I have often found that our best virtues can also be our worse vices. What makes us ‘good’ can also present quite the trial for our souls (and for those around us). Take Fortitude, for example – it can show its face as intractability if used wrongly. To illustrate, let’s begin by taking a look at my own family. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) runs rampant throughout our members. These poor grandchildren of ours have gotten a double dose – believe me, both sides of the family can lay a legitimate claim. That being said, it’s obvious that change is not something with which we play nicely. No matter if it’s…
Bananas – sliced or not can begin a battle of wills.
Skittles and M & Ms – sorted and eaten by color or all mixed up.
Mail – stacked by size and length (oh, what to do with those darned tall and fat card envelopes).
Toilet paper – spooled to the inside or outside (when the kids were little I developed the habit of spooling against the wall to prevent miles of it from unrolling ‘on accident’).
Now, why mention the role of humble tp, you might ask? What in the world does it have to do with Fortitude? Well, stay tuned and you’ll soon see the connection!
Sarah, our 4 year-old granddaughter, is my Mini Me. Her stubborn spirit (Germans are like that) knows no limits and she often refuses to smile for a snapshot. “I don’t like to smile”, she says with a dramatic grimace. But her – ahem – strength of character makes her a stalwart ally and she is just as prone to an excess of hugs, kisses and ‘high fives’ when it’s her idea.
For the past several months, I have continually found the toilet paper in the ‘wrong’ position when Sarah visits. She never says anything, yet it just keeps happening – over.and.over.and.over.again. For my part, I simply reverse it back to its rightful position and smile a secret little smile – because I ‘get’ her. And aren't we all like that in some sense or the other? Which is what got me to pondering Fortitude. Now Fortitude is a virtue but it can also display itself as a vice - if we are not properly disposed. The difference is in distinguishing between things of eternal importance and things pertaining to our earthly, human condition – morality vs. preference if you will.
So what is Fortitude?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause”. So here we have a description that calls to mind bravery, valor, tenacity and grit. When these characteristics are applied to say, defending the honor of Holy Mother Church or the unborn, there is nothing we won’t do – even unto death – to take a stand for these moral absolutes.
By contrast, this same type of stick-to-itiveness can quickly become a vice if we do not chose wisely, the object or issue to which we give our allegiance. When we interact with others – or even with our own wills – it’s important to maintain the ability to look at issues with an open mind. Not everything is a black or white issue. It’s wise to look to our priests, bishops, and Church Dogma to find which things are debatable and which are simply not. Therein lies the difference. When our goal of being right surpasses our need for Truth, we are arguing in vain. Fortitude then morphs into stubborn will.
What is Fortitude not?
Fortitude is not prideful and it does not insist on 'winning' an argument for the sake of being right. Like Sarah and my toilet paper swap, we tend to cling to what we perceive as right just because: that's the way it's always been, that's how mom (or Dad) did it, or I simply like it that way. Fortitude rightly used, is a humble submission to Truth as taught by Holy Mother Church, to which we remain loyal because it is right and just and because God said so. When we know that these truths are absolute, we can proceed gently and share them. Fortitude allows us to stick it out instead of being cowed by opposition - because we know what we are sharing Truth, not our truth, but God's Truth. A recent story about Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa, CA gives us perfect witness of Fortitude. The good bishop is "requiring all 200 of his diocese’s Catholic schoolteachers to sign an affirmation of faith agreeing that “modern errors” such as contraception, abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and euthanasia are “matters that gravely offend human dignity". When met with opposition he begged the question of how a teacher, “can teach what the Catholic Church teaches with zeal and enthusiasm while holding, as they say, ‘in the privacy of their heart,’” views that are anti-Catholic". Since the issues he mentions are non-negotiable Truth (and always have been), his Fortitude illustrates an exemplary characteristic of the virtue a shepherd should display to his flock.
How do we make Fortitude our own?
During the season of Lent we can make it a point to become sensitive to those times when we bullishly strive to win an argument instead of converting with the heart of God and His Truth. We should scrutinize our own motivations and consciences, to distinguish whether or not we are seeking victory or the winning of souls. When we speak, are we speaking sincerely and with respect of those with whom we interact? Once we determine not our will, but His Will be done, we will be well on our way to practicing Fortitude. Otherwise we are simply allowing false pride to rule the day!