This is the seventh in a seven-part series on the seven moral and theological virtues listed in the Catechism. They are faith, hope, charity (love), prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The series will take a closer look at how these virtues are tested in this life and how we can grow in these virtues.
Fortitude is an essential virtue for the suffering soul. It embraces faith, hope, and charity and strengthens the suffering soul, nourishing it with perseverance and infusing the soul with hope. For those of you who are chronically suffering, blessed be God for fortitude.
Just like we discussed with all of the previous virtues, we can grow in fortitude throughout our lifetime. As we prepare for growth in fortitude in our preparation for trials, it is then strengthened and refined in suffering. In this world of trials, it is so easy to get distracted by the wind and the waves of the world. There are many distractions, fears, worries, tragedies and pain. But just as Jesus called Peter’s attention back to him when Peter was walking on the water and became afraid of the wind and the waves, so too does Jesus call our attention back to him in our moments of weakness in our suffering.
If we are to grow in fortitude in our suffering, we must be prepared to continuously redirect our eyes back to the Lord. In the midst of suffering, we will be tempted to give in to sin. We will be tempted to blame God, to turn away from him, and we will be tempted to be hopeless for fear that the suffering will never end. But friends, no matter the trial, we must continuously redirect our eyes to the cross of Christ. This is fortitude.
If we want to be called disciples of Christ, we must know this involves following Christ. Christ’s mission was redemption of the world through suffering and death. When we commit to being Christ’s disciples, we should not do so casually because the cross will be heavy. But when we take up our cross with Christ, we join in his mission.
St. Paul tells the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of his body, which is the Church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Colossians 1:24) When we suffer with eyes on the cross, our suffering takes on a new meaning. Suffering has new, redemptive meaning in the cross.
So, when we find ourselves suffering, we should set our eyes on the cross and redirect our eyes time and time again back to the cross. We should also remember that we do not suffer alone. Yes, there will be many times that we will be physically alone in suffering. We can feel abandoned by others and alone in our pain. But each of us have our own individual lives and souls, and we must endure the road of loneliness just as Christ endured the loneliness in the garden and even in his death on the cross. There will not always be physical comfort for us in our sufferings, but we must fight the temptation to give into the loneliness and feelings of abandonment.
The devil and sin will try to take advantage of our human weaknesses in suffering. Praise be God for the sacrament of reconciliation. We can easily forget to partake in this sacrament when we are suffering. We make excuses for being too busy or being too distracted, and maybe we are hurting too much. In our weakness, sin wants to abound, but it is here that grace abounds all the more. (Romans 5:20-21) One of the ways grace abounds is in this sacrament. So, do not wait for the sins to accumulate. Seek help and support not just in others but in the sacraments. It is here that the Holy Spirit can aide us in growing in fortitude. It is in the sacraments that we are nourished by God and where we can continue to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
All of the virtues act in support of another. We can use our knowledge of the virtues and our desire to grow in them to help us utilize specific virtues in our lives. In our journey with the Holy Spirit to grow in holiness, God has given us specific tools to live this life, and seven of these tools are the virtues. When we become familiar with them, we can better use them and refine them, and we can then be prepared to live our lives as disciples of Christ, especially within suffering.