By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
In my last two columns, I discussed the cardinal virtues of temperance and prudence. In this article I’ll be reflecting on fortitude, which is another cardinal virtue. Fortitude is the virtue of courage and strength. It enables us to endure adversity without giving in to despair. With fortitude we learn how to persevere despite difficult life situations. When life becomes difficult and we are faced with choices, it is the virtue of fortitude that helps us to withstand adversity without making wrong choices. It gives us the strength to choose the right course of action, regardless of the cost or the consequences that our decision may bring to our lives or our situation. It is fortitude that propels the virtue of prudence—it enables us to choose good and avoid evil, which is an act of prudence. Fortitude is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. When we are confronted with challenges to our faith, it is fortitude that enables us to stand for our faith and to defend our Christian values without fear. Fortitude helps us to confront evil and call it by its name. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, fortitude gives us the ability to restrain fear and moderate boldness. It is also a virtue of sacrifice which allows one to sacrifice even his life for the sake of the truth or for the sake of a good act. It is the virtue that drives a person to accept martyrdom rather than to commit a sin or deny the faith.
In order to develop the virtue of fortitude we must make a deliberate effort to instill the fear of God in our hearts, which means that we must desire the love of God above all things. This love of God enables us to see things with the eyes of faith so that we can submit to God’s will when things don’t go our way. An act of submission to God’s will is a stronghold of fortitude. When we are faced with difficult life situations, when we feel discouraged about life and tempted to act immorally or against the teachings of our faith in response to our difficult situation, it is this fear of God instilled in our hearts that gives us the courage to withstand the difficult situation without sinning. We must anticipate and prepare for difficult life situations and think about how to respond to them before they arise. It is a rare human being who does not experience difficulties in his life – financial problems, health issues, marital discord, wrong moral or social decisions (either his own or those of a spouse or a child), faith issues and all sorts of difficult situations. And these difficulties sometimes lead to irrational decisions that result in impulsive reactions.
Because the cardinal virtues are learned by practice, fortitude is a virtue that every Christian should learn so that it can help us in our decision making and make us hold steadfast to the demands of our faith. But it is even more important and necessary for parents who have the care of children. As a parent you must teach your family the need for deep reflection and consultation with the Holy Spirit in prayer before making any important life decision. When children grow up seeing their parents reflect and pray before making decisions or before taking a course of action, it gives them an example of how fortitude is practiced. And this is even more true when the parents show courage in accepting difficult life moments without allowing those moments to break up their families.
In a world where the substance of religion and faith is under attack, it is the responsibility of parents to take pains to teach their children about the faith and thus lead them to God. But this means that the parents themselves must be convinced of, and believe in, the substance of their faith. Let the children see and hear you talk about your faith in a loving way, and always be ready to explain it to someone else. By doing this you are setting a standard for your children, helping them develop the courage to speak about their faith and Christian values without shame or fear, and you are bringing up a generation of Christians who are bold enough to stand up for their faith. When children see or hear their parents speak with boldness and ease about their faith, they learn the virtue of fortitude. And that will enable them to speak about and stand for their faith without fear.
Father Jacob Dankasa is the pastor of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.