Fortitude, which St. Thomas Aquinas places behind prudence and justice in his treatment of the cardinal virtues, is confirmed in us more fully through the exercise of God’s grace. For fortitude, as we should all know, is a gift of the Holy Ghost, and because this gift comes down from above, it can attain to heights unknown by mere natural fortitude. At the natural level, according to Aristotle, “Fortitude is the virtue of the man who, being confronted with a noble occasion of encountering the danger of death, meets it fearlessly.” Fortitude, as built-up in us by the Holy Ghost, does not lose completely this martial character, but is expanded supernaturally to instill courage against the spirit of the times and temptations for worldly success, along with the patience to endure one of the greatest trials in the history of the Holy Catholic Church. For all of us are faced with a battle, but it is not one destined to be settled with swords or guns; it is a spiritual battle, one that can only be won through prayer, repentance, and fasting.
Prayer, that holy and great practice in which we find ourselves in intercourse with God and His Saints, can be defined in many ways and relied on for innumerable purposes so long as they are just. But we must not forget what the Doctor of Prayer, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, says of it: “Prayer is our principal weapon. By it we obtain of God the victory over our evil inclinations, and over all temptations of hell.” It seems to me, given the present state of things, that there can be no more evil inclination than to avert our eyes and pretend that the affairs of the Church, and the operations of those charged with her care, should be treated as “none of our business.” A similarly, and perhaps no less evil, inclination is to flee to the proverbial hills, establish a refugee camp, and wait for the storm to blow over. It will blow over; it will not last forever. But how much damage will be left in its wake? How many souls — how many thousands upon thousands of souls — will be lost if they are not property instructed in how to endure this calamity and repair quickly the damage that has been done? By prayer we may be given the fortitude to withstand and, by God’s merciful intervention, relief from the tempest. If, however, we refuse to pray and to pray rightly, that is, petition for the freedom of the Church from worldly machinations and ideological capture, then how can we claim to hope for better days to come with integrity? We cannot. Mumbling a certain verse about the “gates of hell” is not enough.
And let’s be clear. Few of us have ever done enough or, to put it another way, few of us have ever done all that we are capable of doing for the liberty and exaltation of Holy Mother Church. We tell ourselves, without any self-deception, that we have jobs to perform, families to care for, and our own souls to save; what time is there to concern ourselves with “ecclesial politics” and the like? So often we fail to reflect on what it would mean for not just our salvation but the salvation of all if the Barque of Peter was able to find its way again. How much easier would it be to raise a family and labor justly in a social order penetrated by the Light of Jesus Christ and guided by the indefectible teachings of the Church? It is a lamentable reality that the Church rarely encourages us to pray for the restoration of her rights in society and the reign of Christ the King. It is even more lamentable that so few Catholics today strive to enthrone our Lord in their homes, paying honor to his Divine Majesty each day while repenting before His Most Sacred Heart for the innumerable blasphemies which are committed throughout the world each day against God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Now the season of Lent is approaching, a time of mournful expectation which has been steadily stripped of meaning through the loss of the Church’s spiritual, theological, and liturgical heritage. Fasting, if it is done at all, amounts to giving up a trivial pleasure here or a passing source of fun there; the internal lightness, a physical and spiritual fruit of the fast, is often missing. Missing, too, is the sense of what fasting is for. It is not, as some misguided souls contend, the dry fulfillment of legal prescriptions. Rather, it is a small but important means of detaching ourselves from the things of this world, which gives us the chance to see clearly the frailty of our nature, our need for salvation, and the joy which is to come should we attain our final end. Fasting, by stripping us of dependence on earthly sustenance, compels us to seek Heavenly food; it forces us to let go of self-reliance which too often becomes an excuse for self-indulgence and instead place our trust in God. That trust can be used to help us through the Lenten fast and onward to the glorious day of the Resurrection of Christ, just as it can be used as an opportunity to petition our Lord, either directly or through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on behalf of fellow Catholics, for the good of society, and above all for the glory and strength of the Church.
During this Lent, which begins by anticipation today, it may be wise if all of us pray for greater fortitude. In just a few short months shepherds of the Church, including her Supreme Shepherd, will convene in Rome to stage the last act in a tragedy that began to unfold last autumn. Whatever happens, the faithful must remain vigilant. The truth of Christ cannot be altered; it cannot be augmented; and it certainly cannot evolve or, rather, mutate into one of the many lies which the Zeitgeist sews throughout the world every single day. Let us not forget, whether we were babies, teenagers, or adults, that on the day of our Confirmation (Chrismation), we all became Soldiers of Jesus Christ. Many have lived through the centuries never having to enter battle, physical or spiritual, on His behalf. We do not live in such a century. Pray, fast, and repent. Remain vigilant. Remain strong. And remain fortified by the truth that no matter the force of the storm or the desolation that follows, God and the Blessed Virgin remain with us, so long as we ask them to.