a message from the prioress, Sr. Mary Forman
Fortitude is derived from the Latin fortis meaning strong, powerful, vigorous, steadfast, courageous, and brave; the noun fortitude primarily means strength, firmness, durability, courage, bravery, and being valiant. Biblically, “fortitude is the strength of character that enables a person to endure pain or adversity with courage. Although the word fortitude is rarely used in the most popular versions of the Bible, the concept is addressed often. Instead of fortitude, the word endurance, strength, or perseverance is used more often in our Bibles. Not only is fortitude a great quality, but we are commanded to pursue it (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:3; 1 Peter 1:5–6).” One of my favorite verses about fortitude, which we often read at the celebration of life of one of our members, describes the valiant woman of Proverbs 31:17: “She clothes herself with fortitude, and fortifies her arms with strength” (ISV). Several verses of this description of the valiant woman could describe the many women (and men) working on the frontlines of the pandemic:
“She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with skillful hands” (NAB, v.13) – think of the cloth masks and gowns being sewn by men and women at home for our caregivers.
“Like merchant ships, she secures her provisions from afar” (14) – think of those seeking need medical supplies and PPE for the first responders, nurses and doctors in ICUs.
“She rises while it is still night, and distributes food” (15) – think of the bakers and restaurateurs bringing food to the caregivers and to the many hungry in food lines.
“She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard” (16) – think of all those finding ways for the food from their fields to reach those in need.
“She is girt about with strength, and sturdy are her arms” (17) – think of all the volunteers in food banks, shelters, emergency tents, and clinics.
“She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy” (20) – think of all the neighbors bringing food and drink, music and encouragement to the most desperate among us.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come” (25) – think of those caring for children, providing entertainment and reading stories to calm their fears.
“She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel” (26) – think of those passing on wisdom about enduring hardship, hunger, war and natural disasters and what got them through.
You could add to this litany of the valiant men and women you know, who are strengthening hope and belief in the deep goodness of their fellow human beings, by ministering to those around them.
I think of all the requests we have received here at the monastery for prayer: a young man working in a halfway house for those addicted, who have nowhere else to live; a grandmother praying for the safety of her granddaughter as she works as an ICU nurse in one of our large cities; several have lost loved ones and could not be with them in their last hours, nor are they able to celebrate their lives with family and friends. I hear the hungers in people to be nourished at this time of “sheltering in place,” or as one of my elders calls it “under house arrest,” and finding that nourishment in various places on the web, in phone conversations with friends of the heart, in connecting with loved ones in new ways, in viewing the liturgies videotaped from their parishes, yet still missing the incarnational aspect of being with each other as a gathering.
In times of crisis, we seek “comfort,” which means strengthening-with-others, as we share our fears and concerns, new ways of discovering what a wonderful world we live in and how the solitude opens out into gratitude for the many acts of loving kindness we witness directly or on news channels, especially in the closing segments when the focus is on someone’s fortitude/bravery/steadfast service on behalf of another’s well-being. In a conversation with a dear friend, she shared that Catherine of Sienna was a saint because she lived her life that the good of others might be realized. That definition of a saint can be observed all around us. Let us have the fortitude to see them, to embrace what the spirit is doing in our world, and to follow the nudges of our own hearts to bring about the good of others.
Another word that derives from fortis/fortitudo is fortify, meaning “to make strong, as…to strengthen and secure…with fortifications”; “to reinforce by adding material”; “to impart physical strength or endurance to, to invigorate”; “to give emotional, moral or mental strength to, encourage: Prayer fortified us during our crisis”; to strengthen or enrich food…as by adding vitamins.” When I asked several sisters in my community what fortifies them during this forced enclosure, here is what they said:
The caring and kindness of our caregivers, who care for us;
The positive ads and news on the TV, which convey the real efforts [a word also from fortis] showing how people are helping;
Making it through every day;
Springtime with its blooms, so there is hope for the future;
God is in control, no matter what;
We have Eucharist on a regular basis, when so many can’t have it even once a week;
Our community prayer and worship — it is truly us;
The courage to face the events of the day;
At the Divine Office, I look for a word from the psalms or reading to carry me through the day;
To know that the people throughout the country are willing to stay home, even if it is difficult, because they feel it is necessary—it brings us closer to each other;
The Psalms, especially Psalm 91, which is a psalm of trusting in the security under God’s protection.
Psalm 91, which contains synonyms for fortitude and many images of God’s protecting fortitude within it, is one we might choose to pray daily for the world, its peoples and all creation:
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shade of the Almighty, Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.” [God] will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague, will shelter you with pinions, and under [God’s] wings you may take refuge; whose faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come. You need simply watch; because you have the LORD for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold, no evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. For [God] commands the angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You can tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon. Because [you] cling to me I will deliver [you]; because [you] know my name I will set [you] on high. [You] will call upon me and I will answer; I will be with [you] in distress; I will deliver [you] and give [you] honor. With length of days I will satisfy [you], and fill [you] with my saving power. [http://usccb.org/bible/psalms/91]
May the Spirit of Fortitude sustain you and all your loved ones during these days of staying at home, until it is safe to gather to praise the God, who is in our midst, supporting us and providing shelter and examples of goodness.
A Latin Dictionary, edited by Lewis and Short (Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1879, 1987) s.v. fortis, fortitude.
The footnote in my Bible to this verse states: “Laughs at the days to come: anticipated the future with gladness free from anxiety,” The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), s.v. Proverbs 31:25 footnote, p. 781.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition (Boston, NY, London: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992) s.v. “fortify.”