To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
Defending a Just Cause Despite Difficulties? Fortitude Is Your Virtue
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
a pain! I don’t understand it. Anyway, I’m tired after basketball practice. I’m
going to watch TV or play a video game.”
Life is hard. Escape is easy. Sound
like a familiar lament — and solution — for any youngsters in your life? If so,
that boy or girl needs practice in the third cardinal virtue: fortitude.
But what exactly is
fortitude? It’s the moral virtue that “ensures firmness in difficulties and
constancy in the pursuit of the good,” we read in the Catechism (No. 1808). “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.”
Like all the virtues, this one is
best learned not by rote but in real-life situations.
Take Jesus that first Good Friday.
He showed fortitude par excellence when he endured the scourging, the crowning
with thorns, the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion.
Closer to home, Olivia Belk, an
eighth grader at St. Gertrude School in Cincinnati, recently learned about
fortitude while participating in a science fair. She needed to explain to
onlookers what was going on while she conducted an experiment.
“Sometimes the experiment wouldn’t
quite work out and you had to start over,” the 14-year-old recalls. “It’s really
stressful and difficult, and there are many times you feel like collapsing and
giving up. But if you don’t continue, you won’t do well.”
St. Gertrude classmate Mike Wright
recently had his chance to apply this virtue, too. Under pressure to write a
short story in a writing competition, he prayed for fortitude. “It helped me
focus and continue on to the end,” he says. Asked for another example, he says
he finishes his soccer games even when his feet are sore.
“Fortitude is a gift of the Holy
Spirit,” says their classmate Katie Normand. “It helps us to persevere in times
of difficulty and helps us to be fearless.”
It takes a little dying to self for
children and adults to practice fortitude when confronted by all the negative
influences in today’s culture. Legionary Father Ernest Daly, director and
editor of an educational program called Our Faith in Action, points
out that the formation we get living by emotions, music and entertainment makes
it hard for kids to persevere.
At the same time, he notes, some cultural
influences have their positive sides. Organized sports, for example, often
demand formation in fortitude, discipline, dedication and will power.
Considering that many youngsters
have sports heroes, Dominican Sister Bernadette, principal of St. Gertrude
School, finds fortitude appealing to students. She says it’s also one of the
easiest virtues for them to understand because it’s commonly seen on the
The school’s virtues program takes
what the youngsters already know and value about fortitude, shows them what it
means when rooted in Christ and encourages them to apply it in daily life.
And, of course, the exemplary saint
they study to learn this virtue — St. Paul — used sports references to teach
“Do you not know that the runners in
the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win”
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27). “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They
do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run
aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and
train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be
Key to Character
Parents already see the lessons
taking effect. Beth Wright watched her son Mike and his teammates combine both
levels of fortitude at a recent basketball game.
“The other team wasn’t behaving”
like gentlemen and good sportsmen, she says. “Our guys told them to watch their
language.” That took moral courage, she notes — not to mention the theological
virtue of charity in issuing the dose of “tough love.”
Likewise, Mary Tappel describes her
son Chris’ football experience.
“Two days before the season started,
he broke his arm — yet he attended every practice and game for the whole season,”
says the proud mom. “He never played, but he was there encouraging his
teammates every day. I consider that a great example of the practice of
St. Gertrude’s teaches its students
practical ways to grow in fortitude: Don’t give in to discouragement. Persevere
to finish a task and do it well. Learn the value of sacrifice by forgoing
comfort to sit up straight at your desk. And, of course, pray daily for an
increase in fortitude.
What about outside of school?
Volunteering to help with chores around the house is among the many ways Father
Daly recommends to build fortitude. Through this practice, young people learn
to give of themselves.
“Sacrificing your own time to help
others,” he says, “shows you’re building up strength of character.”
To build fortitude, Father Daly
suggests youngsters set small, measurable goals.
“Even spending more time talking
with members of their family rather than just sitting in front of the computer
or TV” can go a long way toward building fortitude, he says.
Fortitude’s sub-virtue of patience
comes into play, too. St. Gertrude student Alex Perra, 14, can use what he has
learned and practiced to help others now. Says Perra, “When my little brother
Andrew has a project and he gets discouraged, I tell him to keep going and
finish the project.”
Fortitude is often taught by
wordless example, as Father Daly points out.
“Parents, by the fact they’re
persevering in their marriage and commitment to their children, are already
showing fortitude to the children,” he says.
Mom and Dad add inspiration to
education when they show “patience in the midst of difficulties such as
sickness in the family, helping take care of older persons, or moments of
Father Daly is quick to add that,
when children see a parent sacrificing, they “realize that their parents are
often real heroes.”
“My dad goes to work every day to
keep us in a Catholic school,” says Olivia Belk. “Then he brings my sister and
me to basketball, and doesn’t get home till 7. He does it every day. He doesn’t
Fortitude fuels this perseverance.
And should ultimately help build faith in Christ.
As Father Daly reminds, kids may be
tired at the end of the day or have other interests, but they’ve got to look at
the priorities. “God is No. 1,” he says. “Your life is a gift from him.”
Young people also quickly pick up on
the fact that it takes real sacrifice to spend quiet time with the Lord in
prayer, adds the priest. After all, other demands on your time — not to mention
constant temptations to procrastinate or postpone — are always beckoning.
And it’s not only kids who face
“You really do need fortitude,” says
Father Daly, “to have a strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.