the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of
Antioch, 1st c. A.D
How to Acquire the Virtue of Fortitude
Pluck. Cojones. Vigor. Balls. Moxie. Mettle. Spunk. "The right stuff"
it takes to "stand tall." All of these are words and phrases that might
be used to signify Fortitude -- the virtue of resolve, the virtue that
helps us to persevere in spite of difficulties. It's a "stiff upper
lip" and "Keep Calm and Carry On." It's evident in the blood of
martyrs, and the wounds of soldiers. It's a fireman running into a
burning building, a mother fighting to the death to save her young, or
a child standing up to his much larger bully. It's also an accountant
working day after day for thirty years at a job he hates so he can feed
his family. A woman home-schooling her seven children while she
cooks and keeps the house clean. Or a student willing himself to
practice the piano for two hours every night so he can one day play
Beethoven's most difficult sonatas. It's being able to say with Marcus
Be like a rocky
promontory against which the restless surf continually pounds; it
stands fast while the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet. I
hear you say, "How unlucky that this should happen to me!" Not at all!
Say instead, "How lucky that I am not broken by what has happened and
am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have
struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation
Fortitude moderates the irascible passions -- those passions that move
us with regard to obstacles standing in our way. Those irascible
passions are: hope, despair, courage, fear, and anger. Let's look more
deeply into them and into practices that might help us acquire the
Hope and Despair
Hope as an irascible passion must be distinguished from the theological
virtue of hope: the former is simply the desire for a good that we
believe we can, with difficulty, attain in the future; the latter is a
supernaturally infused virtue that pertains to our expectation of
entering into Heaven, by the grace of God. The passion of hope moves us toward a
good we seek. But when that good comes to be seen as unobtainable, it
turns into despair, and we withdraw, moving away from the good we'd
What should we be hoping for,
though? How can we know if what we seek is good for us to try to attain
given our abilities, inabilities, disabilities, duties, and
circumstances? How can we know if the good we seek is attainable? This
is where Prudence, that director of the virtues, comes in.
We live in a world in which it's assumed that every wish should be
acted on and that every dream must come true. "Just Do It" and "you go,
girl!" might be motivating attitudes -- but unmoored from
Prudence, they're potentially dangerous platitudes. Think of those
folks who used to show up on "America's
Got Talent" thinking they're great singers but who were, in fact,
hilariously, gob-smackingly awful.1 Are you a man wishing to
be a woman? The in-crowd would have you undergo surgery, take hormones,
doll yourself up, and
call yourself "Mona." Are you a physically unattractive, disfigured
woman? In today's world, don't let that stop you from chucking it all
and moving to New York City so you can become a model. Want a
wedding that'll stand
out on Instagram? Make it a destination wedding (who cares about the
costs to your guests
$10K on a dress you'll wear once, and don't settle for anything less
than Dom Pérignon.
Not all unwise goals are so outrageous. Moving to this city rather than
that one because the former is more exciting may be unwise if it means
putting up with higher crime rates and worse schools, or choosing a
as a dog groomer might (or might not) be better for you than choosing
one as a nurse. To discern these things, call on Prudence, and start
these six basic questions: "Is the goal I'm considering good? Is
it attainable? What would be sacrificed in achieving it? What could go
wrong? Would the sacrifices and risks be worth it? And, if I were to
what would be my 'Plan B'?" Use your head to determine what to set your
Be circumspect. Be shrewd. Be cautious. And seek good counsel in the
Then, once you've determined your goal, set out a path for
attaining it. Come up with a plan of action. A worksheet to help you
out: Goal Chart (pdf)
Now, when trying to achieve something, it's easy to get discouraged.
This is where two great aspects of the virtue of Fortitude come in:
perseverance and patience. And these are two things you can develop in
yourself. Some tricks to help you stick to a goal and get through a
First, pray for
perseverance and patience, and offer up
more you do something, the easier it becomes to do, and the easier it
becomes to do, the more resistant you are to quitting.
Change the way
you see the task: for ex., if you're wanting to lose weight, don't
think of it as "losing weight"; think of it as "getting healthy."
Instead of imagining yourself as "a person who's on a diet," envision
yourself as "someone who's becoming healthy."
Harness your own
dopamine: reward yourself periodically, especially by using rewards you
normally don't get to enjoy.
cheerleader. Better yet, be your own cheerleader.
tasks up into sets of smaller tasks. For example, if you're overwhelmed
at the idea of having the task of "cleaning the house," break it up
into smaller tasks by focusing on just one room, and while you're
cleaning that room, don't think about the rest of the house. If even
that is too much, break the one room down
into even smaller tasks. Instead of having "cleaning the bathroom" on
your list, have "clean the sink." Then "clean the tub." Then "clean the
floor." The point is to have the individual tasks on your list
be of a size that doesn't mentally overwhelm you, and focusing only on
the task at hand.
