Sunday, June 1, 2014

The virtue of courage

In these days between the Ascension and Pentecost the readings turn our attention toward the meaning of the Holy Spirit. The first reading once again points to what the Church will distinguish as two sacraments: baptism and confirmation.

In the gospel the reference is more indirect. On the surface it is merely one of many stories of Jesus preparing the disciples for life after the crucifixion.

Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone.

He knows the frailty of even his chosen apostles. He knows how easily we are frightened, how easily we are discouraged. That is why he adds,

But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world

Two things. Firstly he repeats a theme we can never recall enough; we are never alone. We are never in isolation.

Secondly, the last four words. I have conquered the world. The word here can be translated conquer, subdue, be victorious, overcome. What is worth noting is that even before his crucifixion he speaks of it in the past, as something he has already accomplished.

This certainty that he has conquered the world is indeed the very source of the virtue to which we are called, courage. Our courage comes from our certainty that Christ has already conquered the world (cosmos). This courage is not the virtue of which the Greeks wrote, (andreia) manliness. This courage is tharsos, courage rooted in confidence in God. We can easily confuse the two.

Phrases like "suck it up" or "stand on your own two feet". Those are calls to the Greek virtue of courage. Christian courage is not rooted in us, but in him. We face the troubles of life not with any strength of our own but the strength that comes from the Holy Sprit, the strength we have because of our absolute trust in the power of God, which no force in the cosmos can overcome.