02 September 2022

In Praise of Courage

Last Thursday the students from St Patrick’s Primary School celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with Bishop Les Tomlinson, and next Friday it will be St Brigid’s Healesville’s turn. Among the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of Fortitude (also called courage), which is also listed among the four cardinal virtues.

The Catechism explains the virtue of fortitude thus:

“Fortitude is 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 defence of a just cause.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.1808)

There is in the world (and moreover in the Church) a chronic shortage of fortitude. We find ourselves so susceptible to peer pressure and the weight of public opinion, exacerbated by social media and the now familiar phenomenon of ‘cancel culture’. We tend to want to ‘fit in’ at all costs, and avoid anything that might expose us to criticism. It takes great fortitude to be able to resist public pressure and persevere in doing what is right; living up to the demands of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and defending the principles at stake. Jesus himself was no push-over. He comforted the afflicted, but he equally afflicted the comfortable, and knew how to provoke a crowd to the point of murderous intent. He insisted on certain principles that shocked even his disciples. Jesus never acted like a politician seeking to win the crowd by telling them what they wanted to hear. He spoke the truth and insisted upon it, even if it meant rejection. Jesus was the personal instantiation of the virtue of courage, by doing what is right, not what is popular.

In the last few weeks Mount Lilydale Secondary College found itself in the news over a truly ridiculous incident. One of the students had made a short film that contradicted basic Christian sexual ethics by promoting homosexual acts. The College made the decision not to include the film as part of the students Year 12 exhibition. It was a prudential judgment that up until a few years ago would not have been remotely controversial. The Fairfax media’s coverage of this, and the ensuing pile-on, sought to bully and shame the school into reversing its decision. This is now the legacy media’s standard modus operandi, functioning as a lobby group to advance the cultural Marxist juggernaut of Anti-Christian leftism. The leadership of the College under the Principal, Mr Philip Morison, is to be commended for their courage under fire. We are so accustomed to organisations and corporations kowtowing to the mob, that it is encouraging to see that they have stood their ground, demonstrating fortitude’s “firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.”

Cancel culture is a cancer in society. It takes advantage of our society’s cultivated superficiality (where labels and insults have replaced evidence-based arguments from reason) and our culture’s hyper-emotional impulsivity. We no longer think, collect information, ruminate, assess and then act; instead we just feel and act impulsively. Social media fuels and rewards this tendency to erupt with rage. The force of our feelings offers us the false assurance of infallibility in our judgements. Cancel culture is the modern equivalent of the lynch mob. It has the effect of shutting down healthy debate, degrading public discourse to a screaming match, and fostering lockstep conformity to the opinion of the loudest (and best-funded) voices in the media. Cancel-culture promotes moral cowardice and timidity - the opposite of the Christian virtue of courage.

The sometimes-thorny truths of Jesus Christ cannot be watered-down or ignored to accommodate those who have openly rejected them. We must propose the perennial truths of Christian morality with a Gospel boldness, in season and out of season. As our culture becomes more and more hostile toward Christianity let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of Fortitude.

For one editorial on this subject see: