Thursday, April 5, 2012

Applying the Cardinal Virtues to Motherhood, Cont...

Applying the Cardinal Virtues to Motherhood, Part VI
A Thesis by Jacquelyn Barten, Guest Blogger

On Fortitude

Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good.  By its nature fortitude also perfects the spirited emotions of hope, courage, fear, despair, and anger.[1]  In other words, fortitude gives the ability to resist temptation, overcome obstacles, conquer fear, and face trials and persecutions.  It is a resoluteness of mind to endure any kind of danger, endure any suffering.[2]  Pieper wrote that human fortitude realizes this essential image: “man accepts insecurity; he surrenders confidently to the governance of higher powers; he ‘risks’ his immediate well-being; he abandons the tense, egocentric hold of a timorous anxiety.”[3]
One of the first examples Pope John Paul II drew upon in his 1978 General Audience on fortitude is the courage a mother experiencing difficulties with an already large family has in rejecting advice to end her pregnancy, and how she recognizes the sacredness of her pregnancy in doing so.[4]  Although familiar, this is an extreme circumstance.  There are countless heroic acts of fortitude, “little deaths” in motherhood known only to the mother’s conscience and God.  These little sacrifices could be as simple as waking up with a smile on your face for your children, gifts of love from God, after an interrupted night’s sleep, or cleaning up the spilled beverage for the third time with a joy in serving.  Kaczor and Sherman wrote that “small acts of goodness lead to more, and eventually a stable disposition to seek what is truly good.”[5]  Mother’s learn to die to self, a form of “white martyrdom.”[6]  They learn to temper and tame their emotions.  Kaczor and Sherman explain that “passions such as anger, fear, or desire are not considered in a general way good or evil.  Once a passion is brought into human action, however, this act of reason and will, though motivated by passion, has a character of good or evil.”[7]  The passions call for “neither praise nor blame” but, for example, being overly angry to an unreasonable degree may be blameworthy.[8]  While on the other hand, St. Thomas discussed how anger in action modified by reason can be found in a virtuous person.[9]  Anger brings about the realization of the need for discipline, which is indispensible in parenting.  When a mother is brave through anger, she makes a choice and acts steadfastly with purpose.[10]
St. Thomas wrote specifically about what is required of mankind to have the virtue of courage: the exercise of four related habits: magnanimity [confidence – not pusillanimity (shrinking back), or presumption (ambition, or vainglory)], magnificence (the ability to accomplish great things), patience (“suffering well” brings one to beatitude) and perseverance.[11] 

St. Thomas cites Scripture for an example of pusillanimity (Col. 3:21): “Fathers, provoke not your children to indignation, lest they be discouraged."[12]  Kaczor and Sherman expound on St. Thomas’ writings that “pride may be at work when people maintain their (belittling)[pusillanimity] viewpoint of themselves, thereby not shouldering the duties that they are capable of carrying,” to be a father or mother to a large family, for example.[13]  Vocations such as this take magnanimity, not to be confused, however, with vainglory.  Living a virtuous life always requires a delicate balance, a finding of the mean of a virtue.  The second habit, magnificence, may help a mother to have the goal of raising her children to be holy and virtuous, while recognizing that any success she has is through the grace of God. 

The third required habit of fortitude is patience.  Patience requires a preparedness of the mind, an act of prudence.  Kaczor and Sherman remind us of how Jesus was the best teacher of patience.  “Knowing all things, he waited for others to learn.  Capable of all things, he himself grew in wisdom and stature as a human.  Aware of the future and end of all people, he nevertheless related to them in time as they were.”[14]  This is the patient understanding that a mother is called to.  Discussing this third habit, St. Thomas pushed the virtue of patience a step further to the necessity of humility.  “Now it belongs to fortitude of the mind to bear bravely with infirmities of the flesh, and this belongs to the virtue of patience or fortitude, as also to acknowledge one's own infirmity, and this belongs to the perfection that is called humility.”[15]  How often do parents know more than children, but do not humble themselves to patiently wait for them to learn?

St. Thomas discussed the final habit of fortitude, perseverance, as a special virtue since it consists in enduring delays in virtuous deeds so far as necessity requires.[16]  This means abandoning the vices opposed to perseverance: being headstrong, stubborn, or opinionated, wanting one’s own way rather than what is right. [17]  For this reason, Kaczor and Sherman note that “grace is especially important for perseverance.”[18]  Motherhood constantly asks mothers to persevere and work with their faults, educating them through prayer and with the graces that especially come through the sacraments, in order to be virtuous in the home.  Pieper stated that “endurance, not wrathful attack, is the ultimately decisive test of actual fortitude,” since the “uttermost strength of the good manifests itself in powerlessness.”[19]  As Pieper explains, the Gospel message of offering your other cheek when someone strikes you is not to be taken literally, but it signifies a readiness of the soul to bear, if it be necessary, such things and worse, without bitterness against the attacker.[20]  Christ did this on the cross; mothers do this, albeit to a lesser degree, every day in their homes. 

Ultimately, how can mothers acquire the cardinal virtue of fortitude?  God graces them with the first step in the right direction: the vulnerable state created by each new stage in motherhood with its host of questions and doubts.  Pieper noted, “without vulnerability there is not possibility of fortitude.”[21]  Christians are assured that if they ask God and pray to the Holy Spirit for patience or simply the virtue of fortitude in general, those prayers will be answered.  Pieper wrote that “The supernatural fortitude bestowed by grace, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, pervades and crowns all other ‘natural’ modes of Christian fortitude.”[22]  Acquired habits are perfected by God’s graced gift of hope: “hope for eternal life is properly a gift, and that without this gift there can be no such thing as truly Christian fortitude.”[23]  St. Thomas stated: “Hence it is not presumptuous for a man to attempt the accomplishment of a virtuous deed: but it would be presumptuous if one were to make the attempt without confidence in God's assistance.”[24] 

[1]Catechism 1808; Torraco, Part B, 2-3 & 3-2.
[2] Kaczor and Sherman, 227.
[3] Pieper, 138-141.
[4] Pope John Paul II, General Audience, November 15, 1978, (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1978), [accessed October 2, 2010].    
[5] Kaczor and Sherman, 279.
[6] Ibid, 250.
[7] Ibid, 254.
[8] Aquinas, II, II, 125, 1.
[9] Ibid, II, II, 123, 10.
[10] Aquinas, II, II, 123, 10.
[11] Kaczor and Sherman, 227.
[12] Aquinas, II, II, 133, 1.
[13] Kaczor and Sherman, 285.
[14] Kaczor and Sherman, 287.
[15] Aquinas, II, II, 123, 1.
[16] Aquinas, II, II, 137, 1.
[17] Ibid, II, II, 138, 2.
[18] Kaczor and Sherman, 290.
[19] Pieper, 131.
[20] Pieper, 132.
[21] Ibid, 117.
[22] Pieper, 141.
[23] Ibid, 141.
[24] Aquinas, II, II, 130, 1.

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