When wondering how we will get through a crisis, when we are faced with decisions that challenge our beliefs, when heaven seems far away, the Holy Spirit provides profound support, a light for our dark path, through the gift of fortitude.
One of the most all-encompassing of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, fortitude supports us in living out the other six gifts (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety and fear of the Lord) and making our way faithfully through our earthly life to blessed eternity with God.
The gift of fortitude is sometimes confused with the moral virtue by the same name, but it is distinct in origin and scope. The gift of fortitude is bestowed on us by God through the Holy Spirit at our confirmation; the moral virtue of fortitude is “acquired by human effort,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and we practice it through our decisions and actions (No. 1804).
The gift of fortitude equips us with a never-depleted reservoir of God-given perseverance to live out our faith to the last breath, carrying us to heaven. The human, moral virtue of fortitude is developed each time we decide to do the right thing, approach a life challenge with faith and say “yes” to God.
In Scripture, the greatest example of fortitude, gift and virtue, is seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether facing physical deprivation and temptation (Mt 4:1-11), strong and powerful criticism (Mt 12:1-8) or betrayal and death on the cross (Mk 14), Jesus resisted temptation, endured criticism and forged ahead to the cross despite terrible pain. Jesus was sustained by the gift of fortitude, God-given endurance to see the journey through to its glorious end.
Each decision we make to do the good builds within us the virtue of fortitude, which is supported by the gift of fortitude, and enables us to live the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here, too, Jesus sets the example.
The gifts of knowledge and fear of God (humility) shine in an early incident in Jesus’ life. As a child of 12 years old, he left his family to teach in the Temple (Lk 2:41-52). But rather than start his ministry at that age, when his parents came to find him, he returned home, where he “advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Lk 2:52).
The gifts of knowledge and wisdom are practiced through a consistent commitment to grow in faith, and they are focused on faith through the gift of fortitude.
While carrying out his ministry, Jesus went off by himself to pray (Lk 4:42, 5:15-16), an act of piety and understanding of what he needed to do for the longevity of his ministry that must have been difficult as demand for his teaching and miracles increased.
The gift of fortitude, present in Jesus, is also available to us. When we feel that our activities are pulling us from our spiritual center, we too can find the understanding and strength we need to go off, reflect and refresh so that we are able to continue our heavenward journey.
Jesus’ unwavering call to “love one another” and his love for outcasts show how the gift of fortitude keeps the spiritual and ministerial gaze in the right, the good, place no matter the distractions posed by society or those close to us.
Through acts of Christ-like kindness and compassion, we benefit from the gift of fortitude to show society how to refocus and why.
As with any virtue that we desire to build, prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, eucharistic adoration and Mass attendance are crucial activities that keep us focused and faithful. Here, too, the gift of fortitude plays a key role, keeping us steady when we think we do not have enough time, a quiet place or a coherent word to say to our Creator.
And, as we strengthen in the virtue of fortitude and witness God’s amazing grace in our lives, time and again, what might have begun as “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this” moments turn into awe at how greatly God supplied us with whatever we needed — and more!
Writing to the Corinthians about a painful, ongoing affliction (“a thorn in the flesh” — 2 Cor 12:7), the apostle Paul writes:
“Three times, I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:8-10).
A blessed reminder that as we face adversity of any kind in faith and prayer, we are not alone. God’s grace and strength through the gift of fortitude are present even in our weakest moments, equip us for every challenge and lead us on to eternity.
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(Pratt’s website is www.maureenpratt.com.)