Bookmark and Share

The Cardinal Virtues - Fortitude

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II      
General Audience, Wednesday 15 November 1978 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
Pope John Paul I, speaking from the loggia of St Peter's Basilica the day after his election, recalled among other things that during the Conclave of 26th August, when everything was already indicating that he himself would be chosen, the Cardinals who were next to him whispered in his ear: "Courage!" Probably this word was necessary for him in that moment and was impressed on his heart, since he immediately recalled it the next day. John Paul I will forgive me if I use this confidence of his now. I believe that precisely this will be able better to introduce us all here present to the theme that I intend to develop. I desire to speak today about the third cardinal virtue, that is, of fortitude. It is precisely to this virtue that we refer when we wish to exhort someone to have courage, as did the Cardinal close to John Paul I at the Conclave, when he said to him: "Courage".

Whom do we consider a strong man, a courageous man? Usually this word recalls the soldier who defends his homeland, exposing his health and even his life to danger in time of war. We realize however that we also need fortitude in time of peace. And therefore we highly esteem people who distinguish themselves through so-­called "civil courage". A testimony of fortitude is offered to us by the one who exposes his own life so as to save someone who is about to drown, or by the man who comes to help others in natural calamities, such as fires, floods, etc. St Charles, my patron saint, certainly distinguished himself for this virtue, fulfilling his pastoral ministry in Milan among the inhabitants of that city during the plague. But we also think with admiration of those who climb the heights of Everest or of the cosmonauts, for example, those who set foot on the moon for the first time.

As is clear from all this, the manifestations of the virtue of fortitude are numerous. Some of them are widely known and enjoy a certain fame. Others are less known, although they often demand an even greater virtue. Fortitude, as we said at the beginning, is a virtue, a cardinal virtue. Allow me to draw your attention to examples generally little known, but which bear witness in themselves to a great, sometimes even heroic, virtue. I am thinking, for example, of a woman, mother of an already numerous family, who is "advised" by so many to kill a new life conceived in her womb by undergoing "the intervention" of the interruption of pregnancy; and with firmness she responds: "No". She certainly feels all the difficulty that this "no" brings with it, difficulty for herself, for her husband, for the whole family, and nevertheless she responds: "No". The new human life conceived in her is a value too great, too "sacred", for her to be able to yield to such pressure.

Another example: a man who is promised freedom and also an easy career on condition that he denies his own principles, or approves something that is against his honesty towards others. And he too responds "No", even in the face of threats on the one side, and attractions on the other. Here is a courageous man!

Many, many are the manifestations of fortitude, often heroic, of which nothing is written in the newspapers, or of which little is known. Only human conscience knows them ... and God knows!

I desire to pay tribute to all these courageous unknown people. To all those who have the courage to say "no" or "yes", when this costs! To the men and women who give a singular testimony of human dignity and of profound humanity. Precisely through the fact that they are unknown, they merit a tribute and a particular recognition.

According to the doctrine of St Thomas, the virtue of fortitude is met in the man:
— who is ready "aggredi pericula", that is, to face danger;
— who is ready "sustinere mala", that is, to endure adversities for a just cause, for truth, for justice, etc.

The virtue of fortitude always requires a certain overcoming of human weakness and above all of fear. Man in fact, by nature, spontaneously fears danger, displeasure, suffering. Hence courageous men and women need to be sought not only on battlefields, but also in hospital wards or on a bed of pain. Such men and women could often be encountered in concentration camps and in places of deportation. They were authentic heroes.

Fear sometimes strips civil courage from people who are living in a climate of threat, oppression or persecution. So those who are capable of crossing the so-called barrier of fear, in order to bear witness to the truth and to justice, have particular value. To reach such fortitude, man must in a certain way "go beyond" his own limits and "overcome" himself, running "the risk" of an unknown situation, the risk of being disliked, the risk of exposing himself to unpleasant consequences, insults, degradations, material losses, perhaps imprisonment or persecution. To reach such fortitude, man must be sustained by a great love for the truth and for the good, to which he dedicates himself. The virtue of fortitude proceeds hand in hand with the capacity to sacrifice oneself. This virtue already had a well-defined profile among the Ancients. With Christ it acquired an evangelical, Christian profile. The Gospel is addressed to the weak, the poor, the meek and humble, the peacemakers, the merciful and, at the same time, contains in itself a constant call to fortitude. It often repeats: "Do not be afraid" (Mt 14, 27). It teaches man that, for a just cause, for truth, for justice, one must know how to "give one's own life" (Jn 15, 13).

