September 2016 Print

Bearing Trials

by a Benedictine monk

A true example of fortitude from the 20th century was a coal miner of thirty years who contracted black lung and was then transferred by his employer from the depths of the mine to the high mountainous altitudes. Due to his injured lungs, he was forced to resign or face death. One year from retirement the company thus avoided paying this family man his just pension. His only wealth was his confidence in God. He explained to his children that birds on a cold winter day look for food while singing and we must imitate them by accepting whatever God gives with joy and confidence. His life example showed an incredible strength of body capable of heavy labor, but now incapacitated, an even greater strength of soul that was able to receive the unjust blows of this life and remain peaceful and joyful.

Often, fortitude is only applied to violent physical strength. The world seems to admire the anger and violence a man is capable of imposing upon his neighbor. Charles Darwin, Margaret Sanger and Hitler might explain this violence as “survival of the Fittest.” Violence, however, is one of man’s greatest weaknesses, which he must dominate by his own choice or they will dominate him. His passions push him to do, think and say things that he really does not want. He becomes a slave to alcohol, drugs, impurity, anger, hatred, human respect, vanity, ambition, the Internet, video games, etc. He loses the freedom of a child of God because he has preferred the darkness of error to the light of truth due to a lack of fortitude.

According to a 12th century example, John of Ford (a Cistercian monk), compares fortitude to a battle horse bred to throw himself into battle without hesitation. Hearing the trumpets calling to battle, the clashing of swords, the scent of the opposing army and feeling the weight of an armored knight on his back, would drive the horse into a frenzy, chomping at the bit with an urge to charge. What would all this strength accomplish if there was not a talented rider to direct it? The horse would run wildly to his death without the possibility of winning the battle. The horse represents the gift of fortitude; the rider counsel. Our actions must be governed by our soul, which must in turn be guided by the Holy Ghost. It is one and the same Spirit of God that strengthens our life with grace and guides it towards the victory of heaven. The Spirit of God must be always present in our thoughts and actions.

The most excellent example of fortitude given to man is Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is almighty and He died on the cross. The weakness of His human nature did not hinder in any way the crushing victory over the most powerful enemy of mankind. His Blood poured out in apparent defeat was the greatest victory in the history of humanity. The Lamb, standing as if slain, engages in a fearsome battle with the dragon. And the Lamb prevails. The Blood of Christ, slain on the cross, is our example and our strength. From the litany of the Most Precious Blood we discover the source of our fortitude: Blood of Christ, which overcame the powers of strength to martyrs,..endurance to confessors,.. from which virginity flowers, courage to those in danger, to those who are burdened, save us!..etc.

John of Landspergius, in his book entitled “Letter from Jesus Christ,” explains fortitude in times of suffering: “Accept troubles and tribulations as signs of my grace. Whenever you are oppressed with any worry or difficulty, rejoice, knowing that you deserved it. Don’t ascribe what you are suffering to anyone or anything but your own sins. Thank me for being so merciful as to visit you and reprove you like my very own child, and not utterly reject you. As long as I trouble you, that is a sign that I want you to do better. (...) I love you most loyally and provide things which are best and wholesome for you. Since it was my will before I created you that you should suffer at this moment the same things which you are suffering, you ought to desire my loving will to be fulfilled in you, and endure all those things which you suffer with gladness, with a sweet kind of patience, with thanksgiving, with meekness, and with devotion in your heart, with no harsh or bitter thoughts against those who try to make you suffer in these various ways. (...) fix your eyes on me, and think how loving, kind and faithful is my heart in sending you these troubles for your benefit.”

As shown by the fortitude of the battle horse with the gift of counsel and the fortitude of the coal miner’s confidence in God we too are called in our daily lives to take up our cross and follow Christ. We can only do that with the gift of Fortitude that flows from the His Blood.