The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides this definition of fortitude in no. 1808: “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.” In post-election America—a time of fear for many—I offer some reflections on liturgy and fortitude.
Fear is often fear of the other. This “other” may speak a language different from mine. His skin complexion might be different. She might come from another country. The feast celebrated this coming Sunday, however, is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is not the Solemnity of My Lord Jesus Christ, King of Me and Mine. The day’s second reading declares: “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile *all things* for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.” When we gather this Sunday, or any Sunday, or on any occasion to praise God in word and ritual, we manifest this reconciliation—incompletely and imperfectly, to be sure, but also truly.
Mark Searle put it this way:
This ‘company of strangers’ will often have little in common beyond our common humanity and the Spirit poured into our hearts in baptism. This Body of Christ, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave nor free (Gal 3:28), cannot be true to itself if its unity is predicated on ethnic heritage, male bonding, socio-economic status, or the intimacy of first-name friendships. Indeed, the Body is most clearly visible for what it is when its members are most aware of their social divisions (male vs. female, rich vs. poor, black vs. white), and at the same time committed to not letting those divisions stand between them and not letting the solidarity within those divisions supplant the primary unity created by baptism.*
In other words, Christians are invited (indeed, summoned!) to acknowledge difference without fearing difference. Gathering for worship summons us not to fear the other.
We can ask ourselves about the ways in which our worship space is indeed hospitable to all, whether this means accommodations for those with mobility impairments, the deaf, the blind, or hospitality regardless of race and ethnic background. We can also use times of worship to ask for the fortitude of the Crucified One—the Son of God who loved the Other who was not God—as we confront hostility (our own or that of friends, neighbors and strangers) to the racial, cultural, religious, and sexual other. Do we experience our liturgies as (re)empowering our fortitude to resist the temptation of hating the other and / or of responding to hate with hate? Or do our liturgies mask the ways in which we are complicit in generating and maintaining fear and hate in our world?
*Mark Searle, Called to Participate: Theological, Ritual, and Social Perspectives, eds. Barbara Searle and Anne Koester (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2006), 75. Searle is borrowing the phrase ‘company of strangers’ from Parker Palmer.