I desire here to refer again to another example, which comes from 400 years ago but still remains alive and actual. It concerns the figure of St Stanislaus Kostka, patron saint of the young, whose tomb is in the church of Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, in Rome. It was indeed here that this saint, by nature
very sensitive and tender yet very courageous, ended his life at eighteen years of age. Born into a noble family, fortitude led him to choose to be poor, following the example of Christ, and to put himself at Jesus' exclusive service. Although his decision met with firm opposition from his circle, he succeeded with great love but also with great firmness, in realizing his purpose, contained in the motto: "Ad maiora natus sum": I was born for greater things. He arrived at the novitiate of the Jesuits, travelling on foot from Vienna to Rome, while seeking to escape his pursuers who wanted, by force, to divert this "obstinate" young man from his intentions.

I know that in the month of November many young people from all over Rome, and especially students, pupils and novices, visit the tomb of St Stanislaus in the church of Sant' Andrea. I am together with them, because our generation also needs men who know with holy "obstinacy" how to repeat: "Ad maiora natus sum." We need strong men!

We need fortitude to be men and women. Indeed only someone who possesses the virtue of fortitude is truly prudent.

Let us pray for this gift of the Holy Spirit which is called the "gift of fortitude". When man lacks the strength to "overcome" himself in view of higher values, such as truth, justice, vocation, faithfulness in marriage, this "gift from above" is needed to make each of us strong and, at the right moment, to tell to us "in our innermost self": Courage!"

To newly weds

"Greetings and best wishes to the newlyweds present at the audience. The sacrament of marriage brings human love to its perfection as a symbol of the covenant that exists between Christ and the Church. Live it in this light with mutual fidelity and generous trust in Christ's help."

To the sick

"The Pope wishes to give special attention to the sick, to bring them an affectionate greeting and a word of comfort and encouragement. You, dear sick people, have an important place in the Church, if you can interpret your difficult situation in the light of faith and if, in this light, you are able to live your illness with a generous and strong heart. Each of you can then affirm with St Paul: "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24)."

No to violence

"Speaking of human suffering, my thought goes also to all the painful events which depend on the bad will of unscrupulous men, who for ideological reasons or for the sake of profit give themselves up to forms of violence, which do not stop even in the face of those human situations which have been regarded as worthy of particular respect by every people and in all times. How could I fail to mention, in this connection, the case of Mrs Marcella Boroli Balestrini, kidnapped in Milan on 9 October last and not yet returned to the love of her dear ones, in spite of her state of advanced pregnancy and precarious conditions of health? The Pope addresses his heartfelt prayer to the Lord to instil in the hearts of the kidnappers, and of all the persons involved in episodes of violence all over Italy and the world, thoughts of human sensitivity, so that they will end so many, too many, atrocious sufferings, unworthy of civilized countries. In the meantime, let the comfort of my fatherly Blessing go to the victims and to their relatives."

Alle Pontificie Opere Missionarie

"Con particolare intensità d’affetto rivolgo ora il mio saluto ai membri del Consiglio Superiore delle Pontificie Opere Missionarie, accompagnati a questa udienza dal Prefetto della Sacra Congregazione per l’Evangelizzazione dei popoli, l’Eminentissimo Cardinale Angelo Rossi.

La vostra presenza, figli carissimi, mi offre l’opportunità di esprimere, insieme con la gratitudine per questo vostro gesto di sincera devozione, l’alta considerazione che nutro per l’attività intelligente e solerte, da voi svolta con ammirevole dedizione a servizio della causa missionaria. Per il credente, questa deve essere la causa che primeggia fra tutte, perché riguarda il destino eterno degli uomini, perché risponde al disegno misterioso di Dio sul significato della vita e della storia dell’umanità, perché abilita le diverse culture a perseguire efficacemente la meta di un vero e plenario umanesimo.

Continuate, dunque, con immutato impegno nel vostro lavoro di animazione missionaria, in stretto collegamento, da una parte, con le Conferenze Episcopali dei vostri Paesi e, dall’altra, con la Congregazione di “Propaganda Fide”, a cui spetta il compito di coordinare gli sforzi di tutti verso mete comuni.

Che lo Spirito di Cristo vi illumini e vi sostenga, unitamente a tutti coloro che qui rappresentate, in questa vostra opera delicata e importantissima per la vita della Chiesa. Il Papa vi è vicino con la sua preghiera e con la sua Benedizione."