Play with time:
imposing deadlines on yourself might work if it helps you see a
definite end to your labor. Or spreading a task out over time might be
better for your given temperament or the nature of the work at hand. 2
Make use of time
that's usually wasted. For ex., while you're talking on the phone, you
could also be dusting a table. Or while commercials are playing during
a show you're watching, you could go wipe down the stove instead of
sitting there mindlessly.
If it's a task
you're sharing with others, turning aspects of it into competitions
might make things go more easily. Or try competing with yourself,
working to do something better, more efficiently, or faster than you
had the day before.
you work: if the task is one that doesn't require mental focus, you can
get through it more easily by: praying; concurrently listening to audio
podcasts, or music; playing mental games with yourself or others
you're working with;3 singing, especially
with others: think of sailors of yore getting through work with sea
shanties, American slaves singing those glorious Gospel songs, or
Scottish women singing their waulking songs while fulling cloth:
Or, to put it another way, how impatient or bored you could be if you
were singing silly "sea shanties"
about the "Kittyman," like these "Trailer Park Boys" fools do?:
If you fail at your goal, and your hope fades into despair,
need to try again at a later time, modify your goal, or try something
else altogether. But no matter what, there are two things to absolutely
avoid. The first can be summarized by this tale of "The Fox and the
Grapes" from Aesop:
A Fox one day
spied a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine trained
along the branches of a tree. The grapes seemed ready to burst with
juice, and the Fox's mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them.
The bunch hung from a high branch, and the Fox had to jump
for it. The first time he jumped he missed it by a long way. So he
walked off a short distance and took a running leap at it, only to fall
short once more. Again and again he tried, but in vain.
Now he sat down and looked at the grapes in disgust.
"What a fool I am," he said. "Here I am wearing myself out to
get a bunch of sour grapes that are not worth gaping for."
And off he walked very, very scornfully.
There are many
who pretend to despise and belittle that which is beyond their reach.
Don't do that; it's a form of lying, and lying to yourself is
as bad as lying gets. It would be good to look for reasons why not
getting what you want might work out well -- maybe even better -- for
you, of course, and to focus on alternatives, but lying to yourself
about the nature of reality ("the grapes are sour"), including the
reality of your feelings ("I didn't want them anyway") isn't good at
if you're prone to self-deception, you're likely prone to the second
problem to avoid after hope turns to despair: inordinate resentment.
Re-imagine the story of the fox and the grapes, but this time throw in
a crow who's able to get at the grapes the fox couldn't reach. Now the
fox not only lies to himself about the grapes and his feelings about
them, he goes on to scorn the crow. "That black-feathered freak just
got lucky! He only got those grapes because I couldn't jump high enough
today on account of my sore leg! I hope he chokes on the nasty,
This sort of resentment amounts to the projection of your feelings of
inadequacy on to someone else, or to the displacement of responsibility
for your perception of unfairness on to another. And how quickly it can
all turn into snark, jabs, pettiness, gossip, passive aggression, overt
aggression, and even spite, which has the resentful one doing things
that harm himself just to get back at the one he resents. Then, if
enough people in a population
don't deal with their resentment, we end up with political movements
rooted in it. Think of Marx and his resentment of the successful and
pious. He wrote that religion the "opiate of the masses," but it's been
said that Marxism is the "methamphetamine of the envious," and so it
is in its effects: almost 150,000,000 have been slaughtered to further
its cause. 4
Ecclesiasticus 30:26 tells us that "envy and anger shorten a man's
days." Indeed, that's true. And too often those whose days are
are not the ones being envious and angry, but their innocent victims.
Inordinate resentment is no joke. If you feel resentment, look into it.
Deeply. And know that happiness isn't a zero sum game. To drag a
metaphor on, resenting the crow for ending up with the grapes not only
does nothing to put grapes in your mouth, it diverts your attention
from seeking grapes again in the future, and makes it less likely that
the crow will share his grapes with you if he sees you wanting some.
