By Chris Fernandez
Looking at Biblical figures and stories of the Saints we find several examples of people who exemplified the virtue of fortitude; people like St. Thomas Moore who overcame great difficulty, temptation, and intense and often long suffering. These are prime examples of individuals who have allowed grace to transform their lives, and have born the fruit of heroic virtue. At times, faced with these examples, we examine ourselves and our virtues to find that we are sorely lacking. We are tempted to become discouraged, to quit, but this is precisely the battle which we must engage in to grow in fortitude. To choose to get up after falling to sin, to choose to strive forward against temptation to mediocrity, and engage in daily inviting God’s grace so that virtue might grow in us. To be faithful to our practice of daily prayer, and engage in all of our work with integrity.
The Saints have left us the example of those who sought perfection. Not perfection in being (this is not possible for fallen creatures this side of Heaven) but perfection in will, which grace promises and God commands: “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The distinction is that we are not held accountable for our weaknesses, our disordered attractions. We are held accountable for choosing the good despite of those weaknesses.
Grace perfects our fallen nature, and God’s “power is made perfect in [human] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In humility, we must see that we can do nothing apart from God (John 15:5). Striving to be ever more given over to God, embracing the reality of human weakness instead of the illusion of human autonomy, the saints cooperated with the work of grace in their souls. This pursuit of perfection is then one of relentlessly seeking and choosing God over earthly desires, and a continual dying to self.
When my weakness tells me that I would prefer to sleep later instead of being faithful to my morning prayer, I deny my flesh, and, seeing my weakness, I give myself over to God, entrusting myself to His grace, and choose to pray. After a long day at work, when I come home and want to disengage and be waited on, I deny my flesh, get down on the floor and play with my kids, and help my wife get dinner ready. In the middle of the night when my child cries because they don’t feel good or because they peed their bed and I want to stay in bed to let my wife take care of it, I deny my flesh, go console my kid, bathe them and change their sheets.
These acts require fortitude. But, in some ways, a secular man can choose these actions as well. However, what I am pursuing is not just some image of myself as a good father and husband. I am seeking God. And God has chosen for us married men this path of service and love. When I take that path, I take it because it leads to God – it was laid by Him.
Countless times each day we are faced with such choices, temptations to shortcuts, to indulge our weakness; the call is to avoid the easy road, and choose the harder path. The grace and virtue of fortitude is born of repeatedly choosing to deny the flesh, the “old” man, and embrace the “new” man, the life of Christ which was planted within us at Baptism (2 Corinthians 5:17). Persevere then in the ongoing battle of death to self, and taking up the life of Christ, and allow the fruit of fortitude to grow ripe. And should you one day, like St. Thomas, be called to choose between this life and your eternal reward, may you, like St. Thomas, have plenty of fruit to throw in Satan’s face.