16 September 2012
True Prophets, Courageous Disciples
that your prophets be found true.
Hear the prayers of your servant,
and of your people Israel.
—Cf. Sir 36: 18-22, Introit, 24 Sunday of the Year
In which the pilgrim sketches a portrait of a Christian imbued with the Virtue of Courage.
What does a Christian look like? St Paul tells us what a Christian is not: neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian or native, slave or free, not male or female (Col 3:11, and others). He tells us that some of us used to be fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and robbers, but now, if we are Christ's, no longer (1 Cor 6:9-11). So who are we? What are we supposed to look like? What makes us true Prophets of the Lord?
Today's readings offer us a portrait of the Christian, particularly the courageous Christian. It is not a portrait of a timid person, but a bold one of faith and imbued with the Cardinal virtue of Fortitude, or courage, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The image of such a person, Isaiah tells us, is one who can face beatings upon their back and face, having their hair ripped out, being spat upon. And far from giving us the image of one who takes these blows cowering with fear, an image of disgrace, it is the image of one who stands with a face set like flint. Classic art also gives us a portrait of the Virtue itself keep in mind. The Four Cardinal Virtues—Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude—were often depicted as four women bearing symbols of the Virtue they represented. Fortitude. The most familiar, blindfolded Justice bears her scales; Prudence carries a mirror to remind us that we must "know thyself" before we can know what decisions to make; Temperance carries a cup and pitcher, pouring just enough, knowing how much is too much. Virtue is depicted as a warrior, carrying sword and shield, ever ready to enter into Spiritual Combat, often leading the other Virtues, for without Courage one cannot act upon them.
These images we should bear in mind when meditating on the Virtue of Courage. Christ tells us that we shall bear persecutions for his sake and tells us that if we would save our life, we must lose it. Christ knows what scary thoughts these are. But when we remember that he faced his Passion with courage, it should embolden us to face any hardship in his name, whether it be the blessings of martyrdom, or standing with conviction up to our friends, or even our family, when they question our faith and desire to live fully for Christ.
The latter is not as easy as it sounds. Even Peter, in today's reading, shows us we can fail when it comes to pronouncing the full gospel. Jesus pulls aside the apostles privately to ask them about what the crowd thinks of Him. Notice the crowd doesn't give simple answers: Jesus could be the inheritor of John the Baptist or Elijah (if not actually the men themselves!), in other words heralds of the Messiah; they say he could be a prophet, one who bears the word of the God. But the crowd is not bold enough, and it is the bold answer, the one that requires fortitude, that Jesus is the Christ, that is not that he just bears the word of God, but that he IS the Word of God. And Peter declares that Truth. But when faced with the crowd, when Jesus starts to declare that the Son of Man must suffer, then Peter's courage fades, and is rebuked by Jesus for it. So often does our own courage fail when confronted by the crowd, the friends, and skeptical family—can we face them with fortitude, boldly declaring our faith?
St. James offers us one last thought, but incredibly important meditation, about Courage. He offers the example of so-called Christians who declares their faith, but do not act upon it. These people may be fervent in their declarations of faith, just as Peter fervently declared Jesus 'the Christ' but they will not act. Likely this is because they lack Courage; they lack the conviction supplied by grace to carry forward acting on the full teachings of Christ. They are afraid to deny themselves, afraid of the Cross, afraid of persecutions and suffering for the sake of Christ. We cannot afford to be such a person, the stakes are too high. But fear not! God stands with us always and will grant us the courage we pray for.
Let us then pray everyday for Courage, that we may serve with all our heart, and granted such go forth, preaching the gospel to all creatures, giving those who need them the necessities of the body, and boldly walk the way of the Cross with Christ to Golgotha and on to Eternal Life in God. Amen.