This post is part of a series on the four Cardinal Virtues. For the other posts in the series, click here.
At some point or another, we all encounter things in life that cause us to be afraid. Whether it’s sudden unemployment, making a life-altering choice, a sudden illness, or the prospect of physical pain, fear is a fact of life in a fallen world.
But how do we stare these difficulties in the face and not lose heart? By practicing the virtue of fortitude.
To better understand fortitude, we again turn to the Catechism, which defines it in the following way:
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. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
In short, fortitude is the ability to choose what is right even when everything inside of us and outside of us is telling us to run away in fear. It is the ability to stand firm in pursuing good in the face of danger and potential suffering.
Fortitude flows naturally from faith, hope, and charity. When we believe the promises of God (faith), and have confidence not in ourselves but in the strength of Christ (hope), and we are motivated by love (charity), we will find ourselves filled naturally with the virtue of fortitude.
The Lord of the Rings movies are some of my favorite films. While the movies are not entirely faithful to the books, I believe they capture several key elements Tolkien was trying to convey—one of which is the fortitude and perseverance of the humble hobbits.
One of my favorite moments from the series is in The Two Towers. After a long journey, Sam and Frodo are finally about to enter Mordor. They are tired, discouraged, and afraid of what awaits them. To add to their fear, the Nazgul are hunting the two hobbits relentlessly, and their chances of being captured or killed are astronomical.
Frodo, bearing the burden of the ring, is on the brink of giving up and turning for home. Sam too, is tired and afraid, but unlike Frodo, he possess an inner strength—fortitude that propels him to keep pressing on. In a stirring speech, he reminds Frodo exactly why they can’t quit. It is one of my favorite movie moments.
The key line in this speech is “Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going.” That is fortitude.
Putting fortitude into practice
Most of us in the West don’t have to face any real danger on a daily basis. But there are still ample opportunities for fortitude. Even crossing yourself and praying publicly requires a small amount of fortitude for most of us.
Perhaps the most obvious opportunity for fortitude, though, is while watching the moral and social collapse of the entire Western world. Before our eyes, a once great civilization, built on the bedrock of a shared Catholic faith, is falling into ruin. The new tyranny of relativism attacks all that is good, beautiful and true, while increasingly criminalizing dissent in the name of tolerance.
Violations of freedom of speech are rampant; the economy is teetering precariously; violence plagues our schools, shopping malls, and theaters; children are being sexualized; the family unit is crumbling; radical Islam is on the rise; the redefinition of marriage is celebrated. The list goes on and on. Frankly, it is all a bit terrifying, and I shudder to think about the world my children will grow up in.
But far from being a afraid, we need to be courageous in the face of these moral assaults. Now, more than ever, fortitude is needed among men, especially Catholic men. We are called to stand firm and recognize that, no matter how black things may seem, “there is good in this world, and it is worth fighting for.”