Besides, it's likely you don't know a thing about the crow's life. In
your imagination, his getting the grapes makes him happy, but in
reality, he may well be miserable in his nest. For ex., people thinking
of the rich may imagine the mansions, travel, and fabulous clothes, but
they rarely stop to think how stressful it must be to have to worry
about all that money, deal with all the taxes, have to concern
yourself with how the markets are doing, have friends
you're not sure are there for you or for what you can buy them, and so
forth. A wealthy man might have fancy foods in his big, stressful,
but a small, love-filled home with pasta fazool on the kitchen table is
so much more valuable.5 The point: every person endures
suffering, even those you may be envious of. Know this, and be grateful
for what you have.
Another aspect of avoiding resentment is to have a reasonable notion of
your "locus of control" -- i.e., to have a sane concept of the degree
you have -- or others have -- control over your life. Some people have
a "victim mentality" and see themselves as only at the mercy of others'
actions, or of "fate," "the universe," etc.; others believe that virtue
always pays off in obvious, expected ways materially in the temporal
world, or that they "create
their own reality" and can will anything into being. The former tend to
blame others for every ill, vote for socialist types of government,
whine, and do nothing to improve their lot; the latter can have
hardened and miserly attitudes toward those less blessed than they are
("I worked hard and have lots of money, so you can, too!"), failing to
take into account the often tragic circumstances of others' lives. Both
are wrong: there are some things that are under your control, and some
things that aren't. Know which things are which. And if you're not sure
where the locus of control is in a given situation, err on the side of
assuming an internal one for yourself,
and assume you can do something to at least make things better. Know that you may not be
able to control things that happen to you, but you can always control your reactions to them.
to be a person characterized by resentment and envy. Choose that for yourself. Meditate
on the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). When you find yourself in a
situation in which resentment and envy manifest themselves, pray, and
imagine what your favorite Saint would think while looking at the
situation. Recall your many blessings and express gratitude for them.
Grow up and stop being a petulant, whiny baby. Know that "soundness of
heart is the life of the flesh: but envy is the rottenness of the
bones" (Proverbs 14:30).
As we saw, hope inclines us toward a hard to obtain good we expect to
receive in the future, and despair inclines us away from that good when
we find it impossible to attain. Courage and fear, though, incline us
toward or away from a future evil we need to overcome.
Aquinas writes, "Augustine says: 'There can be no
doubt that there is no cause for fear save the loss of what we love,
when we possess it, or the failure to obtain what we hope for.'
Therefore all fear is caused by our loving something: and consequently
love is the cause of fear." And what we tend to love most is our own
life. So, to acquire the virtue of fortitude, we have to first come to
a bone-deep understanding that this life is nothing compared to our
life in eternity. And we have to squarely face the fact of our
Here, I want you to watch this video. It depicts the Martyrs of
Compiègne, the sixteen Carmelite nuns who were beheaded by guillotine
during the "Reign of Terror" of the French Revolution.
Refusing to betray Christ, they were arrested, tried without
and sentenced to death for being "criminals and annihilators of public
freedom." On July 17, 1794, they were taken by open cart to what is now
La Place de la Nation in Paris (formerly La Place du Trône), where one
of the revolutionaries' guillotines stood. Mocked and jeered en route,
the sisters sang the Office of the Dead, Vespers, and Compline in
response. But then, they arrived, and the executions began. The first
to climb the scaffold was Sister Constance, a novice who on that very
day had made her final vows. Typically, most of the condemned would be
in a state
of terror, struggling to get away, resistant. The executioner would
grab them from
one side, while a valet would grab them from the other. A second valet
would tie the victims' hands behind them and shove them forward until
they were up against a vertical plank, to which they'd be tied by
straps, and then lowered so that their necks were under the blade. Not
Sister Constance. She waved the men away,
lay herself down, and began to sing Laudate
Dominum -- Psalm 116:
O praise the
Lord, all ye nations: praise Him, all ye people. For His mercy is
confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.
The usually jeering, cheering crowd went silent. William Bush, in his
"To Quell the Terror" (pdf
here), describes what was heard during the 17,000 beheadings that
took place during The Terror:
the ominous patter of three sounds accompanying each decapitation.
First the bump of the balance plank swinging down into the horizontal
position; then the click of the neck-stall closing to form a perfect
circle around the victim's neck; finally the rushing swish of the
falling blade's dead-thudded slice. A muffled fourth sound never spoken
of however, followed this threefold pattern. It was the soft thump as
the headless body hit the red-painted cart set by the guillotine. As
for the heads, they fell into a blood-stiffed leather bag placed by the
executioner at the end of the machine.
The three familiar sounds
announced Sister Constance's entry into the Kingdom of the Lamb. The
nuns' chant rose in defiance.
For His mercy is
confirmed upon us!
