Monday, 1 September 2014

Week 22 (Year 2) Monday -- 1 September 2014

Readings: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Psalm 119; Luke 4:16-30

The heroes of Greek and other militaristic cultures are always the soldiers. These are the characters in these cultures regarded as showing the greatest courage and they receive the greatest honour for it. There is a transformation of courage in Christianity. There it is the martyrs who are the great heroes, men and women ready to die in witness to Christ and the faith, and to do so, like Christ, non-violently.

This transformation of courage is one of the consequences of the gospel as Paul summarises it in today's first reading. I came among you in fear and trembling, he says, knowing only Jesus and him as the crucified Christ, so that my preaching might get its strength not from any worldly kind of power or persuasion but might be simply a demonstration of the power of the Spirit.

Nevertheless, the classical Christian account of courage as we find it in St Thomas Aquinas, for example, is developed not just from the Bible but also taking hints from Aristotle. There are two sides to courage, the ancient Greek philosopher indicates, an assertive and a sustaining side. One is the courage to put oneself forward in the world, to undertake great projects and to take action in spite of fear and apprehension. The other is the courage to be patient and persevering in the face of experiences that generate other kinds of anxiety and fear: coping with illness, enduring long-term challenges, living with rejection or mockery, martyrdom. 

For Christians this second side of courage is the higher one. St Teresa of Avila even says somewhere that it takes more courage to persevere in prayer than to die as a martyr.

So courage is required if we are to follow Jesus. One kind of courage is the kind he showed in the synagogue at Nazareth when his preaching was rejected and denigrated. The other kind of courage is enshrined forever in the mystery of the cross, a courage like that of the soldier facing death with its whole weight of fear, but doing it without returning violence, freely accepting it out of love for the Father and the Father's plan for the world's salvation.

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