Two great movies are “Touching the Void” and “Lone Survivor.” The former movie is a documentary about a mountaineer, Joe Simpson, who broke his leg at the summit of a difficult climb, fell off a cliff on his way down, and was assumed dead. And yet he managed to crawl down the mountain on one good leg back to camp where his climbing partner was able to get help. “Lone Survivor” is the story of Marcus Luttrell and a Navy SEAL mission gone bad. He crawled to safety with a broken back after a terrible gunfight with the Taliban killing everyone on his team.
What is remarkable about both these true stories is how hard they fought to stay alive without knowing how their situation would turn out. For all Joe knew, his climbing partner may have broken camp and left the area. His efforts to get crawl down the mountain may have been for nothing if there was no one left to get him to a hospital. For all Marcus knew, he could have crawled into a Taliban camp instead of a village willing to protect him. Both of them didn’t give up fighting although they had no idea whether their efforts were in vain.
That brings us to the next gift of the Holy Spirit — fortitude. “Fortitude is the virtue that allows us to overcome fear and to remain steady in our will in the face of all obstacles, physical and spiritual. Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it. It show itself in moral courage against the evil spirit of the times, against improper fashions, against human respect, against the common tendency to seek at least the comfortable, if not the voluptuous.”(learnreligions.com).
I see fortitude as the strength to practice the Catholic faith in the face of uncertainty. We take it on faith that all the prayer, sacrifices, and restraint leads to a closer relationship with God and eternal happiness in Heaven. And while we may know this, it can be hard to muster the strength to practice it on a daily basis. We don’t always feel close to God. It’s this gift that reminds us not to give up doing God’s Will.
Fortitude in the Rosary
Look at Jesus in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary. I know I’ve mentioned this point several times in the past, but He fell three times and got back up knowing that his situation was never going to improve. Just think about the strength Jesus had to posses to look past his physical pain and see the greater role God had for Him. Jesus knew that God’s Will was not to have Him die on the road. But that meant Jesus had to summon the courage to get up and follow God’s Will to His Crucifixion so that he could triumph through His Resurrection.
We must look at Jesus’ example of fortitude in our own lives. Let’s face it, being a Christian isn’t always easy or fun. We are saddled with our crosses. Prayer doesn’t always seem fruitful. Fasting doesn’t seem beneficial. Following God’s laws isn’t always a joy. Making this more difficult is that we don’t receive immediate feedback. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see our heavenly scorecard whenever we practice virtue or sin? But it’s the gift of fortitude that allows us to carry on, like Jesus taking up His cross, in the face of uncertainty. When you pray any of the Sorrowful Mysteries, meditate on how faith requires fortitude because we need to do God’s Will without immediate, concrete feedback.
We must also remember that fortitude isn’t just about summoning courage for the “big things.” We all aren’t called to be martyrs or overcome some momentous challenge. We must show fortitude in the small things too. That means remembering to pray every day, attend Mass, receive the sacraments, fast, and live chastely. These aren’t easy. Sure, we may be able to muster the strength on our own some days. But in order to do God’s Will consistently, we need this gift from the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we’ll just get worn out, dejected, and give up. It’s this gift of fortitude which gives us that “second wind” to keep going even when we think we have nothing left to give.