Monday in the Seventh Week of Easter at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Acts 19:1-8; Jn 16:29-33]
“Take courage,” Jesus says, “I have conquered the world.” Jesus calls us to the cardinal virtue of Fortitude. The Catechism (1808) tells us fortitude “assures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.” Thomas Aquinas tells us that the distinctively human good is a “bonum arduum”; a difficult good beset by difficulties both inside of and outside of ourselves. We will encounter obstacles which will make a drama out of our desire for happiness by creating conflicts. And Jesus is saying that it is possible for these conflicts to be either overcome or endured without compromising our moral integrity, our relationship with Him and the Father. He, Jesus Christ, is “the way” by which this will happen. We need fortitude to pursue the difficult good.
Jesus is preparing to face the difficult good of His passion. He knows that the greatest difficulty will be that He, and we in our trials, will be alone. What is most adverse about adversity is that it makes us feel alone. And indeed, like Jesus, we may find that those we most count on do in fact leave us alone in times of trial. Our sense of belonging, so important to community, is compromised.
“But I am not alone,” Jesus says, “because the Father is with me.” (We monastic's call this state of being alone, yet with God, “Solitude.”) And He is telling us this “so that you may have peace in me.” Given our preference for a “flesh 'n bones” comforter in times of trouble, what does this mean to each of us to hear Christ say we'll have “peace in me”?
The courage of Christ is characterized by endurance and patient suffering (dura et aspera). It is motivated, Dr. Rebecca De Young tells us, by love; fortitude elicits that love. It was out of admiration for martyrs, the prime example of love-based fortitude, that monastic life was begun. And indeed the vowed life, marital, monastic, and baptismal, is a type of martyrdom. Because love motivates an act of dying to self, and because love is always for some good, a courageous act is aimed at safeguarding that good when it is difficult. It is not aimed at mere bravery. It is “for the sake of.” To be a virtue, fortitude or courage must point beyond itself to its source, guide, and goal: LOVE.
For courage to point beyond itself we must love that good more than self; we must value the good more than we value freedom from suffering.
This is difficult when the good is something that is naturally loved by everyone. This can be things like reputation, respect, and justice. We would only risk the loss of such goods if we loved a yet higher good. It is love for that higher good and willingness to sacrifice for it that binds us as a community. This kind of unselfish love, given only for the good of the other, is called agape. Our efforts at living this kind of love are usually awkward, even clumsy. It invites acedia, resistance to its demands. So we take vows of stability and of conversion.
Undergirding this love is faith. Faith is not merely belief in a proposition; it is entrustment of self to the one who is loved.
Because the true good is difficult, and because we need a sense of belonging, and because the saints and martyrs are our examples I offer you this meditation:Imagine that you are standing before the throne of God, and all around you see saints and martyrs, angels and powers. They all smile at you. They recognize you. They identify with you and you with them. You intuitively sense that you belong. And they seem to recommend you to God.