Be Courageous, Be Strong

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Faith is not solely a matter of the mind, nor is it solely a matter of the heart. It is not just an interior thing. In fact, it is nothing if it is not lived out in the world publicly, purposefully, justly and compassionately. Which is easier: to say that one believes, or to willingly live one’s faith in the midst of the world that can misunderstand it, misinterpret it, even despise it and want to destroy it? We know the answer, of course, but we are also aware of our own fears, doubts, needs to be accepted, and so on. We know that we ought to live our faith, but we also know instinctively that it takes courage to do so.

Courage is one of the moral virtues. For Aristotle, moral virtue is the habit of making right choices. He says that when you form a habit and it is well developed, you take pleasure in doing it. You find that acting against your habits is painful. Aristotle defined three major moral virtues: courage, temperance and justice. Fro him, courage is an habitual disposition to take whatever pains may be involved in doing what we ought to do for the sake of the good life. For Aristotle, the ʺgood lifeʺ was the end result of having developed a virtuous character. For him, virtuous character was defined by self-discipline. He saw the ʺgood lifeʺ as arising from the development of the habits of courage, temperance and justice. It has no relationship to the modern sense of ʺthe good life,ʺ which is often interpreted as, ʺhaving it all.ʺ

Paul puts the matter of living our faith in the world quite succinctly when he writes, ʺBe on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.ʺ (1 Corinthians 16: 13) Why? Because, as Christians, ʺ[Our] every act should be done with love.ʺ (1 Corinthians 16: 14) To be able to act always with love requires great courage, for the kind of love that we are asked to bring to the world through our faith is a love far greater than the world’s sense of love. A Christian understands that: ʺLove is patient, love is kind. It is never jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.ʺ (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

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The Scriptures teach us the kind of moral behavior, rooted in love, that we ought to live out of as Christians. It is not just the Ten Commandments, it is also the Two Great Commandments. Moral teaching must not rest on blind obedience but on the courage to be responsible. We all know that, as adults, we must learn to take on the necessary responsibilities of every aspect of our lives. This takes courage. The moral virtues of Temperance and Justice can not be developed fully without the moral virtue of Courage. Temperance is the habit of being able to resist the lure of bodily pleasures, or to limit our cravings for limited goods. In the words of an old song: ʺYou got to know when to hold them, when to fold them, and when to get up and walk away.ʺ That takes great courage. Justice also requires a great deal of courage, precisely because justice must often be demanded in the face of unjust power, intimidation, and fearful forces.

Paul is telling us in this passage that faith in God is the source of our courage. Our faith informs us as to what is ʺreallyʺ good. It encourages us because we know that God is with us and that he desires our success in all matters of moral good. We know in faith that, if we submit to his commandment of love, and if we show even a tentative inclination to submit our will to his, he will strengthen us with his grace. Christ has shown us the living meaning of courage. He promises us that we will never be left alone, that he will walk with us through all of our troubles and challenges. We Christians must encourage one another too. The world needs courageous Christian examples of faithful, of morally strong people. People who have the courage to meet injustices with peaceful confidence, even joyful forgiveness. People who have courage and the temperance to respond to injustices with love, rather than hate. People who love justice enough to suffer, like Christ, for the common good. In doing this, the world will see the real purpose, meaning and value of the Christian life. Christians need to be the most courageous, the strongest moral actors in the world.

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I have a little courage, increase it with your grace. Make me an instrument of your love and your peace in this world. Give me the courage to pick up my cross daily and to follow you. For in you only is my salvation. In you only is the salvation of the world. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.