Weight rooms are filled with body builders. Cross-training programs are bursting at the seams. Marathons and triathlons are more popular than ever, and I ran my first marathon in Hartford, Connecticut, recently.
These are all signs of a desire to grow in physical and mental fortitude and toughness.
But the catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of another side of fortitude that is not just about sweat and big muscles.
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“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,” it says. “The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.”
My mom lived this virtue of fortitude to a heroic degree, and I believe her secret was a persevering commitment to daily prayer. During my childhood days, I could hear the electric garage door open at 6:05 a.m., and I knew my mom was on her way to daily mass at St. Hugo of the Hills.
When she walked in the door at 7:15 a.m. to greet my brothers and sister and me during breakfast, her face was radiant and she had a certain kick in her step that was strong and enthusiastic. We always prayed before meals and before long road trips, and her awareness of God’s presence in daily life was palpable. She spent quality time with God, she was living for God, and it clearly showed!
Mom would also prepare an extra meal for a friend with cancer or send me off with a plate of cookies and lemonade for the men putting down asphalt on the street.
My mom was faithful for 45 years of marriage with my dad, and this was not always smooth sailing. They both had to compromise and bend quite a bit, but I can only remember one evening in my 18 years at home where they were not talking, and the tension was palpable. Thankfully, my dad apologized the next morning and peace was once again restored.
My dad once told me, “Michael, your mother and I have had a beautiful life together, but we had some rough moments as well. We made a serious commitment in the presence of God to persevere until death, and we are determined to make this happen!” They did, and I am so grateful.
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Most impressively, my mom persevered in an attitude of unconditional love and real selflessness.
Our garage had practically been converted into a greenhouse, given all of the flower arrangements she was constantly preparing and sending off to sick friends and neighbors who needed a little boost.
She would also prepare an extra meal for a friend with cancer or simply send me off with a plate of cookies and lemonade for the men putting down asphalt on the street or even to the garbage man passing by. She was deeply committed to her second grade children whom she taught for more than 40 years, but still had plenty of energy and love to focus on her children at home.
She would often bring out her banjo after dinner and sing “Oh Susanna,” asking all of us to sing along. She knew how to cut through any family tensions with her warm smile.
Her heart was hyperfocused on serving the needs of those around her, and as a priest, I am so grateful for this example of total self-giving.
Fortitude in faith, fortitude in marriage, fortitude in deep charity — these are the important battles of the soul on which so much depends.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.