later, although Herod did mock Jesus, the king refused to condemn him when the Savior was went to him by Pilate. However, it seems that the king did have at least one particular vice – lust – that led to ever worse depths of sin. It eventually led him to murder John the Baptist.
Herod had divorced his first wife to illicitly marry his own brother’s wife, Herodias; it was John’s objection to this that led to the Baptist’s arrest. Then, Herod’s own daughter danced at the king’s birthday party in a way that delighted both him and his guests. We can assume it wasn’t classical ballet. His enthusiasm for her performance overcame his judgment and he promised her anything she wanted – and when, counseled by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist, Herod was afraid to go back on his word, lest it damage his reputation and authority. As a result, he consented to have John the Baptist put to death, even though he knew he was innocent. Indulgence in one vice first led to adultery, then possibly to incestuous desire, and at last, to murder.
Today’s reading from the Hebrews is the opposite; it encourages brotherly love, which naturally leads to generosity with those who seek our hospitality. As love grows, it extends beyond the walls of our homes, to those who are sick or in prison. If we love and respect each other, we will also respect the commitment to the special bond of love in marital fidelity. One of the biggest causes of disagreement and conflict among people – including spouses – is the undue attachment to or pursuit of material goods. Love demands a certain detachment from material things and trust in God. Thus, one virtue – love – leads to a series of other virtues.
May God enlighten each of us to discover our principle vice and virtue, and strengthen us to use the second to overcome the first. WIth His help we can gradually overcome any weakness. As the psalm says, “the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?”