Cultivating Virtue — Book Review

Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery with the Saints

I was so excited to see that this book, which formerly was published in paperback under the title, "A Year with the Saints: A Virtue for Every Month of the Year" has been reprinted in this most exquisitely beautiful and high-quality version!

This work is among my shortlist of favourite books, and holds the position of being the most-utilised single book in our household over the past thirty years since my husband and I started our family. The reason for its great use is that not only is it an invaluable collation of Catholic guidance in the cultivation of virtue (hence the new and more apt title) for adults, but it is of even greater value in the ongoing work of raising children to become saints. Consequently, though I have read aloud a wide range of Catholic books to my 10 children over the past few decades, this particular book has been on a constant rerun loop, year in and year out, because it is just so excellent!

It was further pleasing to discover last year that both my married daughters are continuing our family tradition in their households; yet they are spoiled with the vast upgrade of this latest publication presented in the plush leatherette cover with decorative laser-cut design, gilt edges and satin ribbon. What a treat for the next generation compared to the basic paperback of the previous era...of which mine is literally falling apart from extensive use.

The English text was translated from Italian by a Member of the Order of Mercy, and was given an Imprimatur in 1891, with this dedication: "To Mary, Our Lady of Mercy, under the title of Queen of All Saints - this translation is affectionately dedicated in the hope that through her advocacy it may conduce to the growth of sanctity in numerous souls." There is no doubt that his efforts were not in vain — and that surely God, through Our Lady's intercession, is blessing his work in the way that he had hoped, because this collection of instruction and example from the Scriptures and the Saints is, by its very nature, very inspiring and very edifying!

It is organised into 12 studies of different virtues dedicated to each of the months of the year, yet any of these particular subjects can be accessed at any time with great profit given these monthly assignments seem to be arbitrary. Having said that, working through the chapters progressively is probably a good idea. Technically, some of the so-called virtues are probably not virtues per se but are closely connected with the life of virtue, i.e. the chapters on Union, Prayer and Confidence. Other examples of chapter titles are, Humility, Patience, Meekness, Charity and Mortification. 

Some of the saints whose example and writings have contributed extensively to this compilation include: St, Francis de Sales, St. Mary Magdalen di Pazzi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Peter Faber, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Thomas of Villanova, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Bonaventure...and the list goes on and on. There are many really interesting accounts, and very motivating words of wisdom, throughout the entire volume, such that one could open the book on any page and assuredly find something very profitable towards their work of sanctification, and that of the salvation of others in their care or sphere of influence.

When expounding on the virtue of meekness, St. Francis de Sales tell us, "As it is not possible, in this pilgrimage of ours, not to meet and become entangled with each other, if we would preserve interior peace, we must possess a great fund of meekness, to oppose the unexpected assaults of anger."

Then St. Vincent de Paul teaches us the basic necessity of mortification of the senses with such insights as, "Mortification of the appetite is the A.B.C of the spiritual life. Whoever cannot control himself in this, will hardly be able to conquer temptations more difficult to subdue."

St. Teresa of Avila teaches practically on charity, with such advice as: "The love of God is acquired by resolving to labour and suffer for Him, and to abstain from all that displeases Him, and by carrying this resolution into practice as occasion arises. But to be able to do it well in great things, it is necessary to attend to it in small."  She also shares her own experience of having been successful in the above, with: "When one has succeeded in placing his heart wholly upon God, he loses his affection for all other things, and no longer finds consolation in anything, nor clings to anything except God, forgetting his own honour and every interest of his own."

Everyone who is serious about their efforts to grow in sanctity, knowing we all must "with fear and trembling work out your salvation," should definitely invest in this wonderful guidebook. I can't recommend it enough nor am able to give it the credit it is due!

Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery with the Saints is available in the True Restoration online store.


Theresa is Director of True Restoration Press and hostess of the Restoration Radio series, “The Catholic Home.” She is a cradle Catholic, homeschooling mother residing in Australia.