When I was a classroom teacher, I would often stay after class to prepare the next day’s lessons and grade papers. I would also invite students to stay after school to work on their homework, if they needed to. My classroom provided a safe place where they could not only do their homework but have assistance with it as well.
Three boys in my class were invited by the feeder high school to begin a “pre-training” program offered once a week just for them. The program helped them prepare physically for high school sports. When this new program became public, several of my boys were totally interested. The caveat? The program started an hour and a half after the school dismissed, so the boys asked if they could stay with me until their weight training began.
None of them were completely dedicated to their school work. I laid the rules by claiming, “You may have a snack and talk for about 15 minutes. After that, it will be all school work.” They responded, “Yeah, Sister, we want to finish our work so we don’t have to do anything after our weight training!”
Several weeks went by and things were great. The boys did their work and I could work as well. After five weeks, one had quit because it was too much work for him, and another was absent from school. That left Nick and I in the classroom. After snack, I asked him about his homework. He said he had math, and I knew he absolutely hated the subject. I looked at the worksheet of long division; a three digit divisor into a five digit dividend, with 20 problems on the page. I thought, “Who does this without using a calculator?” After five minutes, I could see Nick really struggling and in tears. I sat down next to him and whispered, “Tough?” He nodded his head as a tear fell. I continued, “Come on, you can do this! I know you can! I’ll sit here and watch to make sure that it’s right.” I sat there next to him, without saying a word, watching him work. After 30 minutes, his math was completed and correct without me ever intervening. I said gleefully, “I knew you could do that!”
I watched him as he walked out of my class. It seemed to me that he, because he had struggled to complete his work, was a bit more mature and confident in his ability to do the work. Strange, I thought; all I did was support him by my presence.
I am reminded of this story as I continue my series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let’s focus on fortitude. There are two aspects of fortitude that few people consider: the virtue and the gift.
As explained in the Catechism, “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.” (1808)
My student, on that day I described above, found the virtue of fortitude buried deep within him.
But the gift of fortitude that the Holy Spirit gives us is very different. “The measure and the norm of the gift of fortitude [that the Holy Spirit gives us] is infinite strength, the strength of God. By means of this gift the Holy Spirit prompts us to do all that the strength of God can do. … It is a confidence, a security that produces peace in our souls in the midst of dangers, in struggles, in our tribulations.” 1
There are levels of the gift of fortitude. On the first level, we do all we can do necessary for the salvation of our soul. On the next level, our spirit acquires an added strength in order to carry out the will of God in our lives. The last level elevates us above the natural and places above us in the very heart of God. This is why the martyrs could face their suffering with joy.
I guess I imitated the Holy Spirit when I sat next to Nick so many years ago. He too is whispering to us, “You can do it! You can become a saint!”
1Martínez Luis M. The Sanctifier. Pauline Books & Media, 2004. Pg. 158.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness