FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
The Apostles, reluctantly at first, but little by little, accepted and believed in the resurrection of Christ, that is, that the risen Lord was the same crucified Lord – different in his glorified body – but nonetheless the same Jesus of Nazareth. Before Easter, the disciples were afraid and sad. After Easter and Pentecost, they lived their faith in the crucified and risen Lord joyfully and courageously, and proclaimed it, and suffered and died for it: “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord” (Acts 4:33). St. John Chrysostom affirms that this radical change in the disciples is proof of the truth of the Resurrection of Christ.
Today, Christians in particular are asked to be strong in our secular world, which is estranged from God and much afraid – of the pandemic, of wars, of growing inflation, of death. In this context, the virtue of fortitude is more necessary and urgent.
Fortitude is “the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good” (CCC 1808). Fortitude, or courage, is “the ability to bear evil and to fight it.” The most perfect act of fortitude is martyrdom, whichis “the endurance of death in witness to the truth of Christianity” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
Fortitude is a concrete virtue, but also a general virtue: the practice of all virtues requires the help of the cardinal virtue of fortitude: “Without the virtue of fortitude all the other virtues are as it were tied up of feet and hands, and consequently, it is hard to practice them” (Luis de Granada).
All virtues are good, effective habits or habitual firm dispositions in a person’s faculties inclined towards good. They are all connected. Courage in particular is linked to the other three cardinal virtues of prudence, justice and temperance. It is more closely and directly connected with the virtues of patience (against the vice of impatience), perseverance (against fickleness) and magnanimity (against mediocrity).
Enemies of courage are the vices opposed to it. The vice by defect is fear,or cowardice: “He or she who is afraid begins to suffer before suffering comes” (Juan Luis Lorda). Two vices by excess, namely, indifference, or impassibility,and recklessness, or foolhardiness, which meansexcessive unreasonable courage caused by overconfidence, pride and stupidity. Indifference or impassibility:absence of reasonable fear of things one should be afraid of – “fear guards the vineyard”! (Spanish/Italian Proverb).
All humans need the virtue of fortitude to face appropriately dangers and sufferings, especially one’s own mortality, that are essentially part of life on earth; and also to be able to fight valiantly for worthy ideals and convictions. The possession of fortitude, moreover, will help us live patiently with people who are aggressive, or talk endlessly and do not listen, or are overly critical of others.
The virtue of courage is also much needed in the spiritual life. In the Christian context, fortitude is virtuous when, grounded in faith, inspired by hope and vivified by love, it is able to take away irrational fear, cowardice and imprudence. In life, we all have to struggle with internal and external temptations – of the flesh, the world and the devil. The devil is the tempter: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith” (1 Pet 5:8-9).
The saints, the mystics in particular, show us in their lives and writings how beautiful the vision of the happy end is, and how hard it is – but possible with God’s never-failing grace and love – to progress towards that end we all long for. The hazardous journey is made more bearable and even joyful with the necessary help of the virtue of fortitude, permeated by charity, or love. Christians know that the infused virtue of courage is perfected by the corresponding gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s fruits of patience and perseverance.
Besides the usual internal and external evils that threaten us, many Christians today face in social life hatred, violence, lies, marginalization and ridicule – a heavy cross! They need to be strong, patient and compassionate. And, therefore, we need help – the always available aid of God, One and Triune: the merciful power of the Father, through the saving love of Jesus and the divine grace of the Holy Spirit; and, through Christ, the intercession of his mother, Mary, and the saints.
We place our life in God’s merciful hands. Jesus tells his followers: “Do not be afraid…. I am with you until the end of time” (Mt 28:10, 20). Humans greatly admire warriors as heroes. For Christians, their unique hero and model is the crucified and risen Christ. And through Christ, the saints of yesterday and today, in particular the martyrs, who continue to give up their lives for their faith.
In the context of the virtue of fortitude, we do not allow bitterness or anger to invade our hearts, nor unreasonable fear to cripple our souls: “Even if I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you [Lord] are with me; your rod and your staff give me courage” (Ps 23:4); “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Ps 27:1); “The Lord is my strength and my might” (Ps 118:14).
St. Paul gives us the weapons we ought to use in our spiritual warfare: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.… Stand therefore and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Take the shield of faith…. take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times” (Eph 6:10-11, 14-18).
(Image source: medium.com/@fromtheabbey/)