Fortitude: 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. 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. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997, para. 1808).
In trying times, most of us realize the limits of our “virtue muscles.” We see, perhaps more easily than in other times, our struggles with fear or challenge to persevere in difficulty. We may find ourselves more willing to bend into thoughts and feelings that contradict our otherwise clear thinking. Or we may sink under heaviness as we confront circumstances that feel larger than life.
These challenges we face—from enduring global and political unrest to our own personal struggles to overcome addiction, despair or obsessive thinking—require an exercising of fortitude. We need strengthened moral muscles to persevere in choosing good and resisting lifestyles or messages that sink our flesh or spirit.
When I walk with people who have had (or are in) seasons of prolonged suffering, I am aware that it becomes tempting to settle for a low vision of the self or of life. If we have battled something for years or even decades, it can be tempting to throw up our hands with the words “nothing ever changes” or “I’ll always be this way” or “there’s no hope for me.” Not true! But the ordering/ orienting towards change necessitates a deeper virtue: a fortitude that keeps us choosing the good no matter what it costs us.
And cost us it does. The work of healing and standing upright requires a strength to face weakness, fear and shame. It requires that we renounce the lies that the world has told us—lies about our identity, our value or our purpose. It is essential that we discover and name the good that we are orienting around, lest we get confused in our persevering.
I had a client many years ago who came to therapy aware that she was in the lowest spot she had known. A failed marriage, challenging career path and layers of self-loathing and despair, she was not sure if help was available to her. But slowly, week by week, she began to vulnerably name her fears and doubts. Courageously she took little step after little step towards a more purposeful existence. Last we saw one another she was shining with her visions of hope and possibility. She had transformed.
It was the undercurrent of fortitude that energized her way. Before things “changed” in her life, she started holding onto the strength that she was fighting a worthy battle. She began to identify the emotional and practical states that were keeping her blocked, and together we began to name the truth of who she was and what she stood for. She was strengthened in perseverance and her life reflected it, too.
Consider what challenges you are facing today and ask: what is the good that I need to pursue? When you know that, set your feet in that direction. To be sure, it may be a winding road to total freedom, but keeping the vision before you will assure that you are fighting towards the right end.
In this, through learning and practice, the virtue of fortitude will develop. And as we grow in fortitude, our capability to withstand challenging times grows. In a dizzying global climate and unrest in our own lives, these virtues ground us, lest we become tossed to and fro by the storms that trouble us. May we all develop the fortitude that empowers us to endure!
Abbey Foard MA, LPC, NCC