Fortitude

The phone rang in my room. “May I please speak with Father Courage?” “Father… who?” I answered quizzingly. “Father Courage!” the reply came out strong and emphatic. “I am afraid there is no Father Courage here!” I said. “Yes, there is!” The woman was so convinced.

After a number of ‘yes there is’, ‘no there is not’…, it turned out that this Father Courage was none other than myself, the reason being that the word ‘courage’ apparently comes out from my lips too often.

Courage, also known as fortitude, is one of the four cardinal virtues of the Catholic Church, ‘cardinal’ meaning ‘pivotal’. It can be described as the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation. The opposite in deficiency is cowardice, in excess is recklessness. Cowardice is paralyzing. Bravado is just plain stupidity.

The reason why the word courage appears so frequently in my conversation is because discouragement creeps in so easily in our lives and it blocks us. In the words of Sydney Smith, “A great deal of talent is lost for want of a little courage.” The social constraints around us force us many times to conceal or to act against our convictions because of the fear of ridicule, prejudice, or ostracism. Besides, all too often, our problems look so gigantic and our strength is so undersized.

Joshua was appointed by God to lead the nation into the Promised Land. I am sure many considerations passed through his mind …. Who am I to follow in Moses’ footsteps? Will the people support my leadership? God spoke reassuringly to him and three times He repeated to him the same phrase “Be strong and courageous” in one breath!

Joshua built his bravery on two things. First of all, on the conviction that God travels with us. The Lord pledged that “I will never fail you or forsake you”. The Lord journeys with us in a very intimate way, through His Spirit living within us.

Besides, Joshua knew that God not only travels with us, He even goes before us. God promised to take care of the enemy even before the Israelites arrived. We shall always face battles. Life itself is a combat. But the truth of the matter is that Jesus has gone ahead of us to heaven with the spiritual battle already won. Our redemption has been secured, our place in God’s family permanently established, and our heavenly inheritance guaranteed. If you build your life on these two pledges, then courageous will become part of your name. In Italy I saw these words written boldly on a T-shirt: “God exists. You are not him. So Relax!”

Victor Hugo, who is famous for his novel the Hunchback of Notre Dame, also wrote a story called Ninety-Three. It speaks of a ship caught in a dangerous storm on the high seas. At the height of the storm, the sailors realize that a cannon, part of the ship’s cargo, had broken loose. It was moving back and forth with the swaying of the ship, crashing into the side of the ship with terrible impact. They were terrified. This loose cannon could damage beyond repair the ship. So two brave sailors volunteered to go ahead and secure the loose cannon. They knew the danger of a shipwreck from the cannon was greater than the fury of the storm.

Life is like this. Storms of life may blow around us, but it is not these exterior storms that cause the gravest danger. It is what is going on inside us that poses the real threat. Real danger is never outside. It is always within our own hearts. Courage and cowardice are after all inside things!

Storms in life are inevitable. This is why we need the power of God to instill in us the conviction that we are never alone, that the One who is stronger than the tempests is within us and is always working in our favor. Jesus Christ is our only hope of stilling the tempests that cripple our lives.

Eleven years ago, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Baltimore in front of more than 50, 000 people. I still remember the words he said that October day. “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us…The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit…”

This disparity between our thinking and God’s promises was brought out very vividly in a contrasting series of statements that someone jotted down. “It’s impossible,” we say. “All things are possible” says God. “I’m too tired” we often lament. “I will give you rest,” says the Master. “Nobody really loves me,” we whimper. “I love you”, He repeatedly reassures us. “I can’t go on,” we discouragingly cry out. “My grace is sufficient”, He answers. “I can’t figure things out” we find ourselves saying many times. “I will direct your steps”, He answers back in the book of Proverbs…

And it goes on and on and on…. More Him and less I and the battle is won. Courage, indeed!


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.