The Courage to Suffer

Jesus carries his cross In high school, I did half of my coursework at home through a Catholic home school program. As a freshman, I wrote an essay on why Catholics should pray a daily Rosary. Looking back, I’m not sure why I chose to defend such a strong position since I did not yet pray a daily Rosary myself, but my family and I have been committed to a daily Rosary ever since. In the Rosary, Catholics recite a sequence of prayers while meditating on what are called the “mysteries” of the Rosary – pivotal events in the life of Jesus and His mother Mary. This summer, I challenged myself to memorize the “fruits,” or virtues, that correspond with each mystery. In my mind, most of these virtues were clearly connected to the events with which they were paired. For example, we meditate on the virtue of faith in conjunction with the Resurrection; indeed, Catholics can have true faith only if they believe that Jesus rose from the dead. We meditate on the virtue of poverty along with the birth of Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem, where his bed was nothing more than a feeding trough. But one pairing of fruits and mysteries always confused me. I would meditate on the virtue of courage in conjunction with the humiliating incident in which Jesus was crowned with thorns while Roman soldiers mocked him and spat on him. Before, I had always associated courage with a bold attitude – the ability to do what is right in the face of opposition and to speak the truth without compromise or apology. Certainly in the pro-life movement, we encounter this form of courage all the time in leaders like Lila Rose of Live Action, Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Joe Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League, just to name a few. These people are pro-life giants simply because they speak out boldly on the issue of abortion despite ridicule and rejection. I was initially confused by this association of courage with silent suffering, but as I prayed this particular mystery of the Rosary, I gradually came to a new understanding of this virtue. Perhaps Jesus was bold in His meekness. He had such perfect control under such excruciating pain that His ability to bear suffering in silence was, in fact, bold – no less bold than the courage of someone who stands up for what is right in either word or deed. It takes great courage to endure suffering. We see courageous pro-life advocates speaking out against abortion, praying at abortion clinics, and promoting real alternatives, but perhaps an even deeper form of courage is found in the mothers and fathers who choose life when faced with an unexpected pregnancy. They must endure the hardships of parenthood, the stigma of unwed motherhood, and the rejection of family and friends who oppose their decision. The culture encourages us to avoid suffering at all costs, but these women and men boldly accept suffering in order to bring a new life into the world. Just as we recognize the courage of those who speak out to defend life, let us also celebrate the courage of those who boldly reject the cultural norm and embrace suffering in order to choose life for their babies. [Cross-posted at Biking for Babies]

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