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MONDAY HOMILY: Take courage, I have overcome the world

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
May 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Growing in virtue is an essential part of the spiritual life.  If we want to grow in holiness, we must strive to acquire the virtues, which are both human and divine.

CATHOLIC ONLINE (Sugar Land, TX).  Today's Gospel is the conclusion of a long discourse that Jesus gives to his apostles during the Last Supper.  St. John preserves these exhortations, which are a capstone and summary of the formation that Jesus had given to his closest followers during his public ministry. 

"I have told you this," Jesus says, "so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Spoken just a few hours before his arrest, Jesus' words do not seem to have had the desired effect among his disciples.  Bound and dragged before the High Priest, the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, Jesus did not look like someone who had "overcome the world."  Faced with this, the apostles fled and went into hiding, St. John being the sole exception.

Overcome by fear, the apostles did not have the strength to face the Passion and Death of Christ.  Instead, they ran away.  We can understand their reaction.  How many times have we run away from God when we have faced moments of trial, suffering or hardship?  Isn't it our tendency to turn inward in a futile act of self-preservation?  But this is just an "act."  It isn't real.  We cannot preserve; we cannot save, ourselves. The apostles lacked the virtue of fortitude. 

Virtues are good habits of the soul.  They are "an habitual and firm disposition to do the good" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1803).  Growing in virtue is an essential part of the spiritual life.  If we want to grow in holiness, we must strive to acquire the virtues, which are both human and divine.

The divine or "theological" virtues are faith, hope, and charity.  These come from God alone and are infused into the soul to make a person capable of living as a child of God.  One cannot earn or merit the theological virtues; they are pure gifts of God.  Given in baptism, they abide in the human soul unless they perish through mortal sin.  The Sacrament of Penance restores or strengthens the theological virtues when they are lost or damaged through sin.

Human virtues, however, can be acquired through our effort in cooperation with the grace of God.  They are attained "by education, by deliberate acts and by perseverance" (CCC, no. 1810).  Among the human virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.  These are called the "cardinal" virtues, since all the other virtues revolve around them (cf. CCC, no. 1805).

"Fortitude," the Catechism teaches us, "is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good" (CCC, no. 1808).  At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed that the apostles would be strengthened in this virtue that they would need in order to face the trials ahead.  Christian fortitude is rooted in the confidence we have in the power of God to save us.

A power that has "overcome the world."

Before the Resurrection, the apostles hadn't seen this power fully at work.  True, they caught glimpses of it in Jesus' many miracles.  Peter, James and John had the particular privilege of witnessing the glory of Christ at the Transfiguration.  Once they received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, however, the apostles are invigorated with all of the virtues, and their courageous preaching of the Gospel and their embrace of martyrdom - except for John, who died a natural death - give witness to the power of the virtue of fortitude when it comes to full flower.

To grow in fortitude one must develop the habit of living with confidence in God's saving power.  This will not make our problems go away, but it will give us the wisdom to see them in a new light; as something to be borne and offered for the glory of God.  Above all, the virtue of fortitude reinforces within us the conviction that we are on God's side and that He is on ours.  And "if God is for us, who can be against?" (Romans 8:31).

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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