Friday Five (Vol. 34) – Courage, etc.

This is not a post about American healthcare. It is a post about courage and risk. However I do have a few words to say about why I’m writing this post in #1 below. It’s my blog afterall and my outlet for writing down my thoughts, so I’m going to do so. If you would rather get to the subject of this post and not the reasons behind it, please skip ahead to numbers 2-5.

— 1 —

I had drafted the following as my Facebook status late yesterday afternoon. (I had recently posted a status about my “apparently being uptight” as a joke and my friends playfully feigned surprise at that thought. I have the best friends.)

If I was as truly uptight as you say I am I would have unloaded around 9:30am yesterday morning. However I’ve been around long enough to know better and am in the process of reading 193 pages of the legal opinion. And it’s not nearly as terrible as first thought. Before you celebrate too much on the Left, you might want to put away your champagne and read it. And before you on the Right jump off a cliff, I’d suggest you do the same. If some of us had been here when the American Revolution was an embryo, we’d still be English citizens. Faint hearts and lazy, non-analytical minds do not make for a free country.

In the end I decided to just leave politics off of my Facebook. That last section in boldface is something I’d read by a commenter on the Lucianne news blog and I thought it was brilliant. Not just because he was addressing a group of conservatives who were running around like Chicken Little yesterday in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but because it hits upon a larger piece of ground that we have too long left untilled in this country. Pope Benedict has spoken of it recently in a few of his talks, as have other leaders. Pope John Paul II proclaimed throughout his papacy “Be not afraid!” We are becoming a people, a country and world that is devoid of courage. It doesn’t need to be this way.

Look, our healthcare system is broken. No one denies that. Reforms are needed especially in the areas of tort reform and the ability to sell insurance across state lines. Had the president, Pelosi, and the gang passed that type of legislation I’d be cheering from the rooftops today. Instead they rammed something else through. So yes, I’m in favor of healthcare reform, just as I’m in favor of clean air, clean water, and women’s health. Cripes I’m sick of hearing otherwise from the Left and its surrogates. Such intellectual maturity is what led to this sort of enlightened commentary from the Democratic National Committee’s New Media Outreach Director yesterday.

Not to be outdone the DNC’s Executive Director sent this one out:

Stay classy, lefties.

War on women, indeed. If this silly premise were true, why on earth were there 43,335 adult baptisms and 72,859 people received into full communion with the Catholic Church in the United States during Easter 2011? (I do not have the published figures for 2012.) Why did prominent atheist blogger Leah Libresco announce last week her intent to convert to Catholicism and join the Church in 2013? Within minutes of posting that on Twitter Gaspard deleted it. Those on the Right roared in outrage over the “misogyny” inherent in the statement. Baloney. It was what I’ve come to expect from those of his ilk: an immature outburst based on emotion. Much as a child does.

Look, this is nothing more than petty, immature and lazy grievance politics. I have zero respect for those who engage in it, whether by cheap shot Tweets, sound bites, or cutesy Pinterest images posted on Facebook.

And to you on the Right? Quit your bitching and get to work if you don’t like this crap sandwich. Win in the arena of ideas. And the next time your party controls Congress and the Presidency and starts to spend like drunken sailors with nary a veto coming from the president maybe…just maybe…you’ll tell them to knock it off. Because it was those actions that so disgusted voters that they were willing to elect someone whose biggest accomplishments on his resume should have been enough to only get him elected to a local office. So just as the Left owns ObamaCare, you on the Right own the election of the architects of this legislation.

Thank you for indulging me. I took a risk. And now, on with the countdown…

— 2 —

I’m sitting at my desk downstairs surrounded by seven large plastic totes and boxes that need to be sorted through. I’m still in my “spring cleaning” mode and in the process of eliminating a lot of clutter. In one of the totes I came across a photocopy from an unknown source that contained the following. I wanted to share it today.

On Risking
To laugh is… to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is… to risk being sentimental.
To reach out for another is… to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is… to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is…to risk their loss.
To love is… to risk not being loved in return.
To live is… to risk dying.
To hope is… to risk despair.
To try is… to risk failure.

