So, fortitude is about things, people, circumstances that threaten us. We speak easily nowadays about finding something “threatening.” We might use the word to describe our feeling about someone’s personality, and confide to a friend, “I don’t know why, but Sam threatens me.” Or, it might be that some actions are scary for us. We might admit to someone we trust, “The very idea of getting up in front of an audience and giving a speech is much too threatening. I couldn’t possibly do it.” We all know what it’s like to feel threatened, and it is very uncomfortable. No one likes it. That churning feeling in the stomach. That inability to behave naturally, to find the right words to converse normally. The trembling hands, the racing pulse. Something elicits these symptoms of anxiety because it is perceived as dangerous. Fortitude is what governs our fear of danger. This fear needs to be kept under control, because if it is allowed to get the upper hand, we will simply run away.
Now, there are times when running away is the wisest thing to do. No one contests that. But what if the person who “threatens” us happens to be our employer in a job we know we can do? If we run away every time we feel threatened by someone, we will not be able to negotiate the pressures of the professional world. It is fortitude that counsels us to stick it out, explore our insecurity, try to determine why these feelings are surfacing and then take steps to overcome them. We do this because earning a living requires it. Financial independence is one of the requirements of adulthood, ordinarily. We need fortitude not only for things that are obviously big and difficult – like perhaps running into a burning building to rescue someone. Even in order to realise the goals entailed in living as an adult we need the strength that fortitude develops within us.
Père Jacque Hamel’s last earthly audience included his murderers.
Or, take our other example, that of feeling threatened by having to speak before an audience. This is not something that is required of everyone, but, once again, what if your job requires you to lead a seminar from time to time? Your future in the company might depend on it. It is fortitude that counsels us to learn how to address an audience by perhaps taking advice from someone who is accustomed to public speaking, by planning your talk well in advance, by noting that smiling and making eye-contact with the audience is important, and so on. Fortitude is what comes into action when we might prefer to run away, wiggle out of something, or back out of situations that are of importance to our personal, professional or religious lives.
For further study:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994
The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press