As a mother of three teenagers, I know first-hand the challenge of raising children to know God  in a materialistic and self-seeking society. Lessons on such concepts as the Cardinal Virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice) certainly do not appear frequently in literature, movies, or advertisements. As a parent, it is my responsibility to model and teach my children why they should reflect on and develop the Cardinal Virtues in their lives. The season of Advent presents a perfect opportunity to re-find, reflect on, and teach these virtues. And, C. S. Lewis' book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader presents us with an entertaining story to see and discuss characters' with challenges much like our own as the characters learn the importance of having and applying prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice in their lives. And in essence, their voyage becomes our own voyage.

The Cardinal Virtues played a prominent role in Plato's Republic and appears in 8:7 of the Book of Wisdom. They were also presented as the moral hinges of the Christian Church by St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Aquinas. Combined with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, the Cardinal Virtues prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice comprise the Seven Heavenly Virtues. In a time where morals are presented as anything goes by our media, the Cardinal Virtues might serve as the moral hinges for our families. And, Advent and stories like The Voyage of the Dawn Treader offer us an opportunity to reflect on and develop these needed virtues in our families.

The Season of Advent naturally personifies each of these virtues. And, the Advent wreath provides us with a chance to learn and share with each other what these virtues really represent. For example, each week of Advent could be devoted to one of the virtues. And, the Christmas story could be used to personify the significance of that virtue. Here is what such an Advent reflection might look like:

Gathered around an Advent wreath, one family member lights a candle while another family member leads a spontaneous and heart-felt prayer, such as:

Dear God, We thank you for all you have given us. During this Advent Season lead us to find you in a new way. While we reflect on the Cardinal Virtues, help us to build a strong moral foundation in our family so that we can know, love, and serve you. Let our family be a tool by which you work to serve others. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Another family member might explain the virtue of the week. Together as a family, discuss how the virtue is represented in the Christmas story. Use the guide below to lead your discussion.

  • Week One: Prudence~Having the wisdom to make right decisions and actions. Mary had the wisdom to know God's will in her life. She wisely chose to say "yes" to giving birth to God's son despite what others thought of her.

  • Week Two: Temperance~Having moderation, abstention and self-control. Jesus was born in a stable. The Holy Family did not worry about material or wordly possessions. They did not fret or give into anxiety when Joseph could not find room for them in an inn. They trusted and knew that God would take care of their needs.

  • Week Three: Fortitude~Having the ability to confront fear and uncertainty. Mary and Joseph had the courage to travel to Bethlehem knowing that Mary was due to give birth—even they did not have an arranged place to stay. They did not question God's plan for them. They embarked on God's journey.

  • Week Four: Justice~Having concern and empathy for the rights of others. Christ was born into our world to bring us justice and save us from sin. By coming into this world, he gave us a chance for salvation.

To deepen and further carry this reflection throughout the entire season of Advent, you might also choose to read together C. S. Lewis' story The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In the story, you will find ample examples of the Cardinal Virtues at work. And, the examples provide entertaining and fun scenarios and characters that allow us to see how they and we also struggle with these virtues. Here are just a few examples of how your family might find the Cardinal Virtues in Lewis' tale: