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Front Row With Francis: The Gift of Fortitude

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” –GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Continuing his Catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis used this week’s lesson to discuss the gift of fortitude. When we consider the Gifts of the Spirit, fortitude is rarely one that any of us would call to mind. It is an interior virtue that is only manifest during times of trial.

What is fortitude? Thomas Aquinas defines it, generally, “as simply denoting a certain firmness of mind,” and he even defines it as a necessary virtue since every virtue requires the ability “to act firmly and immovably” (ST II-II 123,2). It is numbered among the gifts of the spirit in Isaiah 11:2 along with wisdom, understanding, and counsel—the first three Gifts that the Holy Father reflected upon in his Catechesis. Pope Francis said of these first three gifts that they “enable us to contemplate God’s loving plan and to know his will,” and the gift of fortitude enables us to have the strength to do God’s will, even in times of trial.

We often think of fortitude as denoting a foolhardiness or recklessness with one’s life. In this context, it is rather more of strength in spirit that can withstand the general struggles that all Christians go through as well as the extraordinary trials such as persecution. In the heart of a Christian, fortitude is necessary for all the other gifts to fully take root and to grow into an unshakable faith.

The Holy Father made reference to Christ’s parable of the sower and the seeds. In Matthew 13 Christ gives a parable where seeds are scattered and, while many are consumed by birds or grow to die, a few actually hit the soil and blossom. Pope Francis discusses the seeds which were scattered in the rocky soil and at first spring into plants but, because they lacked a deep bed of earth, withered and died when they tried to take root.

Unique among the parables of Christ, the Lord actually gives an explanation for this parable and elucidates what the seeds on the stony grown signify. Christ states:

“And he that received the seed upon stony ground, is he that heareth the word, and immediately receiveth it with joy. Yet hath he not root in himself, but is only for a time: and when there ariseth tribulation and persecution because of the word, he is presently scandalized (Matthew 13:20-21).”

Pope Francis notes that this parable applies to many of us for, “The seed of God’s word sown in our hearts can encounter not only interior resistance, but also be choked by life’s sufferings and trials.” The seeds of faith can easily take blossom in us, but how often do they start to wither when we encounter the slightest suffering and difficulty?

While it’s a popular Christian cliché to say, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” we have all been to a point where the tragedies of life can overtake us as if were a small ship in a storm. Like the seeds in Christ’s parable, we were eager and found immediate life in faith, but the rockiness of our days can keep us from going deeper. The good news is that God did not abandon us, but is with us and can even give us the grace to stand and grow.

The Holy Spirit can dispense to us the gift of fortitude so that the seeds of faith find a rich soil to take root and withstand any trials that come upon us. This gift of fortitude is exercised daily through prayer and meditation, seeking to find the strength to endure our days. As Pope Francis assures us:

“Through the gift of fortitude, the Holy Spirit enables us to remain faithful amid every difficulty and – as the experience of so many Christians around the world shows – even amid persecution and martyrdom.”

Especially in this time of persecution in the Middle East, Africa, and (increasingly) in other parts of the world, we need to seek the Holy Spirit for the gift of fortitude to strengthen our faith; to provide that deep, rich earth that we can stand firm in.


Michael Lichens is an editor at Catholic Exchange.
  • goral

    Shouldn’t the Catholic Church be doing something to counter the murder of
    Christians around the world? Shouldn’t the Christian nations be doing something more? And lastly, shouldn’t the Catholics in this country be outraged to the point of rally’s demanding the release of innocent girls if not Christian men. You can’t talk about fortitude without a call to action on behalf of the persecuted.

    • I ask this as a serious question. Francis proclaimed a day of fasting, confession and penance for the universal church in reparation for the plight of Christians, and to prevent a new war from being started that would likely wipe out even more Christians.

      He has spoken on at least 3-4 different occasions about their plight, and if all else fails encouraging people to be bold in matrydom. He is also visiting the Middle East, where even by accident he would bring to mind the plight of Christians there.

      What more can Francis do realistically? Are we expecting him to go all Urban III, shout “onward christian soldiers” and start a new crusade?

      Yes, Catholics should be outraged at the massacre of the Holy Innocents going on in the Middle East. Yet they aren’t going to do so because many Catholic conservative and Tea Party leaders still want more muscular action in the middle East, and the thought of making the plight of Catholics even worse isn’t a selling point.

      There’s also the fact that these are Eastern Catholics, and Eastern Catholics have always sorta been second-class citizens in ‘Murikan Rite Catholicism.

      • Shawn McElhinney

        Well said on all points, Kevin!

      • goral

        Proclamations for prayer and fasting are always good. The statement: I’ll be there in spirit really means I’m not showing up.
        On the other hand, the cry of “onward Christian soldiers” usually means that we have to have a physical, real presence.
        Crusades are not cool unless you’re Islam, then we understand because Muhammad was underprivileged.

        “Yes, Catholics should be outraged at the massacre of the Holy Innocents
        going on in the Middle East. Yet they aren’t going to do so because
        many Catholic conservative and Tea Party leaders still want more
        muscular action in the middle East, and the thought of making the plight
        of Catholics even worse isn’t a selling point.”
        There’s that privileged Tea Party to blame again.
        In any case I can’t make sense that that paragraph.

        • With all due respect, it seems like you’re just angry with the Pope about something, but you haven’t developed a coherent critque of him. You seem to think he should do more about the plight of Middle East christians, you just aren’t sure of what.

          As far as the remark about the middle east, everyone from Catholic intellectual leaders in First Things to Tea Party darlings like Sarah Palin have favored a muscular foreign policy in the MIddle East. One of the by-products of said muscular foreign policy has been the near evisceration of Christian communities there, as militant mobs, jihadist terrorists, and corrupt government officials have worked together to squeeze these ancient communities out. Most who favor said policy aren’t willing to realize the choices they advocated help lead to that situation. That’s a big reason we aren’t hearing anything about it.

          • goral

            The Middle East problem has no solution. Islam, in its extreme form can not co-exist with any other religion. We don’t understand any of that because our thinking is economically and morally practical. We do not
            treat historical phenomena with reference to their causes, antecedent conditions, and cultural considerations. As a result, our policy in that region is a failure.

            Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako said:
            “1,400 years of Islam could not uproot us from our land and our churches, while the policies of the West [have] scattered us and distributed us all around the world,”

            That is a pretty coarse and accurate indictment of the christian West. It’s true, I really don’t know what can be done to correct this. I’m not a wonk. It’s obvious that neither Party has the right policy. Actually, the Tea Party is probably the most opposed to our interventionist, nation-building and disjointed foreign policy. Sarah Palin did just fine as governor of the largest track of land that is both wild and civilized. She was never in charge of our foreign policy.
            On the other hand the stalwart leftist hacks that you don’t bring up, Benghazi Hillary and Vietcong Kerry have been in charge of our foreign policy.

            The Middle East is lost. Middle America is lost. Christians everywhere are under attack and suffering.

            To quote one of the darlings of the democrat/catholic alliance, “What difference at this point does it make?!”

            My problem with Pope Francis is that he’s not making much of a difference either for the numerous statements that he makes.

          • But if there’s nothing that can be done, what do you expect him to do?

            Criticism is fine, but it actually has to have an alternative to actually be relevant.

          • goral

            There is no solution to the Mideast turmoil. Some blame the establishment of the State of Israel as the basis of the ageless acrimony. If Israel was to pick up and swap places with Cyprus or Sardinia, the Muslims would then shout: death to both Cyprus and Sardinia. Something can and must be done to keep militant Islamists at bay. Something can and must be done to safeguard the property and lives of Christians. Something can be done to facilitate and promote cooperation among the sensible factions involved.
            Use your connections to this regime and get me appointed Sec. of State. I can’t possibly do worse than these clowns. I would then have access to the kind of information that would allow me formulate a relevant alternative. I don’t have that info. now. I find out about things on the news, just as our feckless and criminally incompetent leader does.
            I would also ask the Pope to give me a division of doers, not talkers.

