I think when most men heard about the heroes of 9/11 they wondered, “Could I step up like that?” I’m willing to bet most men thought they could, and I’m also willing to bet that most men indeed would step up. Without taking away anything from the heroes of that day, I believe that most of us would have acted without thinking too much. In a situation like that, you choose sacrifice and action over cowardice and inaction.
But today, twelve years later, inaction seems to be a bigger threat. I face the world and feel small, and then I feel ineffective. I think many of us do. Watching the culture slowly crumble on 24-hour news networks is demoralizing. It’s easy to throw in the towel and give in and resign ourselves to an existence of hiding out and surviving. I would rather just carve out my own Catholic corner of the world and live out my life in relative peace and quiet.
But that’s the insidiousness of cowardice. It rarely strikes in the heat of battle. I think it works its way into our lives slowly, gaining a foothold as the daily grind wears us down and makes us weak. Before we know it, we have confused cowardice with caution and responsibility. We go along to get along.
Since 9/11 we have been told that living in fear means the terrorists win. When Catholic men live in fear it means the Devil wins. It takes a certain amount of heroism to get out of bed each day and face the world as it is, and to continue to actively engage the culture.
Whenever I feel as though everything is going south and that I am helpless to stop it, I remember a quote from one of my favorite films. Open Range is the story of a couple of free-range cattlemen (Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall) facing a tyrannical cattle baron who has the citizens of a small town under his thumb. Tired of being pushed around, the two free-rangers try to enlist a few of the townsfolk to stand with them. The men in town respond with excuses as to why they just don’t measure up to such a formidable foe:
“We’re freighters. Ralph here’s a shopkeeper.”
Costner’s reply is like cold water in the face of anyone who has ever been a coward:
“You’re men, ain’t ya?”
Whenever we feel powerless as men, it may help to remember who we are: children of God, with all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Be not afraid!
There are plenty of opportunities to be courageous men of God in our daily lives. Perhaps it means summoning up the courage not to laugh when the Church is mocked in a conversation at work. Implicit consent is cowardice. Mind you, I am not saying that we must be combative whenever someone begins a rant against the Pope. I think perhaps it might require more fortitude to stand there and not give consent than it would to get swept up with emotion and offer a fiery comeback. Courage might mean holding your tongue. It could mean waiting for the right moment to say something.
As Catholic men we need fortitude to remain chaste as we make our way through a culture that tells us at every turn we are fools for our chastity. Can we weather the possible scorn and ridicule of our coworkers if we don’t act like “one of the guys?” What if it means we are no longer a member of the inner circle at the gym, or likely to give up opportunities at work? Do we have the courage to do that? Are we brave enough to look like less of a “man”?
Are you embarrassed to make the Sign of the Cross on a crowded bus during your morning commute? Would you say grace over a hot dog and a beer in a crowded stadium? Everyone expects a man to rush into a burning building, but how will they look at you if you bless your Buffalo wings at a sports bar on a Saturday night?
It’s a difficult line to walk. As men we can be rough around the edges, and when we are in a group we need to be able to feel the camaraderie of other men. There is a difference between being virtuous and being a wet blanket. No one wants to be lectured. Be patient and live a life of virtue, don’t try to stamp out vice wherever you find it.
If Catholicism is a life of daily conversion, then living that conversion means daily fortitude. We need to fight the good fight and finish the race!
To do anything less would be cowardly.