The Gift of Fortitude

Novena to the Holy Spirit (Introduction+Nine Days)

Day Four – Monday of the 7th week of Easter

Fortitude (or Courage as it's sometimes called) is a gift that gives us strength and endurance in a painful or difficult circumstance. Again it's in that grouping of the 'gifts of the heart' along with Holy Fear and Piety. Fortitude assists Piety when we struggle with our duty of worship.

Fortitude as a spiritual gift provides assistance in following the ways of the Lord. It's not the gift of strength alone, but strength in those particular circumstances that call us to witness to God. There are other forces that drive us also into action that have nothing to do with the spiritual gift of fortitude. Think of panic and fear as an aid to self preservation. Think of our ability to stampede over others and their rights in order to make our lives easy or safe. These forces have power and impulse like fortitude but are not guided in the ways of the Lord.

Fortitude helps us to bear our own weaknesses with grace, as we await our own conversion. Yes it can be a burden to have to endure our own lack of patience, or charity. And when we come to realize that we have to bear our own weaknesses, then we can also do better with bearing the weaknesses of others. Humiliations born of malice become transformative into spiritual profit with the help of Fortitude. Fortitude helps us to bear persecution, natural or spiritual. We can stand in the breech against ridicule or slander.

For reasons beyond the scope of this reflection, we as followers of Christ will always be confronted with persecutions and hardships [see these passages]. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." : this is one of the beatitudes and a truism of our Faith. Sadly this truism is sometimes stood on its head, as we seek to escape persecution, and worse, attack others in the name of 'defending ourselves or our Faith.' But the Lord says differently, [Matt 5:39-48] instructing us to 'Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us'. Thus our ability to practice the Christian virtue of Love often needs strength and courage: 'the gift of fortitude'.

I would say that endurance in tribulation (born in the manner that Christ himself preached and lived) is far more powerful than any other manner to convey the message of the Gospel. The Gospel stands in contradiction to the 'way of the world' the 'easy way'. While we seek to 'transform' our world with the gospel message, the reality is that we will never be able to embrace worldly values that overlook the gospel message of eternal life. This is one of the reasons why the world will forever persecute us. In this realization, the 'gift of fortitude' will always be our indispensable ally on our spiritual journey.

Fortitude is intimately linked with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love; as these must not only be 'declared', but put into lifelong practice, often in very difficult circumstances, even persecutions. True Christian fortitude endures this: even embraces it heroically unto death if necessary, and transforms the sting of persecution with the power of love and pardon of neighbor. In doing so, the true Christian message shines like an light that penetrates far beyond Christian rhetoric, logic and reason.

All of this talk of persecution can make us feel overwhelmed with sticking to the gospel message. To speak of the 'gift of fortitude' reminds us of something very unpleasant: spiritual battle and trial. But just as fortitude is a helper with genuine Christian love; so too should we remember that 'perfect love casts out fear' [see full passage here, 1 John 4:13-5:2] and provides a reason to desire fortitude. One of the techniques we're taught to handle natural fear is to take a deep breath. Likewise, in the spiritual realm we might try taking a 'deep spiritual breath filled with the Holy Spirit' and praying to God: "Lord please send the Spirit of Fortitude."

Reflection question: How might we develop and exercise this 'gift of fortitude' as a muscle?

Come Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful people. Enkindle in us the fire of your divine love.

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