          • Catholic Fast Food Worker

            Kevin, goral, thanks for discussion. Christ the King (in total contrast to false ‘prophet’ Mohammad) commands us to love our Human enemies, as humanity (made in His Image) is the Object of God’s great Love; we can only hate & act “violently” against the Evil Spirits (fallen angels). Christians do spiritual warfare only (as shown in exorcisms & such); Muslims do Worldly warfare. The King of all the Universe was willing to become our servant (the most lowliest of servant) even unto death on the Cross because of God’s amazing love for us mere Humans & to obey His Father’s Will. King becomes the Servant, the Shepherd becomes the sacrificial Lamb. This is what we must give to Muslims without fear. “Islam” means “submission” (to God & His Will) in Arabic. There is no greater Islam (“submission”) than that of Christ Jesus innocently dying on the Cross to submit to God’s will. Islam, ironically, denies the great historical Islam (“submission”) of Jesus on the Cross by explicitly (& falsely) teaching on the Quran that Jesus was never Crucified. This is where we must give our witness to Muslims, to bring them to salvation

        • Catholic Fast Food Worker

          Kevin, good points. goral, my good brother in ChristIf you’ve paid attention, Pope Francis has been very pained by the suffering & persecution of Christians in Islamic lands (from Middle East & Africa, which where mostly Christian lands before Mohammad’s Conquests, to South Asian places like Indonesia with sharia). Our good Pope believes in the power of prayer in God’ union, what’s so wrong? A good solution rather than sending soldiers (which goes against Christ the King’s non-violent order to Love our ENEMIES) is to send faithful missionaries to Muslim lands. And our Pope Francis’s calls to reach out have been heard by many young religious who are willing to become missionaries to Muslims & willing to die as Martyrs of Christ. One case of a Nun going to a dangerous Syrian region inspired by Pope Francis was documented in a recent NCRegister article.

          • goral

            I believe Pope Francis is doing the right thing in this regard. He is raising attention and awareness to the plight of our Christian brothers. He’s made a personal appearance, he’s shown up. Now it’s up to the troops to also make their presence known. If armed conflict is what it’s going to take to protect Christian lives and property than it must be done. We should do that only as a last resort, defensive effort. The alternative is a massacre of Christians. To suggest that this is what our Lord had in mind for His children when he said: Love your enemies, is crazy talk. In any case, please keep the U.S. gov’t. out. We have proven to be anything but effective.
            The Pope is not saying anything new to those of us who know the situation. I have Coptic, Syrian and Assyrian friends who give me the the kind of intelligence that average citizens don’t get. Let’s face it, Americans are clouded in ignorance when it comes to foreign politics and cultures.
            In closing, the Catholic Church needs to have a results oriented policy, otherwise stay within the confines of our parishes, pray for our enemies and hope that we’ll be left alone. Won’t happen.
            The infiltration and dismantling of our Church has already begun. The relationship of real Catholicism to the one we are being fed is the same as the relationship of real home cooked meals to fast food.

  • Carlos X.

    Goral, what are you doing that we should emulate? I ask that in earnest because there is a lot of injustice in the world and yet there is such a chasm between indignation and solutions.

    • goral

      There is so much injustice but probably not more that in decades and centuries past. We just get immediate reports and distorted analysis.
      What can one Catholic do? Thanks for asking Carlos X. I don’t much care to get into personal matters, that’s why I stay off social media.
      Let me just respond with one example. I’m with the Knights of Columbus.
      I don’t in any way speak for the organization but I will say this: As a Catholic men’s organization we do so much charitable work. What is important is that we do it as men. We get in there, do what we came for, clean-up and leave. We don’t look for accolades. That element is missing in the Church. The women have taken over. That’s not the problem, they are filling a void, they’re welcome. Where are the men? The enemy responds to men differently. You can’t talk about fortitude without addressing the men. You can’t assign the gift of fortitude to faith alone. You have to enlist the men.
      I went to a Catholic men’s retreat recently and we had a Sister doing a good part of the program. She did a great job but there was no call to action to the men. The Church, as our society, has become chickiefied. So I ask, who will take up the cause of those suffering if the men are in the sports bars, stadiums, and internet “entertainment”. It’s not the women’s job to do that, no matter what the confused feminists and apparent males say.