Sister Constance was followed by the other
fifteen, who'd all begun singing Veni Creator Spiritus. Fourteen
nuns each knelt before their Mother Superior, kissed a tiny statue of
the Virgin she held, and
asked, "Permission to die, Mother?" And then they did. One after the
with their Mother Superior dying last. With perfect equanimity and
total trust in God, with the dignity of a thousand queens, and the
grace of angels, they were
slaughtered like lambs.
is the perfection of fortitude. To have the courage and faith needed to
be able to die like that, if it's ever necessary, is a
Scientists claim that 105 billion people have lived on earth since our
species first came about. Of those, only 5.5% are alive today. That's
99,225,000,000 people who've been born and later took a final breath.
Some deaths were peaceful; others were gruesome or painful. But all
were inevitable. It's happened to 94.5% of all human beings who've ever
existed. And it will happen to you.
Meditating on that fact and coming to terms with it on a deep level is
the path to acquiring fortitude. One way to do this is to incorporate
into that meditation desensitization techniques from the field of
psychology. But be warned: facing death in this way might be one of the
most brutal things you'll ever do.
First, think about the aspects of death that make you the most afraid
or anxious, and write them down. Your list might include the death of a
pet. Perhaps a manner of death, such as drowning or a car accident.
Maybe dying itself, that final breath would be included. Or the mystery
of the experience of the soul leaving the body. Or the idea of
putrefaction. For most, it will likely include the death of a loved
one, and their manner of death, their final breath, their putrefaction.
Once you have a list, sort the items so they are in
order from the least terrifying to the most terrifying.
Now you'll have to learn a
relaxation technique if you don't already
know one. You must come to be able to relax your body such that you no
longer really feel it. Lie down on a surface that's totally comfortable
and that supports you. Place pillows under your knees and neck as
needed so that you're comfortable lying as completely supine as
possible. Once in this position, say a prayer for for guidance. Now
you'll breathe deeply -- slowly, in through the nose, holding for a
count of 4, and then out slowly through the mouth. Try to relax your
body as you breathe. After a few such deep breaths, focus on your toes
-- relaxing them so you feel no tension in them whatsoever. Perhaps
they'll feel light to you, or maybe so heavy you can't move them. As
long as you feel no tension in them, you're doing well. Once the toes
are relaxed in that manner, move to your ankles and make them feel as
relaxed as your toes do. Then move to your knees. Then to the hips.
Keep your breathing steady as you go. Now move to the muscles of your
abdomen. Your chest. Your shoulders. Your elbows, wrists, and fingers,
one after the other.
Then your neck and your head. The muscles of your jaw, and those around
your mouth, your lips, your eyes, your forehead (pay special attention
to the shoulders, neck, jaw, and forehead. You will likely have to
re-relax them numerous times). Keep breathing...
Once you are completely relaxed, think of the first item -- and only
the first item -- on your list. Keep your breathing steady and your
body completely relaxed. If you tighten up and feel anxious at a
thought or feeling, re-relax your muscles, and keep breathing deeply.
Envision that item. The details of it. The sights of it, the smells and
sounds and associated thoughts and, especially, associated feelings. Do
slowly. Carefully. Virtually experience it -- and stay as relaxed as
possible. Walk yourself through it in as sensory a manner as you can
in your imagination, calling on all sense memory to make it vivid. Is
"death of my cat" the first item on your list? Then start there. See
cat, lying there. Still. Too still. Dead. Your cat is dead. Say that to
dead. My cat is dead." Touch her. She is cold. Feel her fur... Oh, she
is stiff, too! Keep breathing... Stay relaxed... Notice how her face
looks -- it's slightly distorted, isn't it? Not quite right... See her
little paws. That little orange spot she has on her forehead. Are you
crying? It's OK.. Go ahead and cry... Just keep breathing... Try to
stay as relaxed as possible... Trust in God; He makes all things new!
Poor kitty... How can you live without her? Keep breathing... It's time
to put her in her grave now. See the hole? Put her little body in the
grave. And keep breathing. Stay relaxed. Cover her up with dirt. "All
shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be
well..." Trust in God... Breathe... Stay calm...
OK. Now rouse yourself and offer a prayer of gratitude to God for your
The next day or so, repeat that process, and then again later, and
again -- as many times as it takes such that you are able to go through
it without anxiety. Then -- and only then -- use the same technique
with the second item on your list, and so on. Note the word "anxiety"
just above: feeling ordinate sadness only makes sense when you lose a
beloved pet; it's not sadness, but anxiety and
fear you're trying to defeat here.
