Punctuality and the Virtue of Religion

Religion involves our offering to God the worship that is due to him. Because he is our creator, our greatest good, and the end to which we are directed, we owe him (in justice) our worship. Religion is therefore a virtue. Those who struggle to worship the Lord as is his due — e.g., those who go to Mass begrudgingly, or only sometimes, or who willfully entertain distractions during it, etc. — lack in the virtue of religion. Those who, on the other hand, willingly and readily fulfill their obligations to God have this virtue. Obviously there is a sort of “spectrum” involved.

Punctuality ordinarily falls under the heading of charity. We should be on time out of respect for others, to show that we value their time; if also reflects upon our personal integrity. Charity obviously involves justice but also often goes beyond justice; perhaps the other person is not strictly due this or that thing, but we freely choose to bestow it upon him anyhow.

When it intersects with worship, punctuality shifts from being merely or primarily an expression of charity to being an expression of the virtue of religion. That is, it has to do with justice. Being on-time for our religious duties is part of what we owe God. Consider the fact that the Church defines our ordinary worship obligation as that of attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation (see the first precept of the Church). Moralists further explain that this obligation entails “hearing all of Mass”.

Yes, our basic duty is to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days — the whole thing. We can split moral hairs and determine if we have sinned venially or mortally by missing some portion of the Mass. But our fundamental duty to God is the whole thing.

Some people struggle mightily with punctuality. They are not just late to Mass — they are late to practically everything else, too. They are called to overcome this tendency. Tying it in with one’s love of God and neighbor, and thinking about what is due to both in justice and in charity, could help. Whereas, in the past, the effort toward punctuality might have entailed doing it “for the sake of being punctual”, now it could well entail doing it “for the sake of loving God more perfectly”, or “for the sake of respecting my neighbor’s time”. Having a more solid motive can help a great deal to focus our efforts and achieve success.

(This inspiration for this post came from this commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict.)

(Also, I know that it’s hard to get kids dressed and fed and loaded and I know there are traffic issues. I’m speaking generally, not about “special situations” where conflicting factors and factors that may be beyond our control come into play.)

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