When asked to explain courage — the human virtue — we use words such as spunk, bravery, valor, fearlessness, daring, heroism, or true grit. However, confining courage — or the lack of it — to those split-second decisions or actions that create local and national superheroes isn’t the only way to define authentic, virtuous courage. These superhero words tend to exaggerate what authentic courage really is.
Superhero courage makes it seem as if the rest of us don’t need courage since it is highly unlikely that we will ever run into burning buildings to save someone’s life. Super-courage also implies that superheroes are born that way, again exempting the rest of us from having to arm ourselves with courage. And so, the desire and drive to be courageous lies dormant (out of sight and out of mind) for many of us. It’s true, most of us will never need the quick thinking and action of decorated real heroes! Yet we are called to display virtuous courage everyday and every way.
Like all virtues, courage is well supported and promoted by many different human, Cardinal, and Theological Virtues. The virtues that closely imitate and/or support courage include love, fortitude, generosity, honesty, conviction, and compassion for others. Together they drive our desire to be courageous regardless of circumstances. The supporting virtues — as you already know — dispose us to seek and find courage — for the sake of others before self. Vice opposes and discourages us from acting virtuously. The principal vice opposing courage is cowardice, which in turn fuels fear and apathy. All three of these prevent us from taking new chances, rebooting injured relationships, righting wrongs, and so on, which is why we need authentic courage. The consequences of not acting with courage and conviction are everywhere.
Children lack natural courage for reasons that have nothing to do with vice (cowardice). Rather, our children’s natural trust and openness to people is proof of their innocence; that they live in safe and secure environments; that they are unaware of the existence of evil; and that they are well protected by loving parents. Yet it is still important to teach our children to put on virtuous courage for their own sakes and that of others.
“Youth is the best time to put on virtue.” – St. Bernard
The Church has many wonderful saints who teach us what virtuous courage looks like. Few were considered to be superheroes during their time on earth — but they were in God’s eyes. They include Saints Michael, George, Maria Goretti, Gianna Molla, Edith Stein, Katherine Drexel, Teresa of Calcutta, Thomas Beckett, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis of Assisi, Clare of Assisi, Joan of Arc, and many others. Reading about the lives of these saints with our children should teach all of us about true courage. It should generate many questions and additional opportunities to talk about the great need for authentic courage today! We can all benefit from learning about courage from the lives of the saints. A starting point for all of us is to pray for the virtue of courage on a daily basis and then work to arm ourselves with it deliberately and everyday.
We have all read stories about or know someone who displayed true heroism during moments of extreme danger — the kind of super-courage mentioned earlier. Some ran into burning houses to save lives; others ran into enemy fire to rescue injured soldiers; some battled purse snatchers; some pre-empted road rage incidents; some talked a stranger out of jumping off a bridge; some resuscitated store clerks shot by would-be burglars; some kept critically injured people alive until medics arrived. Many of these heroes were successful at what they did because of having received prior training that enabled them to act and think quickly. In the same way, virtue training is important for us and our children, so that we too will be better prepared to think and act courageously — quickly and when necessary. Especially considering that we are called to be our brother’s keeper. Especially considering that we are called to be the face of Christ amidst an unbelieving world despite feeling feel totally unprepared to do so. Especially considering that we are called to parent heroically and virtuously. Especially considering that we are called to share in the sufferings of our neighbor. Especially considering that we are all awaiting our own death and judgement.
The following examples of real courage — or lack of it — are not offered as false flattery or criticism of any person. These everyday, real-life experiences are discussed with the hope that they may inspire someone to work on arming self with authentic courage — for the sake of others.
I recently received an email from a young woman preparing to enter a cloistered Carmelite order. Her decision was courageous — extraordinary yet ordinary.
“During my senior year, it was time for me to begin taking the search for my vocation seriously [I had accepted God’s call to religious life freshman year], and I began learning about various orders and visited a couple of them. In God’s great providence, Mother Mary Clare of the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus mentioned the Carmel in Lake Elmo during a conversation in which I told her about my attraction to contemplative life. I went to Carmel for Mass several times last spring, enjoying the peacefulness but not feeling called to learn more. Spring passed into summer, college was over, and my wishful thoughts of entering religious life straight out of college were banished. As I continued to mull things over and pray for God’s will to be revealed throughout the next several months, I realized that the thought of Carmel wouldn’t leave me as my attractions to other religious orders had. In a spurt of courage, I wrote to Carmel’s prioress, Mother Rose, hoping that she could help me understand my own heart. What followed were monthly visits in which God demonstrated the beautiful dual aspect of discernment in any vocation. As my heart yearned more and more for Carmel, Mother Rose sensed more and more that God was calling me. By December, I was able to say “yes” to Our Lord’s proposal. In the middle of January, Carmel said “yes” too. Jesus has spent many years laying the groundwork that I might be ready to answer His call when it finally came … I have spent these months praying earnestly for each of you that God would use me and my vocation to bring you closer to Him, in these remaining months of preparation, throughout the rest of my life, and into eternity. What can I say to end this email? O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we trust in You! Draw us all deeper into the oceans of your love.” – Brigetta
A ninety-three year old grandmother recently broke her hip after falling [although the doctors question which came first: the fall or the break and then the fall]Agnes has severe osteoporosis. Prior to the accident, Agnes was very independent, happy, and content. Currently, her multiple medications, severe pain, recurring blood and bladder infections, and immobility work against her will to live. She keeps telling loved ones that she just wants to die. Yet her time has not yet arrived, so how do loved ones go about encouraging Agnes to persist — to put on courage — at this time in her life? There are few ways to effectively encourage Agnes to remain steadfastly courageous because she is experiencing significant mental confusion — other than prayer. The family has to put on courage each time they visit, especially when they hear her lament that she just wants to die! Another elderly woman complains endlessly about her lack of mobility to her family, including daughter-in-law Angela. Recently, Angela came across a poster displaying the notion “Aging ain’t for wimps” and bought it for her mother-in-law. That took courage. The elderly mother enjoyed the gift immensely as it made her laugh. Courage is inextricably linked to the demands of everyday life.
Our daughter, Lindsay, will soon have her fifth child. Her last baby was born at home because the labor and delivery happened too fast to make it to the hospital. Lindsay is a bit fearful that this situation will repeat itself this time around too. The words “courage, my daughter” come to mind as we pray for a safe delivery and a healthy baby boy!
Kyra, our twenty-year-old daughter, was born with Down Syndrome. We could either remain fearful or become fearless for her sake. We chose courage. Kyra is well-loved by her family! She works part time as a water park attendant while finishing up her Special Education program. She is appreciated by the customers who interact with her. To their credit, they have told her boss that they appreciate her courteousness and work effort. Kyra also has to put on courage as she tries to learn new things, works in new places, and is surrounded by strangers. For parents facing a negative pre-natal diagnosis, please, please take heart and have courage. (Is that a line from the modern Cinderella movie? Forgive me if it is, but, it works well here because it’s true!) Courage moves us away from fear and apathy!
Michelle, a Facebook friend, recently posted a video explaining her situation. She wanted to personally deliver the message to all of us but used social media as the way to get her news out to all of her friends quickly and at the same time. Michelle recently received a diagnosis of stage four cancer. Her response to the grim news:
“I had to decide what I would do with it [the diagnosis and the cancer]. I will use it to give God glory. Cancer may steal my voice and my life but it will not steal my joy because my joy comes from the Lord.”
This is courage and faith — both ordinary yet extraordinary — in an everyday life experience.
Recently, I read a Twitter posting lambasting someone for their faith. The post was both disparaging and cruel; the words were far from uplifting or encouraging. This tweet did not draw from courage, but relied on fear and prejudice.
Back to our daughter Lindsay. Their decision to have another child was courageous for several reasons. Society looks down on large families and this new baby makes number five. So far, we have 19 grandchildren! While this news used to be regarded as good news, today, it elicits shock — not awe! It also seems to regularly invite negative comments from others regarding large families and inquiries as to whether or not they (and we) know how this keeps happening! They also have Michael, who is a five-year-old wonder with special needs that remain undiagnosed due to the complexity of his case. He can’t talk, but can climb like a monkey! His smiles are worth every trial. And their decision to have one more child required courage. Our son Ryan and Tracy, his wife, have nine children! They also face random, unsolicited criticism of their large family. And so, with courage, they try to stay positive when feeling attacked by those who don’t seem to get or appreciate large families.
Raising faith-filled children takes courage. Statistics infer that any religious training will not be worth it. This is when the dual virtues of conviction and courage help us do what we are called to do. Choosing marriage over cohabitation also takes courage and conviction.
Recently a young man wanted to meet his birth mother, so he began searching for her through legal records. After discovering who she was and where she lived, he asked to meet with her. That took courage. During the first meet and greet, the birth mother asked Tom if he was mad at her. Asking that question took courage! He could have answered yes, but genuine gratitude for life prompted him to thank her instead for giving him life! His mother had changed her mind about having an abortion after reaching the clinic! Walking out of that clinic twenty-seven years earlier took great courage.
Our daughter Kelly recently went on a mission trip to Cambodia. She helped attend to the physical needs of special-needs children living in an orphanage. That trip took courage.
Saying what we mean takes courage. Minnesota nice — that saying — really isn’t very nice at all. That practice encourages us to say what we think other people want to hear rather than saying what we really mean. We teach our children to put on courage when we teach them why it’s important to say what they mean and to mean what they say.
Righteous choices and actions require courage. Living faithful lives takes courage. Have you ever told someone that its been a long fight but you still have more to give? That stick-to-it attitude also takes courage. Fighting the isms of the world takes courage. Being a faithful Catholic takes courage. Speaking out for those in need takes courage. Speaking out against pornography takes courage. Speaking out against the legalization of recreational marijuana takes courage. Doing something about sex trafficking takes courage. You get the point. Everyday life in America proves the need for virtuous courage. Without it, we resort to fear, apathy, and cowardice. That combination of vice persuades us to retreat from doing our best for someone else.
Let’s work to put on authentic, virtuous courage and then pass it on! Blessings to you as we approach the half-way point of Lent! Courage is certainly needed to persist and resist those luxuries we have given up for Jesus!
Courage in everyday life is one fine antidote to all that’s wrong in the world today.
Questions to ponder:
- How do we put on courage?
- What does courage look like to you?
- What stories of courage do you share with your children?
- How do you instill courage in your children?
Copyright 2018 Linda Kracht