Like I said, it's brutal. If at any point you feel mentally unstable or
"deranged," unable to cope, stop and go through the process with a
professional or with someone very wise whom you trust. Or go through it
later; it may well be the case that now is not the right time for you,
in your circumstances, to undertake such a meditation. Use Prudence;
seek counsel. But know that one day, you will face death herself, and when
you do, you can either greet her with fear, or with the peace that
comes from having prepared for that meeting.
The above technique can be used to help with many types of fear, most
especially non-social phobias.6 Make prudent use of it.
Now, facing bodily death is one thing; facing the possibility of "the
second death" is another. Should we be afraid of the Judgment? If we
are in sin, yes. Otherwise, no. Earlier I explained how Aquinas wrote
that fear is born of love. But it's so, too, that fear can birth love.
We're told numerous times in the the Books of Wisdom that "the fear of
the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" -- i.e., when we fear God's
justice, we begin to repent, and trust, hope, and love follow. And
perfect love conquers all. Perfect love is God Himself, and the
Christian "abides in Him" in a supernatural way. I John 4:15-18 teaches
confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in
God. And we have known, and have believed the charity, which God hath
to us. God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God,
and God in him. In this is the charity of God perfected with us, that
we may have confidence in the day of judgment: because as He is, we
also are in this world. Fear is not in charity: but perfect charity
casteth out fear...
So, in a way, love births fear (of the loss of what we love), fear (of
God's justice) births love, and perfect love (supernatural charity)
conquers fear (the fear of men, and the sort of fear that makes us
despair of God's mercy). Stay in a state of grace, love God and
neighbor, trust in the Lord, and don't inordinately fear the "second
death." If you stumble, repent, go to confession, and carry on, trusting in His
perfect Justice and Mercy.
Now, in your battle against cowardice in general, conquer in yourself
any inordinate fear of
social disapproval. It's absolutely crucial that you do, especially
given the state of our world at this time, a world that's gone "wild at
heart and weird on top," to quote David Lynch. From a Reuters review of
book "The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia”, by Orlando
biographies of Stalin, a new book gives voice to the millions of
ordinary Russians who suffered the dictator’s reign of terror in
“The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia”, by award-winning
historian Orlando Figes, is based on hundreds of interviews with
survivors of the era of Josef Stalin, and their stories still have the
power to shock.
A slain boy becomes the hero of a propaganda cult, lionised in the
press for denouncing his father to the police, neighbours betray
neighbours, bravery is punished, cowardice is rewarded and innocents
...Parents were wary of voicing opinions for fear their children would
repeat them, deliberately or not, to teachers at school. One wrong turn
could lead to arrest, torture or worse, meaning Soviets were reduced to
whispers in their own homes.
Because children of “enemies of the people” were often deemed guilty by
association, they resented their parents. Wives came to believe the
trumped up charges against husbands, while arrests and imprisonment
tore families apart, often permanently.
This is the world we're headed toward making for ourselves if we don't
speak the truth and stand up to lies. With "wokeness," "cancel
culture," and "vaccine passports," it's as if
we're all living in a nightmarish version of a "Prisoner's Dilemma" --
a game in which we either go along with tyranny or try to resist so
that we and our children don't have to live in a Prisoner Dilemma sort
of world in the long term:
If A goes along
and B doesn't, then A wins short term gains, B loses in the short term,
and both lose in the long term because the game continues (and A and
children will be forced to play the same game).
If A is brave, and B goes along, then A loses in the short
term, B wins short term gains, and both lose in the long term because
the game continues (and A and B's children will be forced to play the
If both A and B go along, both win short term gains, but lose
in the long term because the game continues (and A and B's children
forced to play the same game).
If both A and B are brave, both may lose in the short term,
but win in the long term because the game eventually ends; A and B's
children won't be forced to play that dirty game.
The only way to end the game is to be brave and encourage others to be
brave as well. And note that, to end the game, A and B in the above
only have to amount
to about 10% of the population when being brave if the researchers at
the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are correct: they've found that
when just 10 percent of a population firmly holds to a position, that
position will be adopted by the majority of people.7
Meditate on the power one man has! And please take the time to read this
pdf: The Power of the Powerless,
by Vaclav Havel, written in 1979 against the Communist regime then
controlling Czechoslovakia. Have your family and friends read it as
well. And for further motivation to speak now before it's too late, listen --
and have your family and friends listen -- to this mp3 of Dr. Jordan Peterson's
interview with Yeonmi Park, who escaped from North Korea.
Don't think it's enough to be silent and hope you're left alone.
Consider how passivity allows the most intolerant (radical Muslims,
progressive leftists, etc.) to call the shots. For more about this,
please read this chapter from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Skin in the
Game": The Most Intolerant
Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority (pdf).
