Counsel and fortitude

We continue looking at the Gifts of the Holy Spirit this week by meditating on two more of them: counsel and fortitude.

In Psalm 16, King David prays, “I bless the Lord Who counsels me; even at night my heart exhorts me. I keep the Lord always before me; with Him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken” (Ps 16:7-8). In what Jesus’ ancestor wrote here, we see the way in which we develop this Gift of the Holy Spirit — by prayer. David prayed day and night and thus was able to receive the counsel of God. When David failed to do this, he fell into terrible sins. His example is one that we should all keep in mind — since he was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), yet became an adulterer and a murderer (and later a repentant sinner). 

If we are faithful to God, then Jesus promises us that He will provide the counsel that we need in crucial moments. “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10: 19-20).

The Old Testament book of Sirach warns us that we have to make a habit of seeking God’s counsel in our youth. If we do not, it warns, “In your youth you did not gather. How will you find anything in your old age?” (Sir 25:3). It then praises older people who did seek God’s guidance throughout their lives — who can then be a source of counsel for others. “How appropriate is sound judgment in the gray-haired, and good counsel in the elderly! How appropriate is wisdom in the aged, understanding and counsel in the venerable!” (Sir 25: 4-5). 

St. Jerome wrote, “Read the Divine Scriptures frequently; rather, may your hands never set the Holy Book down. Learn here what you must teach.” In other words, by praying over the Bible, we can be led by God as to how we are to give counsel to other people.

This saint also wrote about the duty of parents to give good counsel. Writing to a girl’s mother, he said, “May she find in you her teacher, and may she look to you with the inexperienced wonder of childhood. Neither in you, nor in her father should she ever see behavior that could lead to sin, as it could be copied. Remember that you can educate her more by example than with words.” So, counsel is not just a matter of words spoken, but also of actions observed by others. 

Fortitude is one of the four cardinal virtues. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states, “Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called ‘cardinal’; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. 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 defense of a just cause” (“CCC” 1805, 1808).

St. John Paul II gave an audience on Nov. 15, 1978 about this gift of the Holy Spirit. “The virtue of fortitude proceeds hand in hand with the capacity of sacrificing oneself. The Gospel is addressed to weak, poor, meek and humble men, peacemakers and to the merciful, but, at the same time, it contains a constant appeal to fortitude. It often repeats: ‘Fear not’ (Mt 14: 27). It teaches man that, for a just cause, for truth, for justice, one must be able to ‘lay down one’s life’ (Jn 15:13). I wish here to refer to yet another example, which goes back 400 years ago. It is the case of St. Stanislaus Kostka, the patron saint of the young. By nature he was very sensitive and tender, yet very courageous. Fortitude led him, coming from a noble family, to choose to be poor, following the example of Christ, and to put himself in His exclusive service. Although his decision met with firm opposition on the part of his circle, he succeeded with great love, but also with great firmness, in realizing his resolution, contained in the motto: ‘Ad maiora natus sum’ (‘I was born for greater things’).”

The Polish pontiff then said that “our generation, too, needs men who can repeat with holy ‘obstinacy’: ‘Ad maiora natus sum.’ We need strong men! To be men we need fortitude. The truly prudent man, in fact, is only he who possesses the virtue of fortitude; just as also the truly just man is only he who has the virtue of fortitude. Let us pray for this gift of the Holy Spirit. When man lacks the strength to ‘transcend’ himself, in view of higher values, such as truth, justice, vocation, faithfulness in Marriage, this ‘gift from above’ must make each of us a strong man and, at the right moment, say to us ‘deep down’: Courage!”

Speaking of women with fortitude, St. John Paul said, “I am thinking, for example, of a woman, already mother of a large family, who is ‘advised’ by so many to suppress a new life conceived in her womb, by undergoing ‘the operation’ of interruption of pregnancy; and she replies firmly: ‘no.’ She certainly feels all the difficulty that this ‘no’ brings with it, difficulty for herself, for her husband, for the whole family, and yet she replies: ‘no.’ The new human life conceived in her is a value too great, too ‘Sacred,’ for her to be able to give in to such pressure.”

Often our fortitude might be observed only by an audience of one. “There are many, a great many manifestations of fortitude, often heroic, of which nothing is written in the newspapers, or of which little is known. Only human conscience knows them — and God knows!” St. John Paul knew of what he spoke, having lived under the Nazis and Communists.

May we be open to the Spirit’s gifts of counsel and fortitude and generously share them with others. 



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