By Jay Mason
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that
something else is more important than fear.”
― Ambrose Redmoon
Every Christian knows the three theological virtues – faith, hope and love. These virtues are a gift from God, but there are other virtues named cardinal virtues that are strictly human virtues. We can develop these virtues on our own. Those are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. In these days of fall, before the winter comes, I thought it would be good to think about fortitude, and a more common name for that virtue is courage.
I used to think that running 100 miles a week and training to compete on a national level in distance running took a lot of courage. It certainly took a great deal of endurance and a little courage but I have seen much more courage in the daily lives of other people. We all see acts of courage every day. In fact we are surrounded by acts of courage if we just recognize them.
What is Fortitude or Courage? Is it just what the cowardly lion wanted in The Wizard of Oz or maybe something more? A virtue is a habit that has to be practiced. Courage is not rushing headlong into battle without regard to those around you. It is summoning the strength to do the right thing under pressure. It is fighting fear and keeping your wits about you when it is very difficult to do so. It is always reasonable. It really is to reason why and not just do or die.
Courage requires two other cardinal virtues – Justice and Prudence. The cause must be just, and prudence must be used to determine when the timing is right to summon the courage to do the right thing. We should all know the story of Gallup’s City Council in May of 1942. When the Japanese Internment Order was issued by federal government, Gallup was the only town who refused to honor it because they knew all the Gallup citizens of Japanese descent and knew they were not a threat to national security. That was an act of courage. Not many politicians can summon such courage today.
We can never forget the story of Gallup’s only Medal of Honor winner, Hiroshi Miyamura. During the Korean War, when his position was being attacked, he killed 10 enemy soldiers in close combat and rendered first aid to the wounded while directing the evacuation. When the enemy attacked again, he continued the evacuation while taking a position with a fixed machine gun and directed fire at the enemy so that his men could escape. His commander estimated that 50 of the enemy were killed that day by Hershey. His position was eventually overrun, and he was taken prisoner. The awarding of his medal for his courage was top secret until his release in August of 1953. Most of us do not get the chance to exhibit such incredible courage on a battlefield.
For many years there was a legislator from Gallup that took a position on moral grounds that was not supported by his party. He was attacked by members of that party and penalized for his stand. Yet he never complained or sought sympathy from others; he just undertook his responsibilities every year and stood up for what was right. We need more politicians like that.
When I was younger, I didn’t really notice the courage that some had to muster every day of their lives. As you grow older and think about the end of your life (not ready yet), it is as if God removes some layers of poor vision, a lack of perception, so that you can see the courage that some people bring to the fight of life. It reminds me of the parable that Christ told of the wheat and the weeds. An enemy planted weeds in the field of a just man, and when the workers noticed them, they asked the master if they should remove them at once. The master said no; it might damage the wheat. The weeds would be removed at harvest and burned. Christ went on to explain that the world we live in is the field and that we are the wheat. The weeds are the evil in this world, and we know there is plenty. We are asked to live among the weeds and struggle against it even though it is difficult. It takes courage to survive the weeds.
I know two people fighting cancer with all their might. Their faith in God will be tested. It will be very difficult to take poison into their bodies to kill the poison that is growing inside. Their strength is sapped; their families are supportive but exhausted. The fear of death is around them but they persevere; they are not ready to give up. They know God has promised them a better life in heaven, but they are not ready to go. The daily and sometimes hourly decision to stay the course is an act of courage. Those acts affect everyone around them in a positive way.
The other day at mass I met a woman who has a teenage daughter with severe disabilities. She cannot sit still and makes uncontrollable sounds. At church the mother spent most of her time walking back and forth in the foyer of the church with her daughter so as not to disturb other parishioners. I was in the back of the church with a new grandchild that wanted to talk louder than the priest, and it came time for the kiss of peace. That is when everybody greets the person around them and says, “May the peace of Christ be with you.” The mother of that child came up to me and offered the greeting to me with the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. I cry at country music videos, so you know what I did then. Can you imagine the acts of courage she undertakes every day to care for her daughter with that smile on her face?
I think of the Missionaries of Charity around the world. They come from all walks of life – rich and poor families – and care for the poorest of the poor. They do that here in Gallup at the soup kitchen, which is not easy to do. Yet they do it with the most gracious smiles on their faces. It is not phony or a show for the public; it is genuine and an act of courage.
So look around. Courage surrounds you every day. We all need to appreciate the virtue and practice it when it is needed in our lives.