And, pretty please, if you
think you can't be brave and go out of your way to stand up to tyrants,
then at least don't lie.
Never actively condone, agree with, or show acceptance of something you
simply not true.
Before this topic is left, something must be said about the dance
between prudence and what sometimes looks like fortitude. Thinking in
terms of courage without prudence can lead to foolhardiness and toxic
zealotry. It's true that we must never lie. But it's also true that not
everything true needs to be said in every situation. It's true that we
need to be willing to be martyred if the only other option is betraying
Christ and others we love. But it's also true that not every existing
tyrant must be gone up against at all times, in any way physically
possible. Things that need to be said and done need to be said or done
in a way that actually brings about
the desired end and serves
charity. As an example, standing on a street corner screaming
about the evils of sin is not likely at all to bring about any good
effect, no matter how brave it may appear to be. In fact, it's likely
to bring about the opposite effect. Another example: the person who,
priding himself on being honest, goes around telling people how ugly
they are isn't being virtuous; he's being an ass. Or consider that
potential combatants in a war that is justly entered into won't ignore
things like their chance of winning, the evils likely to be brought
the war as contrasted with the evils being fought against, etc. Never
ignore the importance of prudence in all you do, whether it's opening
your mouth or deciding to enter into battle. There can be no real fortitude without it. You want
that golden mean between wimping out and chimping out -- with the goal,
always, being the Good, with Charity as the highest Good.
Hope and despair incline us toward or away from a difficult to attain
future good. Courage and fear incline us toward or away from a future
evil. And anger
inclines us to avenge a present or past evil.
Anger, like all of the passions, is a good thing so long as it's
properly regulated by reason. As Aristotle wrote in the second book of
his "Nicomachean Ethics":
[W]e are neither
blamed insofar as we have feelings; for we do not praise the angry or
the frightened person, and do not blame the person who is simply angry,
but only the person who is angry in a particular way. We are praised or
blamed, however, insofar as we have virtues or vices. Further, we are
angry and afraid without decision; but the virtues are decisions of
some kind, or rather require decision.
Anger is the desire for vengeance against one who our reason tells us
commits an evil against us, or for vengeance against someone or
something we imagine has committed an evil against us. Prudence judges
our anger, determining whether it is ordinate -- whether it makes sense
in light of the evil done to us; Fortitude moderates our anger in terms
of how we allow ourselves to be moved to avenge ourselves.
"But," some may be thinking, "anger can never make sense; it's one of
the seven deadly sins!" Yes, anger can most definitely be deadly -- it
if is disordered anger. But anger that is proportionate to the evil
done? Anger that makes sense? Anger that doesn't seek an unjust level
of revenge? Well, as St. John Chrysostom says, "He who is not angry,
whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the
hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the
wicked but even the good to do wrong." Christians rarely imagine Our
Lord as in the painting below which depicts how He made a whip and used
it to "cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and
overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the chairs of them that
sold doves" (Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 19; John 2). But perhaps we
should more often.
The same Person Who healed the sick, ate with tax collectors, forgave
sinners, welcomed children, and fed the poor is the same Person Who
called certain people "broods of vipers," "liars," "hypocrites," men
who are of "are of [their] father the devil," "dogs" who shouldn't be
given the holy, "swine" before whom pearls should not be cast, and
"whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within
are full of dead men' s bones, and of all filthiness." He always
punched up, never down, and knew well the hearts of those to whom He
spoke. You can rest assured that those angry insults were perfectly
OK, so it's fine to feel angry if evil is done to you. Then what?
First, have a general understanding about why evil exists in the first
place, and trust that it all serves a
higher purpose. See any evil you endure -- see your life itself --
in light of eternity.
Then think your particular situation through to be sure than an actual
injustice has been done. Don't attribute to malice what can be
attributed to error or stupidty. Assume the best about the alleged
transgressor and his motives if you're not sure why he acted as he did.
If you find you're often angry with
someone no one else seems to have problems with, look into the
possibilty that the problem is you, that you may be far too overly
sensitive, that you see insults and sleights where they don't really
exist, that you're too judgmental,
As you go, check yourself for displacement; make sure your anger is
aimed in the proper direction, at the right thing. In other words,
your anger out on an innocent by-stander. (And if you're an innocent
by-stander, don't get defensive about a person's anger in itself -- i.e., don't make it
"about you" if it isn't. This is something men, especially, are
prone to, at least with regard to their wives: men often personalize
their wives' unhappiness, becoming angry or exasperated when their
wives are upset, instead of giving them space or, better, supporting
them by listening while they emotionally vent for a bit.)
