We are very pleased to welcome Father Paul Keenan to
SoulfulLiving.com as our newest columnist! With
each new issue, Father Paul will provide us with an
opportunity to pause and ponder, as he shares his
thoughts and wisdom on positive thinking and the use of affirmations
in our daily lives.
The Many Faces of Courage
This morning, as I was starting to think about writing this column on Courage, I saw a story in the newspaper about a grandmother who tried unsuccessfully to save her three-year-old grandson when someone opened fire on the two of them in their apartment.
Unfortunately, the grandmother was unsuccessful in saving either her grandson or herself, but the newspaper headlines rightly called her “courageous.” That is certainly one example of Courage – the ability to think of others and even to put oneself in danger to protect
them. It’s the same kind of Courage that we see manifested every day by the thousands of men and women who are serving around the world in the armed forces. Knowing that there is danger, they go forward in service to others.
But is that the only definition of Courage? I think that there are also many different faces of Courage, most of which are much quieter and less-noticed, but which constitute Courageous behavior nonetheless. I’m thinking of someone I know who, now into
her nineties and bright as a button, has bravely faced serious health challenges, meeting each of them with strength and determination. Her Courage enables her to enjoy life and to spend considerable amounts of her time helping ease the burdens of others. When I think of
what she has battled health-wise, I am amazed at her ability to meet each challenge, to address it and to do what is necessary to overcome it.
Is there a common thread to these two examples of Courage? I think there is, and I call it “interest in life.” Courageous people meet their challenges because they are interested in life – devoted to living each day as well as they can and at the same
time being eager to learn as much as they can from the experiences they encounter. Courageous people are interested people. Interesting people, too.
There are still more faces of Courage. I think of someone who has recently left a city and a home where she has lived for decades to take up residence in an entirely different part of the country. I think of a wife and mother who, while battling her own
health issues and those of her husband and son, gets up each day and spends her day helping others to fulfill their dreams. I think of couples I know who have struggled with serious issues in their marriages and have hung in there to make them work. I also think of women
who have finally removed themselves and their children from abusive households and have gone on to live productive lives. I think of a friend who has suffered a series of incredible losses over the past half a dozen years and yet continues to move on with her life. I think
of a courageous young boy from Israel who is battling a crippling illness. He and his parents came to New York for his treatment, and he let it be known that he wanted to be a New York City firefighter. After spending two days fighting the second-worst fire in New York City
history (there’s Courage for you, too), firefighters from the FDNY gathered at the hospital to administer to the boy the oath that would make him a fireman.
When I think of Courage, I think of heart. That’s what the word Courage means – it comes from the French word coeur. The ingredients of Courage are heart, interest in life and situations to apply them to.
When we think of Courage, we often think it’s a virtue that applies to exceptional people and situations. That’s true, of course; but in the majority of cases, Courage is about ordinary people facing life’s battles – large and small – every day and doing
it with interest and love. You don’t have to be someone special in order to be courageous; rather, you become someone special when you act courageously.
The soul thrives on the coincidence of opposites. Just because you act courageously doesn’t mean that you’re not timid. I recently heard the psychologist Joan Borysenko remark that there would be no point to Courage without fear. Courage comes with
facing our fears head on and resolving them. This means that if you are someone who experiences a lot of fear, it doesn’t mean you’re lacking in Courage. On the contrary, it means that you are being called to face your fears and conquer them. Or, on some days, perhaps not
to conquer them but to thoughtfully live with them if that’s the best you can do that day. Fears cannot always be conquered, but there’s a lot of Courage in living with them soulfully until they can be resolved. Mason Cooley had it right when he said, “Courage overrides
self-doubt, but does not end it.” It is the peculiar grace of the soul that it can embrace the opposites in our lives and make them work together.
Let us, then, despite our fears, face each day with Courage. Heartfelt interest in life, applied to our circumstances, can change them and transform us. They make our lives more interesting and deeply soulful.
© Copyright 2006 Father Paul Keenan. All Rights Reserved.
Read Father Paul Keenan's Past
Jan-Apr 2006 - "Five Life Lessons"
Oct-Dec 2005 - "Having, Being, and Stillness"
July-Sept 2005 - "The Spiritual Law of Gravity"
April-June 2005 -
"Spiritual Spring Cleaning"
Father Paul A. Keenan,
a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York,
is its Director of Radio Ministry in the Office of
Communications. He served as co-anchor and consultant
for the broadcasts of ABC News Radio for its coverage of
the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II and the
election and installation of Pope Benedict XVI. He
co-hosts “Religion on the Line,” a weekly news/talk
program on WABC Radio in New York City (airtime 7:00 –
10:00 a.m. ET Sundays and available live on
www.wabcradio.com.) He is a
regular columnist for Catholic New York and for
SoulfulLiving.com and serves as a parish priest in New
York City. He is the author of the books Good News
for Bad Days, Stages of the Soul and
Heartstorming, all of which are available through
this website. He hosts his own site at