There is a joy in reaching one’s goal, even as simple as getting that Christmas tree up and its decorations for The Lord’s Nativity, or finding that special gift for someone that will say a Merry Christmas to them, or cooking a great meal and having the satisfaction of serving it out, or praying a rosary for nine days and then giving it as a petition to someone as a Christmas present—in the greeting you send to them, as a spiritual bouquet. There are a lot of examples of getting onto a good task and completing it—and this is a simple, concrete example of the joy of fortitude, a Cardinal Virtue of our Catholic Faith. Fortitude is the good practice of steadfastness towards a goal, to a thing accomplished, and it’s the staying power of remaining at something you are meant to be or to do. Put it to a spiritual aspect of faith: we are meant to be steadfast in our trust in God, our practice as “the body of Christ,” our service to His Name, our love and worship, and our sacred promises, duties and responsibilities. When we indeed live this out, even if never perfectly, there is an experience of virtuousness! What takes place with this? Goodness arises from within us and into the world, and it helps in building the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, ushering in the New Order in the Reign of God. It’s big doin’s, as I heard said in an expression in Ohio. Big doin’s. Fortitude delivers big doin’s.
St. John the Baptist is a model of fortitude. He was steadfast to his ministry as prophet, and we hear of him living out his call, in the Gospel verses today of Luke 3. It says of the success of his mission: “…the people were filled with expectation..(as John was) exhorting them in many… ways, he (verily) preached good news to the people.” The result and fulfillment of his staying with his vocation and ministry was the revealing of the long awaited Anointed of the Lord, “the One so much mightier than I… (as JB points out. He says Jesus is now come)… to baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
These lines tell of fortitude’s blessing—it is to see something or many good things through to the end. In the example of JB’s steadfast ministry. Jesus was proclaimed by him; Jesus came, the people had Him pointed out to them by John, the prophet said “follow Him,” and Jesus saved the people—mission accomplished by John. The rose candle represents joy today, and there is a joy in salvation, and a joy in serving the Lord devoutly and steadfastly, even against many obstacles in the way. Our joyful hope celebrated in this Advent Sunday III: Glory is arriving in the Lord Jesus, He Who Comes, and He is our Joy.
In the first reading of the prophet we hear the words of a faithful minor prophet Zephaniah, and he has a message of courage and fortitude to the Hebrews seeking to live in faithfulness to God’s covenant with them. Zephaniah prophesizes: “The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, (people , so) you have no further misfortune to fear. On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst.”
Fortitude as a Cardinal Virtue is a word from God like the prophets’ “Fear not…. Don’t be discouraged. Be strong, that is, like God be your strength. God is in your midst.”
There is something we can rejoice in. God is in our midst. We can fortitude because of that.
Here’s more. Pay heed to what Zephaniah says in this chapter 3, versus 1-18 verses, as it says: The LORD, your God, [Who is in your midst] , the Mighty Savior…He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.
In this text, God the Savior says He rejoices over you, gladly, and wants to renew you in His love. As He sees you striving to live in fortitude, the steadfast walk of faith—He sings joyfully of you.
This text was written first to faithful Hebrews in Advent to the First Christmas coming, but it also can apply to us, any faithful believers now, in Advent to the Second Coming. He will rejoice over you.
So Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday is not just about our rejoicing of salvation come and its fulfillment coming, but it is God rejoicing over us. Cool! Wonderful!
In the gospel, people are turning from sin, even hard core sinners like the tax collectors, and brutal soldiers, and corrupt officials, and haughty people—so the Gospel reminds us that giving in to the Lord, and giving to Him (like that we have done in many donated items to the needy this Thanksgiving through Advent time, and like some have done in pledges to this parish)—this steadfast spirit of renewal and seeking holiness has a huge reward in it—everlasting life, with the lead in of friendship with God in Christ Jesus. Awesome.
Permit me to teach a few things on Fortitude here to you. We ought to petition God for it, and recall how the epistle today asks us to petition God for matters of our new hearts and minds…
Fortitude is a Cardinal Virtue, one of the four that great saints like Thomas Aquinas taught about in the Summa Theologiae (II, IIae, qq. 123-140). The Cardinal Virtues are prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice.
Not only is fortitude a cardinal virtue, it is also one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit, of course, elevates this natural moral virtue to something greater and more directly rooted in faith and in God. In the Gift of the Spirit, it often is talked about with courage. Courage and Fortitude are like two strong sisters. Courage is more of the hearty act, bold, and a bit daring. Fortitude is more of the steadfast, reliable, ongoing, immovable good position of strength carried out. They both need good determination to be lived out. Courage and Fortitude are not often the choice of the mainstream society, for it asks much of a person or persons. Vice or vices are the much more favored way to go in the world, which is about sin, and it engages in debasement, debauchery, perversion, lawlessness, carnality, evildoing, iniquities, wrongs, maleficence and the like. That list describes, unfortunately, what goes on every day in regularity in society now. Not virtue.
Virtue is needed today. Desperately. Fortitude is needed. Desperately. Fortitude is a love of goodness, which is the Goodness of God, and the staying power to live in the conviction of goodness and love in Christ is an exercise in fortitude.
I quote a priest friend on a definition: ‘The Cardinal Virtue of Fortitude enables us to withstand even great difficulties that hinder us from attaining our true goal(s). A chief feature of fortitude is being able to see an act or decision through to the end despite all the obstacles in the way. It is not merely being bold in the face of danger or sallying forth into battle; it is also being steadfast in the face of difficulties and enduring without sadness or loss of faith.’ He goes on, that, ‘In its strictest and loftiest sense, fortitude is the virtue that enables us to face the danger of death; for the faith if that’s the cost, in this sense it is at the root of martyrdom.’ That is the testimony of John the Baptist, and why he is such a strong example of fortitude. However, fortitude is operative at every level short of mortal danger as well. You can have fortitude in a regular situation, and it would be shown by your spirit of endurance for something or someone. You are keeping in there by faith, holding forth, holding on, not shaken by worldly pressures. So, the chief and most common act of fortitude is enduring in order to see a thing through, despite obstacles, hardships, persecution, and any number of other difficulties.’ (Thanks to my friend for that explanation.)
