Saint John the Baptist (Titian)
Immaculate Conception--Holy Day of Obligation
This Thursday, December 8th, 2016
of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Advent, and the Blessing of the Advent Wreath
Humphreys' Advent 2016 Pastoral Letter
“What did you go out to the desert to see?”
If you ask people to name the virtues,
there are some pretty common answers that you get. Probably the three that come
to mind most easily are faith, hope, and charity. They just hang together, sort
of poetically. If pressed, most people will come up with a few more, such as
chastity, or justice, or honesty, or prudence.
But there is another very important
virtue that should come to mind, particularly during this Advent season, and
that is the virtue of fortitude. I say that it is particularly associated with
Advent for two reasons: First of all because fortitude is the virtue that was
required by the Jews to endure the thousands of years of waiting for the
promised Redeemer—and those four thousand years or so are represented by the
four weeks of Advent. But secondly, and more to the point, during Advent we
read a fair amount about Saint John the Baptist, who is an excellent role model
to imitate in practicing the virtue of fortitude.
Actually, there are two kinds of
fortitude. One prepares us to do battle with evil whenever that is
appropriate. The other enables us to endure evil and put up with it whenever
that is the more appropriate course of action. Both forms of this virtue act to
give us self-control. Like most of the virtues, it helps us to follow a “middle
course,” avoiding excessive behavior or extremism.
Specifically, fortitude helps us to avoid the extremes of boldness on the one
hand, or cowardice on the other. It should be obvious that we can't go through
life boldly jumping on everything and everyone who offends us even slightly.
But, likewise, it is equally obvious that we cannot be cowardly; refusing to
stand up for our basic rights, for the rights of others, and for the things we
Fortitude helps us to control passions
like anger and lust; to put up with the difficulties of the world like hunger
and toil; and it helps us to keep going even in the face of great personal loss,
the death of a loved one or a natural disaster for example. It helps us to hold
on to our Faith and Christian principles, even though everyone around us has
abandoned them and is urging us to give them up too.
In a sense, fortitude is a virtue that
underlies all of the other virtues. It is easy to see that without fortitude it
might be relatively easy for us to lose our Faith, or to abandon Hope, or to be
unable to persevere in the love of God or neighbor. Without fortitude we
wouldn't continue very long in virtues like honesty of chastity. Stated simply,
we can think of fortitude as that thing that keeps the world from "wearing us
down," and depriving us of our spirit and spirituality.
Like most of the virtues, we can develop
fortitude by understanding it, and especially by practicing it:
1) To have fortitude, we need to
nourish our love of God. If we spend a lot of our time considering the goodness
of God and the joys of the kingdom of heaven, we are much less likely to allow
ourselves to stray from the path that leads to God. If we ignore God, we will
have no motivation to stay on that path we might not even think to try.
2) We are also wise to give some
thought to the future; to anticipate the evils that may come upon us, both
physical and spiritual, so that they don't take us by surprise and unprepared.
“To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
3) To develop fortitude, we ought not
to give ourselves over to “rehashing” our problems and grumbling about our
afflictions. It is too easy to talk ourselves into believing that they are a
greater burden than we can bear. We ought to reflect, rather, on how past
troubles have gone away; and how we can unite our sufferings with those of our
Lord on the Cross, making them meritorious instead of frustrating.
4) Finally, we can imitate the
fortitude demonstrated by our Lord and His saints. That's why I mention John
the Baptist during this Advent season. It helps to keep saints like him in
mind; living on honey and wild locusts in the desert;
preaching to people who would never completely understand his message;
ultimately dying just for insisting on the truth that Herod’s adulterous
marriage broke the moral law.
We live in a deeply secularized world.
One that would like to bring us down to its level; that will try to wear us
down and destroy our faith and break our spirit, and ultimately steal our soul.
All the more reason to work hard to build fortitude.
All the more reason to agree with our
Lord that we did not come out to see a man clothed in sort garments; that we
did no come out to hear one who lives in the houses of kings. But rather that
we came out to see the prophet; to meet the prophet of fortitude; who prepared
the way of the Lord and who leads us down that middle way—the only way—that
leads to the kingdom of heaven.