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Human Virtue - Fortitude, the Courage to Look Within

Updated on January 13, 2015


Spiritual growth is all about becoming what God created us to be. Therefore spiritual growth is all about transformation and conversion. Saint Paul tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good, acceptable and perfect” (12:2). Conformity is the path of least resistance. It’s just easier to fit in with society, to be like everyone else, to avoid making waves. But conformity is not the way to become what God created us to be. Instead of the greatness we are created for, conformity is all about mediocrity and compromise. True spiritual growth means rising above the status quo and embracing true goodness. It means recognizing what God created us to be and honestly acknowledging how we fall short.

If we have the courage to be quiet and look within, we'll discover a rich world of heart and mind.
If we have the courage to be quiet and look within, we'll discover a rich world of heart and mind.

The Courageous Conscience

Often it takes more courage to peer within our own hearts with total honesty than it does to fight the evil of the world around us. The view inside our hearts isn’t always pretty. In fact, the deeper we look the more sin and weakness we’ll see. We’re broken human beings, after all. But we’re all too good at deceiving ourselves. We can look at the goodness in us and be blinded to the evil. Yes, we have goodness in us - we are created in the Image of God, after all. But only by letting those dark little secrets hidden in the deep recesses of our soul out into the light can we ever hope to fully realize that goodness. Ignoring the darkness doesn’t make it go away.

The moral conscience is our God-given ability to apply God’s standards of right and wrong to our own lives and see how we measure up. As you can imagine, it can be a very uncomfortable exercise. It means not only being honest with yourself, but also with God. The conscience is where God speaks to us about what is good and what is evil in our lives. That conversation takes a lot of courage. We need to admit where we were wrong and where we need to improve. Yet, we are called to take the time to examine our lives in this way on a regular basis.

The best practice is to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation about once a month. If it’s been a long time since you’ve been to the Sacrament, make it a priority to get back into the habit. Taking your sinful self to God through the priest is a great exercise of fortitude. In addition to the Sacrament, the best practice is to perform a smaller examination of conscience at the end of every day. This practice is built into the Liturgy of the Hour’s night prayer, but you can just do an examination as your night prayer too. It only requires 2-3 minutes. But that 2-3 minutes a day will increase your fortitude by leaps and bounds.

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The Courage to Change

We have to be willing to do that work. It takes courage to examine your conscience. It takes even more courage to form your conscience according to the truth of what is right and good. Why? Because forming your conscience is HARD WORK. It requires learning and it requires will power. It means fighting bad habits and creating new good habits. The third arena of fortitude is having the courage to change our lives. Changing our lives means leaving comfort behind. It means not only facing the fact that we’re not all we could be, but doing the HARD WORK of moving closer to the goal.

But not only that, forming your conscience will mean following your conscience even when you are under pressure to do otherwise. Once your internal compass is set to true goodness, you still have to go where it points. And that can be really difficult when everyone around you is following the old compass and wondering where the heck you’re wandering off to.

Looking within, identifying what needs to be changed, and making those changes is a lot of work!
Looking within, identifying what needs to be changed, and making those changes is a lot of work!


Finally, to make the goodness your conscience points to part of who you are rather than just something you do once in a while, you need to make it into a virtue. Of course, growing in virtue is the topic of the entire Third Key to Spiritual Growth. But have you ever thought about the courage that will be required to grow in virtue? Conquering established habits and establishing new habits are two of the hardest things to do. Changing habits takes perseverance and patience. It an also mean resisting temptation and fighting off doubts. All of this requires the virtue of fortitude

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© 2015 Jeffrey S. Arrowood


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