I was at a job fair for my company a few days ago. One of the employees from the company, who we will call Alice, just got done doing an interview with a very hopeful prospect. The only thing that is a potential issue is that he has a lot of tattoos; it is company policy that all tattoos must be covered, and he has a few of them that would be very difficult to do so.
So after the interview Alice discussed the issue with myself and two other company employees. Alice expressed her legal and moral concerns about this issue before saying that our company has to ‘get with the times’ and just change its tattoo policy.
‘I mean even the Catholic Church has changed!’ Alice exclaimed.
Such a surprising statement threw me off and froze me a bit. Should I ask her what she meant by that? No it’s not necessary. Well actually I should be using this opportunity to evangelize. But wouldn’t it be super awkward if I were to question her on this in this setting? But isn’t that what I am called to do? All of these thoughts were flowing through my head at that moment.
And that moment quickly flew on by without me having uttered a word. Fear (of what I still couldn’t tell you) paralyzed me; as a result, I did not fulfill my calling.
Cowardice is a very peculiar sin. For one, not only is it a sin in and of itself but it can also tempt one to not recognize that they have in fact sinned. Take lying for example. Someone may commit a sin by lying to someone, yet it is oftentimes the sin of cowardice that makes one susceptible to lying in the first place and/or to decide not to admit, to themselves or the other, that they have lied. I know it was wrong to lie, but what would this person think of me if he knew the truth? or I did not tell the truth, but if I did then some aspect of my life may be in jeopardy (job, relationship, etc) so it is best that I didn’t.
Cowardice is also the type of sin that brings a person to deflect the source of their cowardice onto something else rather than themselves; in other words, those who commit the sin of cowardice oftentimes do not take responsibility for their sin and instead blame it on the sin itself. To go back to the previous example, if a person lies they typically recognize that they chose to lie but that it was wrong to do so.
If a person commits the sin of cowardice, however, then many times they may be tempted to believe that it was the fault of the sin itself, not the fault of the person who committed the sin. Look, for example, at the way I worded my earlier paragraph, saying that ‘fear…paralyzed me’. This is a form of deflection (one that I, even the midst of writing this, did not catch until I reflected on it). By wording it this way I was deflecting responsibility away from myself, as if fear itself was at fault and not me. This is the way that cowardice is normally discussed, like we have little to no control over it.
This, to me, seems to be due to a misunderstanding between cowardice and fear. Nothing is wrong with fear just like nothing is wrong with any other emotion. But fear is not a choice. Cowardice is.
To be sure, in some cases such as someone threatening one’s life it can be understandable for the emotion of fear to overcome one’s ability to think and act rationally. But more often than not one is not forced into such a state. People who do not want to confront their fear, for one reason or another, simply choose not to in a situation where they should. That is what true cowardice is.
I was a coward. I did not attempt to defend the Church because I was afraid and I chose to act on that fear by shying away from what I deep down knew to be right. I praise God for His forgiveness, and I pray that I and all others have the grace to be courageous in all areas of life, but most of all in faith.
“Very often you fear men more than God. Have you never been ashamed to make the sign of the cross, or to kneel down and say your prayers, or to take holy water? Do not ever again be so cowardly! Pay no attention to the scoffs of bad people, but be strong, and fearlessly confess your faith! Pray earnestly to God the Holy Ghost for the gifts of fortitude and holy fear!” -Frederick Justus Knecht, A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture