Monday, October 6, 2014

The Cardinal Virtues: Becoming Courageous

Last week, we looked at the courageous example of Nelson Mandela, a man who faced much loss and suffering to do what was right.

To have courage is to have the strength of heart to do what is right in the face of what is so difficult. To do less is cowardice. To be act blindly is recklessness.

St. Thomas Aquinas points out that we have to face immanent, potential death in order to be courageous like heroes and martyrs.

We may say, “But I don’t face death too often. Can I be courageous in small ways?”


We face “deaths” on a daily basis: loss of a loved one, loss of self-esteem, loss of personal freedom, loss of a dream, loss of certainty, loss of a routine... and these are very real losses.

Think about the last time you were rejected by a date or received a letter of rejection from a university or job. The loss is real. When we know that impending “loss” or “death” in advance, our very choice to still try takes courage.

Courage has four “integral parts.” R.E. Houser reviews St. Thomas Aquinas’ parts in his article, “The Virtue of Courage”. The parts are: magnanimity, magnificence, patience, and perseverance.

Magnanimity is being “great-souled”—giving without holding back. It’s the elderly man who pays for all of the refreshments at the parish auction. There is a small ‘dying to self’ involved. And so there is courage.

Magnificence is like magnanimity, but whereas the former concerns holding nothing back, the latter is about acting well in your giving. It’s the mom who, week after week, takes her daughter’s friends home from dance, and doesn’t grumble about not getting paid for gas. That, though small, is a magnificent act.

Patience is rather easy. If I am not patient, I cannot be OK with suffering. Patience is the Dad who waits on his boy to learn to tie his shoes rather than rushing him. It takes something from us. Thus, it requires courage.

Perseverance is the fourth and final part. Enduring difficulty takes courage Its the firefighter who fights all night or the nurse who works 12-hours shifts. Acceptance tough, lasting difficulty reveals and increases our courage.

There are things worth being courageous for. Start with just one of the four ways. Momentary actions become routine habits, and routine habits lead to lifelong virtue.

Publish in the South Gibson Star Times