But risks must be taken. Because the greatest hazard in life is… to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing and is nothing.

One may avoid suffering and sorrow, but one simply cannot learn… feel… change… grow… love… in short, live.

Chained by one’s certitudes, one is a slave; one has forfeited freedom.

Only a person who risks is free…

~ Anonymous

— 3 —

In order to risk one must have courage. It is a largely neglected virtue that I believe we all possess. But like a muscle it must be nourished, exercised and strengthened. Modern man’s muscles of courage have atrophied. Here are three brief writings on courage that I chose at random.

No matter how selfish mankind may seem, whenever hours like these come, which try men’s souls, they show that the age of chivalry has not gone; that though “The knights are dust, and their good swords rust,” there are as high-hearted heroes now as ever. Firemen rush into a flaming house to save women and children. Sailors take their lives in their hands to rescue their fellow-men from a wreck. They save them at this great risk, not because they are friends or relatives, but because they are fellow-men.

Courage is an element of manliness. It is more than readiness to encounter danger and death, for we are not often called to meet such perils. It is every-day courage which is most needed, — that which shrinks from no duty because it is difficult; which makes one ready to say what he believes, when his opinions are unpopular; which does not allow him to postpone a duty, but makes him ready to encounter it at once; a courage which is not afraid of ridicule when one believes himself right; which is not the slave of custom, the fool of fashion. Such courage as this, in man or woman or child, is true manliness. It is infinitely becoming in all persons. It does not seek display, it is often the courage of silence no less than speech; it is modest courage, unpretending though resolute. It holds fast to its convictions and principles, whether men hear or whether they forbear.

~ James Freeman Clarke, 19th century American preacher, author and abolitionist.
*From page 393 of The Book of Man by William J. Bennett. (2011)

— 4 —

There is a sharp distinction between courage and recklessness. The reckless man is ignorant; he rushes into danger without hesitation, simply because he does not know what danger means. The brave man is intelligent; he faces danger because he understands it and is prepared to meet it. The drunkard who runs, in the delirium of intoxication, into a burning house is not brave; he is only stupid. But the clear-eyed hero who makes his way, with every sense alert and every nerve strung, into the hell of flames to rescue some little child, proves his courage.

Courage does not consist in the absence of fear, but in the conquest of it. Timidity is no more inconsistent with courage than doubt is inconsistent with faith. For as faith is simply the overriding and subjugating of doubt by believing where you cannot prove, so courage is simply the conquest and suppression of fear by going straight on in the path of duty and love.

~ Henry Van Dyke. Manhood, Faith and Courage. (1906)
*From page 43 of the book The Art of Manliness – Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues, by Brett and Kate McKay. (2011)

— 5 —

On July 29, 1941, Zygmunt Pilawski, inmate #14156 of Polish descent, escaped from Block 14 at Auschwitz. When the next day’s roll call revealed that he was missing, the entire block of prisoners was forced to stand at attention until 9:00pm and without supper. When they were finally permitted to enter their blocks late at night, despite an exhausting day’s labor and weakness from lack of food and water, they could not sleep. They knew what the next day would bring if Pilawski was not recaptured. The next morning, after roll call, the inmates of Block 14 were kept standing on the assembly yard.

The deputy commandant, Obersturmbahnführer Karl Fritsch addressed the Block 14 inmates. “The inmate has not been found. You will remain at attention on the yard until the inmate is recaptured or until further notice.”

All day long the prisoners stood in the blistering heat without food or water. The diabolic sadism of Fritsch became more extreme with each opportunity to dispatch prisoners to death. He became addicted to and reveled in his role of executioner. It would be Fritsch, in September 1941, who would introduce Zyklon B into the Auschwitz camp.

In the early evening Fritsch returned to the yard and said, “The inmate has not been found. Therefore, in keeping with the camp rule, ten prisoners will be selected for death in the starvation bunker.”

Accompanied by the roll call officer, Fritsch walked up and down the ranks of the approximately 600 inmates, relishing his power to choose who would live and who would die. Pointing his officer’s baton at the first inmate selected, he barked “You!”

