There the 8 year old flipped and tumbled and fell – gymnasts don’t come from tall peasant stock like ours – but she got up to try it again. I had just limped my way up the sidewalk. My calf pulled in the latest reminder that my jumping days were past. And in the midst of a wince I recognized that pre-eminent virtue of youth – courage. After landing flat on her back making a 270 instead of a 360, she did it again. The gym was full of such amazing courage.
I remember some of that physical courage now sadly traded for those more mature virtues of prudence and patience (ok, I’m still working on patience). But seeing so much courage jogged me into pondering a little Aristotle, “we become brave by practicing bravery”. In our youth we have such physical strength to practice courage with this flesh, this flesh that even now is wasting away. The teacher of Ecclesiastes says something similar in a very Hebrew way, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”” Now is the time of grace. Now is the time to practice.
We practice the faith, so that we might be found faithful. We endure suffering so that we might develop character. Character isn’t revealed, it’s produced. There is hope for us all. While my physical courage is no longer there as it once was – the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak – I pray that I have learned the lesson of youth and that courage has been won in practice. That ultimately I could say with St. Paul, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Phi 1:20)”