If it's prudent given your station and circumstances, act to resolve
the situation in a just way, in the right forum. Deal with it one on
one, if possible. If not possible and if it's a work problem, take it
to your boss; if it's a legal injustice, take it to a court of law,
etc. If the problem at hand is a domestic situation, talk about it,
calmly, with the one you think wronged you, and don't hesitate; don't
stew about it or you will only make things worse and will likely become
resentful. That sort of simmering resentment brought about by
back-burnered injustices and perceived sleights can turn extremely
toxic extremely quickly. And toxicity can become a habit, a default
mode of being, and last for a long, long time. (I hope you'll take a
minute to read this story of a woman who one day realized she'd been
emotionally abusing her spouse for years -- something women,
especially, are prone to: Woman Realizes
That She’s Been Accidentally Abusing Her Husband This Whole Time...
Think of how incredibly common that sort of dynamic is! It's tragic...)
If your transgressor sincerely apologizes, you forgive. Matthew 6:14-15
"For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will
forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive you your offences."
If there is no resolution, pray for your enemies -- that they repent of
wrongdoing so they can be forgiven. Matthew 5:44 says
enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that
persecute and calumniate you...
That doesn't mean "liking" your enemies, trusting them, seeing them as
"friends," or allowing yourself to be abused by them if you can help
it. It means willing the good
for them -- willing that they cease their evildoing instead of
continuing with their evil and risking ending
up in Hell.
And know that patience on your part is key. St. Augustine wrote of this
part of Fortitude,
The patience of
man, which is right and laudable and worthy of the name of virtue, is
understood to be that by which we tolerate evil things with an even
mind, that we may not with a mind uneven desert good things, through
which we may arrive at better. Wherefore the impatient, while they will
not suffer ills, effect not a deliverance from ills, but only the
suffering of heavier ills. Whereas the patient who choose rather by not
committing to bear, than by not bearing to commit, evil, both make
lighter what through patience they suffer, and also escape worse ills
in which through impatience they would be sunk. But those good things
which are great and eternal they lose not, while to the evils which be
temporal and brief they yield not: because "the sufferings of this
present time are not worthy to be compared," as the Apostle says, "with
the future glory that shall be revealed in us."
To quote myself, "See any evil you endure -- see your life itself -- in
light of eternity."
True patience can only be had by its being infused in us supernaturally
by God -- Psalm 61:6 "But be thou, O my soul, subject to God: for
from Him is my patience." 8 It comes with the
theological virtue of charity, and the only way to receive those three
glorious theological virtues is to ask for them and receive the
Sacraments. I encourage you to make Acts
Faith, Hope, and Charity, and to pray a Novena to the Holy Ghost. I also
encourage reading and meditating on the Book of Job.
There are habits we can benefit from, though -- little things that can
help us endure. Some of them have already been mentioned on this page,
in the list of tricks to help you achieve tasks with more patience.
These sorts of things can be most helpful to the choleric -- those
prone to getting angry quickly, often over little things that don't
really matter. Waiting in traffic? First, make use of one of those short prayers we Catholics call
"ejaculations" or "invocations." Make a habit of this! Adopt one of
those aspirations as your own, and use it as reflexively as some people
use swear words. Then repeat it, this time thinking about the words;
this will help you immediately advert
your thoughts to God so that you
mentally order the annoyance you're dealing with. Take a few slow, deep
breaths -- in through the nose, out through the mouth -- while focusing
on that aspiration. Stop yourself from exaggerating the situation:
e.g., don't tell yourself it's "always" like this when it isn't, or
that "it'll take days" to get home when it won't. Then, instead of
banging on the steering wheel and fuming (or worse), pray, play mental
with yourself or other games with a passenger, listen to podcasts or
audiobooks, sing, replay a movie in your head, etc. Learn how to
distract yourself. If you find yourself brought to anger over the same
things over and over, try to identify exactly what annoys you and find
work-arounds, if possible (e.g., if it's "getting stuck in traffic,"
see if you can work from home, take a different route, commute at a
different time, or take a
taxi or use public transportation so you can be reading the entire time
instead of having to pay attention to the roads, etc.). If your anger
toward a person, check yourself for displacement or attention-seeking,
and say nothing until you are
calm. Then, when you speak, use "I language" -- e.g., "I am feeling
ticked" rather than "you are making me so mad right now!" -- and don't
Aquinas speaks of two other types of angry people in addition to "the
choleric" above, whose quick anger he calls "wrath." There are those he
calls "bitter" or "sullen" who suffer from "ill-will" by holding on to
anger for a
long time. Then there are the "ill-tempered" or "stern" who suffer from
and who don't stop feeling angry until they've been avenged. With all
of these sorts of anger, really question yourself as to whether there's
some deeper issue at hand (something you might want to do with a
therapist or a wise friend). Know that what may look like anger could
very well be -- maybe likely be -- a manifestation of a deep sadness
over something you haven't fully looked at and
dealt with. Ask yourself, "When I'm really mad, does that feeling
remind me of something I felt earlier in my life -- something that may
have happened long ago? What was I angry at then? What have I done
about it in order to really process it mentally and emotionally? Have I
forgiven everyone I need to forgive?"
