Be Strong and Courageous
Submitted by our Theology teacher, Aaron Hartley.
“Be strong and courageous!” That is on of our school mottos. Taken from the book of Joshua and in line with the values of Father Vincent Capodanno, a man who embodied that courage greater than most, it is our mission as a school to develop courageous leaders who can effect the world with knowledge and love…But it’s a misquote.
I apologize to the administrators of the school, the board members, and all those who have contributed to the school, but our school motto is an incomplete quote. The real quote is this: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7) Ok, I’ll admit I’m being a little dishonest because in verse 9 God repeats to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” so it’s not actually a misquote. But alas, we live in a clickbait age.
In my Theology class, we have been studying the book of Joshua and with the Night of Courage last week, the theme of courage has been steadily on my mind. What is courage? What does the book of Joshua teach about courage? How did Father Capodanno live out that courage? And how can we live it out as well and guide our students to do so? I think the key to all of these questions lies in the expanded quotation from the book of Joshua. In that quote, two points are stressed: Courage and Obedience. The connection between these two themes defines what it means to have courage and this is shown in the famous story of the defeat of Jericho.
Jericho is a fortified city, something only an elongated siege would defeat. The city is a symbol in Canaan that if destroyed would spell doom on the rest of the inhabitants of the land. But how to scale those walls? A resource depleting siege? A bloody attempt with ladders? Given the primitive situation with ancient arsenal, the answer is elusive. So, the Lord comes to Joshua to give him plans for battle; and the battle tactics are a little unorthodox. The people are to march around the city once for six days and on the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times culminating in a trumpet blast upon which victory will be given to the Israelites. Now, I have never been in combat and I know people who have; so at risk of going over the bounds of my expertise, I will offer my own military analysis of this plan: It is bad. This is a ridiculous military tactic fraught with danger and should seemingly be ineffective. Yet as most of us know, it is far from it. The walls crumble at the sound of the trumpets and the Israelites achieve a massive victory.
Why does God order this type of attack upon the city of Jericho. The answer is that God is teaching the people something about courage. The tactic of marching around the city and blowing trumpets is not a military attack at all, but a liturgical one. The message that God is sending the Israelites here is powerful: victory can only be achieved through radical faith in God. No novel military technology will achieve it, no intricate tactical skill will achieve it, only God’s divine intervention will grant you the victory. And if you are Joshua in this situation, it would take a whole lot of courage to trust God enough to be obedient to this command. Instead of sending his most fierce warriors, instead of employing his most cunning tacticians, Joshua commands Israel to be faithful to God. Courage and obedience are tied together in the book of Joshua because they are the same thing. In order to be faithful to God, Joshua must have courage. He must face down the terrors of an enemy army intent on destroying him armed with nothing but the faithfulness of God.
Our namesake, Father Vincent Capodanno, was the great embodier of this courage. With bullets flying around him (and into him), with men screaming in pain, with the NVA intent on destroying him and his men, Father Capodanno obeyed God. God had commissioned him for chaplaincy because He knew that Father Capodanno would have the courage to obey God even unto the point of death. What better model could we look to for courage and obedience? Who better to demonstrate that radical courage could only be accompanied by a submission to God so fervent that he would be riddled with twenty-seven bullets in order to follow God’s command? I think only the courage and obedience shown by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
“No greater love than this than he who lays down his life for his friends.” We begin and end our days with that statement. How are you empowering your child toward that radical obedience? How are you drawing out that courage? That is the question that we as a Father Vincent Capodanno High School staff address daily. I hope we can embody the courage of Joshua, or Father Capodanno, of Jesus Christ.