Fortitude: Not Just for Battlefields

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the four cardinal virtues. We have also been looking at how those virtue are practiced in the workplace. The virtues are good habits. Therefore, we do not practice the virtues in only one sphere of our lives. We must be acting prudently and justly both in and out of the home. We will have occasions to act with fortitude and temperance at work, socially, and in the public square. 

St. Josemaria Escriva frequently reminded the laity that the workplace (regardless of whether that’s an office, a classroom, behind a steering wheel, or on top of scaffolding) is one of the primary places we live out the Christian life. If I am seeking holiness, I have to be seeking that in the very practical duties and responsibilities of my work. St. Josemaria warned, “Since we should behave at all times as God’s envoys, we must be very much aware that we are not serving him loyally if we leave a job unfinished; if we don’t put as much effort and self-sacrifice as others do into the fulfillment of professional commitments; if we can be called careless, unreliable, frivolous, disorganized, lazy or useless” (Friends of God, 62).

This is where the virtue of fortitude comes in. 

Firmness and Constancy

Fortitude is a virtue that is admired by even the non-religious. Even people who think temperance is for the overly pious, consider meekness a weakness, and scoff at humility, believe that fortitude is a laudable attribute. For thousands of years, cultures have honored the courageous, recognizing the hero that finds the balanced mean between fear and impetuousness. As C. S. Lewis notes in The Screwtape Letters, people are “proud of most vices, but not of cowardice.”

The Catechism tells us, “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life” (CCC 1808). 

We, by our nature, fear danger and suffering and death. And so this virtue helps us overcome that when we need to – when we need to endure hardships for a just cause or be willing to sacrifice our comfort or even our lives for the sake of the Gospel or for others.

With the virtue of fortitude, we are able to face danger and overcome obstacles — not because we are without fear— but because we know God is greater than whatever we fear.

Living a virtuous life requires courage. This is something we need to preach more frequently. Fortitude is not just in tales about knights or the stories of the martyrs, but in the life of every believer. The daily life of a Christian is not for the faint of heart. 

What It’s Not

When we think of fortitude, we probably think of pretty dramatic examples. The soldier going into battle. The parent willing to sacrifice everything for their child. The person putting their reputation on line for the truth. All of these are examples of fortitude. And perhaps you have or will have to face these things some day.

But chances are, there are many other acts in your daily life that require fortitude. And perhaps we’re missing them because they’re not very dramatic.

Fortitude is required to fulfill the duties of our work and our vocations faithfully. It’s required to persevere in the virtues. Raising kids, obeying Church teaching, and being faithful to our vocations requires fortitude. And it is often a quiet, patient courage. In the face of unpleasant things and obstacles, or even our family or friends who perhaps don’t understand us, fortitude is found in the quiet but charitable witness of perseverance.

In the Workplace

Remember, the virtue entails “firmness in difficulty.” Maybe those difficulties are life-threatening, or maybe they’re inconveniences or drudgery.

Fortitude can be found in persevering through tasks, especially those we find less desirable. Perhaps it is tempting to focus on the fun and exciting projects and leave the other things for another day – or another coworker. 

We also practice this virtue when we patiently deal with other’s idiosyncrasies or mistakes. This virtue is not just for battlefields; it is also for monotonous tasks and annoyances.

Pray for an increase of the virtue of fortitude, and then strive to exercise it. It is only with the grace of God and then with the repeated exercise of the virtue that we will become virtuous people.

Photo: Fortitude, detail from Raphael’s Cardinal and Theological Virtues

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