Ordered to step three paces forward, the victim almost collapsed in fright, stooped and shivering, whining incoherently, his body language indicating resignation. The doomed man’s inmate number was written down by the roll call officer.

Finally all ten death candidates were chosen and their numbers recorded. One of the inmates selected, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to wail, “My poor wife and children!” His cries pierced the air and not even the hefty blows from an oxhide whip could silence the shrieking lamentations.

One of the inmates in Block 14 was a Polish priest, Maximilian Kolbe. As a youth in Pabianice Saint Matthew’s Church he had received a vision whereby the Virgin Mary had offered him the white crown of purity and the red crown of martyrdom and asked him to choose. The child had chosen both. As a Franciscan priest he possessed the white crown of purity. Now, while standing in this hellish prison yard he seemed to hear the Virgin say, “This is now the moment, Maximilian, when you may claim the red crown.”

Kolbe stepped from his position in one of the rear ranks and made his way to the forward row where the ten inmates selected for death were huddled. A soldier screamed at him “Back in line!” But Kolbe proceeded forward, saying “I must speak to the commandant.” Breaking rank, which normally would have been punished by blows from clubs or whips, caught the soldiers paralyzed with astonishment.

As Kolbe approached the SS Obersturmbahnführer reached for his sidearm. Noting the capital letter “P” in the triangle each prisoner wore for identification, Fritsch demanded “What does this Polish pig want?”

Kolbe addressed Fritsch in the German language. “I would like to take the place of one of the inmates selected.”

“What? Are you insane you idiot? Who are you?”

Kolbe answered. “I am a Catholic priest. I have no dependents.” Gesturing toward Gajowniczek, he added “This man has a wife and children; let me take his place.”

There was a pause as Fritsch tried to calculate on how to respond. Finally he said “Alright.” He then wheeled on his heels and disappeared. The roll call officer crossed out Gajowniczek’s number 5659 and wrote in its place 16670. Gajowniczek was ordered back into rank.

The ten prisoners were led into Block 13, later renumbered Block 11. They were ordered to disrobe and were locked into a concrete basement cell of 8 feet by 8 feet. It had one small barred window at ground level. A bucket for natural needs stood in one corner. “In a few days you’ll all dry up like tulip bulbs,” sneered one of the guards as the heavy door was slammed shut and locked.

Over the course of the next two weeks the inmates died, one by one. Kolbe led prayers, singing, heard confessions, and never waivered in his faith and courage. “This priest,” one of the guards said, “knowing that they’re all going to die, has them singing and praying. Usually the prisoners are cursing and screaming at us. He’s transformed the death chamber into a chapel. He must be an idiot.”

“Or a saint,” the other guard responded.

The SS guards who checked each day for survivors could not tolerate his gaze. Then they entered the cell, Kolbe would fix his eyes on them. The guards screamed at him. “Keep your eyes down; don’t look at us!”

*Excerpted from the book Mary’s Knight: The Mission and Martyrdom of Saint Maksymilian Maria Kolbe, by Claude R. Foster. (2002)

While Kolbe died on August 14, 1941, after two weeks of internment due to an injection of carbolic acid (the German’s needed the cell and were growing impatient), the above testimony given by witnesses to these events demonstrate the power of courage and how it affects those who lack the virtue when they meet it face to face.

  • When Kolbe broke ranks, the normally sadistic soldiers were silent.
  • When Kolbe asked Fritsch if he could take a doomed man’s place, Fritsch stuttered and hesitated before walking silently away.
  • And the SS guards hated having the condemned man’s peaceful eyes making contact with their guilty ones.

On October 10, 1982 Maximilian Kolbe was canonized as a martyred saint by Pope John Paul II. Among the hundreds of thousands in attendance was Franciszek Gajowniczek. Gajowniczek died in March 1995 at the age of 94.

Be not afraid! Faint hearts and lazy, non-analytical minds do not make for a free country.Or for a free man.


2 thoughts on “Friday Five (Vol. 34) – Courage, etc.

  1. This kind of made me think of the impotence of some parishes, how they let themselves get bogged down so that they are incapable of giving authentic Christian love. I think I will write about it sometime. We definitely are in need of courage!


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