Courage, Fear, and Anger Given the State of the Church and the World
I feel the need to say something here about these aspects of Fortitude
given the calamitous state of the human element of Holy Mother Church
and the world at this time in History. As of this writing, we have a
Pope who actively works against the cause of Catholicism, and we teeter
on the edge of totalitarian political systems being instituted
globally. Despair, fear, and anger prevail. But your task isn't to
"save the Church" or "save the world"; your task is to save your soul
and will the good of those you most have a duty toward, especially your
family. If the goings-on in the Church or the world cause you to
despair, stop reading about them. Focus
instead on what you need to do
in your own little corner of the world, using the gifts and fulfilling
the duties you've been given. Rebuild as
best you can, and trust that
the good you do will have effects you may
never know of. Christendom was founded by the fiat of one Virgin, and the work of
twelve men! Or consider how the great cathedrals were built: it could
take over 300 years for one of those marvels of Christendom to be
erected, but each individual craftsman simply did what he was supposed
to do: the masons spent day after day, year after year, laying stone;
the glass-makers labored pane by pane; the statue-makers chipped away
at stone generation after generation, with only the very last of them
able to see what had been accomplished in its final glory. That's how
you should go about your work: without inordinate worry about the
future, and with trust that God is in control. Remind yourself that
life is a tragic comedy, and comedies always have a happy ending.
1 Or consider
how the modern West has the idea that everyone should go to college:
out of control tuition costs and the political indoctrination problem
aside, college used to be for the eggheads and bookworms, people who
are gifted intellectually. Now that "everyone's a genius," we send the
masses off to those
institutions and too many end up in debt, dumber than when they went
in, and either unemployed or causing trouble in those ever increasing
number of ever-growing, mostly useless HR departments. The managerial
class will be the death of us.
2 Back in the day,
homemakers in the Anglosphere used to spread their work out through the
with one major task for each day that they had to perform in addition
to the usual cooking, tidying, and minding the babies. It was so much a
part of women's culture that the following words would be found on
calendars or embroidered on tea towels, etc.:
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Market on Thursday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday
3 Off the "Domestic
Church" page, I have two pdfs that might help. If you're working
with others at a mindless task, conversation can help, and to that end
I have a book of questions to get
conversations going (some are for couples, the rest are for anyone).
Then there's a book of games that can be
played at the dinner table or in a car. These games could be played
while working as well, with many of them being games you could play by
yourself, in your own mind.
China, Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia, Mozambique,
Romania, Bulgaria, Angola, Mongolia, Albania, Cuba, Hungary, Poland,
Yemen, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, Afghanistan -- no
matter where Communism is tried, it ends in slaughter: 149,469,610
victims since 1918. Source:
Money matters and is important to have, obviously. But it doesn't bring
happiness in itself. As long as one's true needs are taken care of and
the bills are paid each month, money is irrelevant to happiness. See
"High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being,"
by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, Sep 2010
When using this desensitization technique to conquer a phobia, your
list should be made of scenarios that revolve around the object of your
fear, all ordered from that which causes the least anxiety, to that
which causes the most. For ex., if you are inordinately afraid of dogs,
your list might be: 1. I am looking at a picture of a dog. 2. A dog is
across the room in a cage. 3. The dog is out of the cage and on a leash
held by a trainer. 4. The dog is on the leash held by the trainer and
is standing next to me. 5. The dog is asleep next to me and I am
touching it. 6. The dog is looking at me. 7. The dog is looking at me
and I am touching it. And so forth.
7 See "Minority Rules: Scientists Discover
Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas," URL:
seeming patience that evil-doers can exhibit -- think of a Dr. Evil
masterminding a long-term plan -- isn't true patience at all, but
hard-heartedness. We typically refer to such a trait as "patience" in
everyday language, but it isn't quite accurate per Aquinas's reckoning.