“If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (Jn 15:20)
The more a soul loves God, the more courageous it will be in undertaking any work, no matter how labourious, for love of Him. Fear of fatigue, of suffering, and of danger, is the greatest enemy of fortitude; it paralyses the soul and makes it recoil before duty. Courage, on the contrary, is invigorating; it enables us to confront anything in order to be faithful to God. Courage, therefore, incites us to embrace death itself, if necessary, rather than be unfaithful to duty.
Martyrdom is the supreme act of Christian fortitude, an act which is not asked of all, yet one which it is well not to ignore as a possibility. Every Christian is, so to speak, a potential martyr, in the sense that the virtue of fortitude, infused into him at Baptism and Confirmation, makes him capable, if necessity requires it, of sacrificing even his life for the love of God. And if all Christians are not actually called upon to render to the Lord this supreme testimony of love, all should, nevertheless, live like courageous soldiers, accustoming themselves never to desert any duty, little or great, through fear of sacrifice.
It is true that the virtue of fortitude does not exempt us from the fear and alarm which invade our nature when faced with sacrifice, danger, or above all, the imminent danger of death. But fortitude, like all the other virtues, is exercised by the will; hence, it is possible to perform courageous acts in spite of our fear. In these cases, courage has a twofold function: it conquers fear and faces the difficult task. Such was the supreme act of fortitude Jesus made in the Garden of Olives when He accepted to drink the bitter chalice of His Passion, in spite of the repugnance of His human nature. It is by uniting ourselves to this act of our Saviour that we shall find strength to embrace all that is painful in our lives.
Grace can give courage even to those who are naturally timid; but we must not expect grace to do this without our co-operation. The virtue of fortitude has been given to all Christians, and in this sense is an infused virtue; however, it remains for us to activate it by practice, and in this sense it becomes an acquired virtue. Furthermore, the same is true of all the theological and moral virtues which are infused into our soul with grace. They are like capital which will increase only if we invest it with good will to make it productive.
We become humble by making acts of humility; likewise, we become strong and courageous by performing courageous acts. It is not within our power to suppress the sensible fear which we inherit from our fallen nature and which we feel in spite of ourselves, but we can prevent it from taking possession of our will and paralysing our acts. We must act energetically, forcing ourselves in the name of God to do what we should, and not stopping to argue with fear. “Many souls say, ‘I have not the strength to accomplish such an act.’ But let them begin and put forth some effort! The good God never refuses the initial grace which imparts courage to act. After that, the heart is strengthened, and the soul goes on from victory to victory” (St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Novissima Verba).
This is true. To become courageous, we must make up our minds to act in spite of our natural cowardice and fear. This is particularly necessary at times when, because of our physical weakness or because of the privation of the support of actual grace, even the smallest difficulties seem like mountains and everything frightens us. If we were to wait until we felt courageous, we should never undertake anything. “What does it matter if we have no courage,” said the Saint of Lisieux to a novice, “provided we act as though we were really brave?” (Correspondence).
Courageous acts performed when we have no courage are purer and more supernatural: they are purer, because they afford no place for feelings of pride; they are more supernatural because they are based, not on the resources of nature, but on those of grace. On the contrary, acts of courage which we perform according to our natural dispositions are often simply human acts; they can easily become food for self-love. Therefore, one who is brave by nature must learn not to rely on his own strength but to depend on God’s grace, without which all human strength is mere weakness.
From ‘Divine Intimacy’ by Fr. Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene