“Move from fear to fearlessness.”
“Let your faith be bigger than your fear.”
While there are small specks of truth contained in these modern axioms, it’s actually better to pray for fortitude.
Fortitude is unique in the sense that it is included among both the cardinal virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s a valuable and necessary aspect of our spiritual advancement.
Interestingly, fortitude isn’t exclusively courage, as many of us were taught when we memorized the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit for our Confirmation preparation classes. There are actually, according to Thomistic scholars, six sub-virtues, or parts, that comprise the totality of fortitude.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, magnanimity is “striving for excellence in all things, but especially in great things.” The vice opposed to magnanimity is pusillanimity, or “smallness of soul.” Can you imagine working toward greatness in everything you do? It would be intense and difficult, but that’s essentially fortitude – our “willingness to engage the arduous.”
Magnanimity means one holds nothing back from others and is undeterred in giving of oneself, even until it hurts. It’s easy to remain rooted in mediocrity in our modern era, to be afraid of taking risks and overcoming necessary hurdles, or discovering lessons gleaned from failure. But it’s much more difficult to stay the course and seek beauty, truth, and goodness in all that we think, say, and do.
Magnanimity, then, is generosity of our time.
When I was younger, “magnificent” was a worn-out adjective often describing a wizard in a fantasy tale. But it’s actually specific to what we do with our money. A person who chooses to do great things with his wealth is considered magnificent. Even if you aren’t particularly wealthy, this does apply to how you spend your money, and on what.
The contrary vice is stinginess or miserliness. Think Ebenezer Scrooge, hoarding every last coin while living in a mansion filled with rags and cobwebs. We don’t have to be quite that extreme, but it’s still possible to be stingy if you have very little money. The point of this virtue is to give what we have in a spirit of total trust. Sometimes this means stretching ourselves a little bit and donating something unbudgeted or giving more than what we think we can.
Magnificence is generosity of treasure.
Patience is equated with “long-suffering,” or our acceptance of suffering hardships, persecutions, and trials. Each of us can think of several examples in which we struggle with patience: long lines, waiting for a coworker to complete his part of a project, and uncertainty after diagnostic tests are complete but no answer is yet given, etc.
There are little, nagging things that grate on our nerves each day, too, but these are opportunities for us to practice patience. Their cumulative effects produce abundant grace that leads us closer toward a life of fortitude. Conversely, fearlessness and audacity are two vices that lead us toward impulsivity and reckless behavior rather than enduring necessary evils.
St. Paul notably wrote about perseverance, sometimes comparing it to endurance: “We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character…” (Romans 5: 3).
When we persevere, it means we are persisting in every difficulty that we know will lead us to eventual good. For example, as a writer, I frequently encounter obstacles, whether interior or exterior, to completing a book or article. If I choose to persevere, I am making an act of the will to bear the burdens while keeping the good end in sight.
Vices opposed to perseverance include presumption and effeminacy; both are a lack of engaging what is arduous, the former because we think we can achieve the good end without God’s assistance, and the latter because we just want to avoid what’s tough in order to appeal to pleasure.
Perseverance is the generosity of talent.
If you understand the agony of waiting, then you have probably received an invitation to grow in longanimity. Literally meaning “longness of soul,” it indicates how well we wait for what is good. Think of pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, she knows the gestational period is vital to the developing child’s brain and organs. In turn, she doesn’t want to expedite the birth of her baby; instead, she waits.
We can think of how the Blessed Mother went “in haste” to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, so that they could both wait with the anticipation of joy for the arrival of the Savior and His cousin. Therefore, if God is asking you to wait for something beautiful and good, believe He will complete the work He has begun in you.
Finally, mortification is our “willingness to suffer.” Through small, daily sacrifices, we learn to deny ourselves pleasure for the sake of something greater. Essentially, mortification is an act of the will that purifies our souls to accomplish the great work God has planned for our lives. We are choosing to bypass a particular delight (e.g., morning coffee) in order for our souls to be strengthened.
Fortitude fortifies the soul; it is derived from the Latin word, “fortitudo,” which means strength. If we are to face the unexpected calamities and atrocities of life, we will need fortitude. It will ground us in the midst of confusion and panic; it will grant us unwavering confidence and peace in the face of persecution and hatred; and it will lead us onward wherever Jesus leads us, in fidelity in both life and death.