There are two great forms of courage: one consists in doing, the other consists in suffering. Which of the two is the more meritorious?
At war, in regiments and battalions, the men discuss their preference. Which is better: to seize a position by assault, or to organize and hold a position already taken?
Honor surely belongs to those who run toward danger. Honor also belongs to those who, without running toward it, do not fear it when it threatens to fall upon them at every moment. The first form of courage has more outward glory, and for that reason, it is perhaps easier. The second form is more humble. It does not imply less bravery but a bravery of another quality. To rush forth is magnificent; to run into danger in spite of the trembling due to sensibility, or the hesitations suggested by reason of some hidden cowardice, is courage. For courage is “the art of being afraid without showing it,” and it is to act as if one were brave in spite of interior protests. But to persevere in trial, especially when the trial lasts and when its burden each day becomes heavier, shows another valor.
To persevere in spite of the time that stretches out endlessly, in spite of increasing privations, in spite of conditions that grow worse, the deepening perplexities, and an uncertain tomorrow; to persevere in trusting the call of one’s country, not because we think that it cannot be saved without our effort but in order to encourage ourselves and to give all our strength to the common cause; to persevere in order that our example may fortify our neighbor; to persevere not with empty talk but with determination; to persevere without letting ourselves be deceived by news that flatters our hopes too much; to persevere even if the darkest night and the most frightful storms come upon us; to persevere up to the moment when the dawn will break.
Here is a letter written by an officer to his young wife in 1939 at the beginning of World War II, a man who would later be killed while defending his retreating division. On September 13, 1939, he wrote: “Let us be frank: the thought of the sacrifice which it may be necessary to make for the welfare and peace of humanity has not been a source of joy. I cannot hide from you that I have had some periods, fortunately short, in which thoughts of discouragement have assailed me.” We see that the captain wishes neither to boast nor to profess sentiments that he does not feel. He is loyal; he is humble. Then, having reflected and prayed better, he can add: “Now with the help of God, whom I, like you, have the happiness to receive every day, the sacrifice is accepted in its entirety. Its different aspects have been presented to me. I have looked at them squarely, and with God’s grace, I am no longer afraid.”
What is to be said of such words? As long as there spring from the soil men capable of speaking thus, of feeling thus, and of sacrificing themselves thus, we must feel ourselves animated with loftier hopes. Beyond doubt, there is here an instance of a chosen soul. But in our times, should not all souls be chosen souls or become such?
We must not force our strength, and we must not consider ourselves more brave and more capable of endurance than we are. Let us examine our conscience: if we are still cowards, we should be willing to acknowledge it. “The thought of the sacrifice has not been a source of joy.”
We must not consent to remain at that stage. We must understand the great interests that are at stake, what our country demands of us, and what God asks of us. If we have faith, let us pray; for in order to accept the sacrifice, grace is necessary and grace is bought. Let us ask it for those who do not have the good fortune to believe or who have only a tepid faith.
May all succeed in being able to render themselves the beautiful words: “The sacrifice is accepted in its entirety. . . I have looked at them squarely, and with God’s grace, I am no longer afraid.”
Editor’s Note: The above excerpt is taken from Uncommon Virtue: Everyday Methods for Attaining Spiritual Excellence, available now from Sophia Institute Press.