I think fortitude was in the topic of Pope Francis’ discussion this past week is interpreting a line from the Lord’s Prayer. Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer—“lead us not into temptation”—might be better translated as ““Do not let us fall into temptation, Lord,” or compared to the common petition, God give me strength, for I am weak and need help.
In essence, the pope said, about this prayer line of the Our Father, is that we should pray God for inner resolve, as in courage and fortitude, to win in the spiritual realm and it’s battles. Pope Francis sees the prayer, from the Sermon on the Mount, is in asking God, When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand. I will seek power within me to fight sin, a power You have invested in me.
St. Paul speaks from prison in his epistles of a joy he has, even there, and near death, as the apostle says: I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have run the course, or race. Therefore there lays before me the crown of righteousness, which the Righteous Judge will give me in the fulfillment of all things. That language of Paul is a celebration of fortitude in his life.
As I have noted before, “every virtue observes or consists of the mean” (omnis virtus in medio consistit). Virtue is the middle ground between excess and defect. Fortitude is no exception. There are two extremes opposed to fortitude: one is timidity, a spirit of fear, of smallness, of soft compromise—that is the defect of virtue on one extreme end. Here we just refuse to own up to what is asked of us by God. We shirk on our responsibilities. I have preached on our need not to error in that way. We need not grieve the Holy Spirit like that. Fear is a block to His work. On the
Insensibility to fear or foolhardiness or perhaps stubbornness is the excess in the other end or extreme to this virtue. As noted, there are some things we should reasonably fear and avoid. Insensibility or foolhardiness causes us to rush into danger when not required. Sometimes, without using prudence or temperance, we go do hard things or things the hard way with God never asking us to do so. It’s a pride thing. Or sometimes, we make it hard to grow as a Catholic Christian because we are stubborn about something, and we revel in a weakness, and won’t let strength come our way via God’s Spirit. As a result, this excess amounts to a form of stupidity, pride, impulsiveness, and/or presumption.
Thus, fortitude as a virtue stands in the middle between cowardice and foolhardiness, between being gripped by fear or by stubbornness. Fortitude regulates our tendencies to these extremes.
Take a look at your life, as I with mine, and see where the virtue of fortitude is needed. I know I need to be steadfast in my age after 60 in health matters, like weight control. I can’t afford a fearful give-up spirit to the battle of the bulge, nor can I be so stubborn as not to change some ways, ignoring that those habits aren’t working for me. God give me strength to be the better me, the authentic or true me, the healthy me, the person I am meant to be right now.
The school of fortitude is in session until the last day we are alive on earth. Lessons are meant to be learned here, for the progress of our soul and salvation.
Another area of my life is ongoing work is of living in a chaste celibate manner. The Church and Jesus Christ does call me to this way of life, as to be a path to Heaven. I think of the single and chaste St. John the Baptist having taken this path, or St. Lucy (Dec. 13th feast) or St. Anthony. I take it, too, and as I accept the celibate, chaste life, as to be best of service to you and to God—as a gift—I need the exercise of fortitude , for I want to keep to it. Fortitude is the gift of the steadfast disciple to stay on the path God is leading them on. In a philosophical phrase of the same: To thine own self be true. Fortitude is goodness in the habit of practice of staying on the holy path.
I could wrap it up here, but I’d like just to mention some “daughters” of fortitude, of which St. Thomas Aquinas teaches of fortitude. Just as the seven deadly sins have related sins which spring from them, the virtues have what St. Thomas calls “parts” of goodness to spur us on in fortitude.
The first is Magnanimity – This word literally means “large-minded” and it refers to pondering great things such that we are inspired to yearn for or pursue them. Magnanimity helps us to comprehend with our mind the things that are great, honorable, virtuous, and worthwhile. We can lay hold of a good and big picture, as in becoming face to face with God in Glory as a lofty goal It can spur on our lives to some courageous and strong acts!
The second is Magnificence – This word literally means doing great things. With magnanimity we consider great, virtuous, and honorable things to pursue; with magnificence we set about accomplishing them, overcoming difficulties and being willing to make sacrifices to do so. I think we need to more realize the Gift of God in us, and His life in our souls, and partake of that magnificence. Each of us has the magnificence of the Lord and His call in us. It ought to be a driving force for God in us. It can lead to “big doin’s.”
The third and fourth parts of the goodness of Fortitude are Patience and Perseverance. – Patience helps us to resist giving way to sadness and to bear up under the difficulties of life with a certain equanimity or steadiness of soul. We’ll arrive at our destination, even if it is by the Testudo method, step by slow, steady step. Perseverance helps us to pursue good purposes steadily in spite of difficulties, delays, fatigue, and the common temptation to eventual indifference if results are not quickly forthcoming. Many worthy goals take a long time, even generations, to accomplish. Perseverance keeps us steadfast. I think with the Church renewal we are looking for this is a call to action. For people, clergy and laity who care for their Church, to persevere in their speaking truth in love for serious renewal or reform to where we are failing atop, and some sober look at how many laity are lax in their practices, and cause some scandal too. We need change. Fortitude will be helpful for the Church, and each of us, to be who we ought to be. ##
SOLDIERS OF THE LORD—REMINDER
Romans 8: 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? ….35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.