“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
And so we hear from the master of language, Shakespeare. But don’t think this is the first time you have heard such a saying. We have listened to these before.
Remember last post, I said that all leaders have a priestly, prophetic, and kingly quality? Don’t worry, you can review it here. I know those are more masculine names, but the same works for the more beautiful of the sexes. I suppose priestess, prophetess, and queen would be more appropriate though. It is the priest part of leadership that gives oneself up for the sake of others as they are the ones that offer sacrifice.
We often associate courage to be a matter for the king part of leadership. We think of knights and warriors being brave and saving the damsel in distress, Queen Mother Mary following Jesus on the Way of the Cross, St. George fighting the dragon, or William Wallace or Lady Isabelle, or Aragorn, Ewoyn, and Arwen. When thoughts of courage and bravery come to mind, I would suspect any of these would typically fit.
However, the priest also practices this strength. Have you heard those words, “It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day,first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.” Hebrews 7:26-8? If Shakespeare is right, then our High Priest shares this virtue by dying once. With our grafting onto the Church through Baptism, we are made part of the “royal priesthood” of Christ. As imitators of our High Priest, we also give our life once and for all which is a sign of courage.
Dr. Angela Bisignano recently shared some thoughts on courage and leadership. These brought to mind the C.S. Lewis quote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” I imagine it is like water being heated up but refuses to boil when it gets close to that point. Her take away is:
In particular look at Number 2. “They don’t abandon their post,” or as a hardcore Christ follower, we could say, “They don’t abandon their cross.” It is scary and fearsome to be courageous because it requires us to face death and stand firm. Thank God for the graces of Confirmation that help us do this (CCC 1303).
The tradition and teachings of our Church give each Catholic a head start when it comes to knowing such things as courage. Consider this post by a leadership consultant. He sees the goodness of courage, worries over the popularity of wimpiness, but warns his readers about the possibility of extremes on either side and concludes that we must find the happy medium. Following the cardinal virtues that we learned in CCD, RCIA, or Christian Moral Principles (thanks Professor Scarnechhia!) we know courage cannot be an extreme, rather it is the perfect combination of knowing when to stand firm and when to yield. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it better than me,
“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. “The Lord is my strength and my song.”70 “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” CCC 1808
It is courageous to die for my friend but not courageous to jump from a dangerous place just because a friend says so. On one side, courage gives us strength to not be a wimp. On the other side, courage aides us not to be foolhardy or to act with temerity. The great thing with our Faith is that we can understand this much earlier rather than having to start from scratch with every moral virtue. The moral and theological evolution of humanity, i.e. tradition, already figured out this part, all we have to do is act on it.
Following, Alexandre Havard, author of Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence, speaks about courage in its capacity to “stay the course…even if there is oppression.”