Called to be a Profile in Courage

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Upon his 1933 Inauguration as president of the Depression-afflicted United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt encouraged the nation, saying “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Fifteen years later, in his essay “On Living in an Atomic Age,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about death.”

A couple months ago, while America left its war in Afghanistan behind, one of our Afghan allies who was also left behind, as he was being hunted by the Taliban and realizing he had nothing left to lose, wrote: “I know that I’m going to get killed. The good thing is that I’m not going to die for a bad thing. I’m going to die for a good thing. What I did, I will never regret it because I have tried to help people.”

Now flashback 2,000 years. In an era when being blind was a fate as inescapable as death, a blind man named Bartimaeus survived by begging for the mercy of passersby (Mk 10:46-52). One day, one of those passersby was a miracle worker Bartimaeus had heard of. With nothing left to lose, he called out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Hearing that call, Jesus told the people around him to bring Bart over. “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you,” they told him.

He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.  “Master, I want to see,” came the reply. Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

We don’t know where Jesus led him, but it’s clear to see that in each of the above cases, faith’s leadership into courage came from fellow fear-facers. Jesus was an early icon of courage, but even he was leading the way as part of an ancient tradition started by the same Holy Spirit that led the Israelites out of fear’s slavery, and whose words continue to speak to the human race. Sunday’s first reading (Jer 31:7-9) delivers those words to give 21st Centurions courage:

They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.

Old Testament mythology? Not if we live those words as Jesus and future profilers of courage did–like FDR, CS Lewis, and—even that Afghani freedom lover. After all, as Paul told the Hebrews via the letter serving as Sunday’s second reading (Heb 5:1-6),

Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God … He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness … No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God.

Courage is a divine calling, and as John F. Kennedy wrote in his Profiles in Courage, “it is an opportunity that sooner or later is presented to us all.”

–Tom Andel

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