Stubbornness is not a virtue (latin mass)

21st Sunday after Pentecost
Beloved in the Lord, St. John Cassian tells[i] of an ancient monk of the desert who decided that he would not eat any food unless God gave it to him in a miraculous way. As he wandered in the desert, starved with hunger, he encountered some savage people who felt sorry for him, and offered him some bread. But he was so stubborn, that he would not accept it, and he later died of starvation.
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In the course of our life, we meet people who are stubborn, bull-headed, and inflexible. Some say that being stubborn is a virtue, a sign of strength. But is this strength? Is it virtuous to be stubborn? If we look in the Holy Scriptures, and the writings of the saints, we will not find stubbornness to be a virtue; the Bible refers to those who are ‘stiff-necked or stubborn, always as a negative. ‘Stubborn as a mule,’ – this is not a compliment!
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But there are some virtues that seem similar. The virtue of fortitude for example, which means the courage to do something good, no matter how much we have to suffer. There is the virtue of perseverance. This means, that when we do something difficult, we keep going, we ‘persevere’ even when others might be against us. It sounds kind of like stubborn. And then there is the virtue of faithfulness. Remaining faithful to God, to our spouse, to the Church, no matter who or what is trying to oppose us or tempt us.
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In the Epistle today, St. Paul says ‘Be strengthened in the Lord and in his power. Put on the armor of God, that you may stand against the deceits of the devil.’ He speaks in military language – take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.’ St. Paul is speaking of the life of virtue, of faithfulness.
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St. Joan of Arc needed to have courage to keep following what the Lord was asking of her. She needed ‘perseverance’ when everyone was against her; and she showed the virtue of faithfulness to God even when they burned her at the stake. She was unmovable, she was faithful through it all. But this was not stubbornness. The strong, virtuous person is striving for what is good, for what God wants. But the stubborn person is not. Acts 7:51 says: ‘You stubborn people, you are always resisting the Holy Spirit.’
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A stubborn person holds tightly to his OWN will, not God’s will. A stubborn person insists on his own preferences, and won’t give in to other ideas or what God might want. Normally, the virtuous person will accept decisions that are not easy for him; he will accept what his boss asks him to do, even if he does not like it; and in many things during the course of a day, he will accede to the other person’s preferences out of humility. A virtuous person will accept many things that go against his own will, because he wants to do God’s will.
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Sometimes, a virtuous person must stand up against popular opinion; if a teen finds that his friends are speaking or acting against the moral law of Christ, he will stand firm in the Truth. He will be immovable, in standing for what is right, even if the whole world is against him. They may call him stubborn, but this is not stubbornness, it is faithfulness, because he is following God.
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A stubborn person get’s his mind fixated on one way of doing things – his own way – and will listen to nothing else. He may insist that the quickest way to Franklin Park is through Bensenville, because that’s all he knows, and that’s that! Reasoning with him or showing him maps will not change his mind. Some people are so bull-headed, that even if all the evidence shows that they are wrong, they will not change their mind. And this is because he has to protect his ego; feeling insecure, he says to himself, ‘If I give in at all, people will walk all over me; it will appear that I am weak, so I must never back down.’ The stubborn person creates a world-view necessary to protect himself, lest he appear weak, and he therefore doesn’t trust anyone.
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Stubborn people are very good at making decisions; they make the decision and act, full steam ahead! They don’t wait around for advice or other ideas, and they don’t consider the possibility that they might be wrong. A bull-headed person can be a strong leader and get things done, although he might go down a wrong path, because he does not ask for advice.
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To the stubborn person, the worst thing that could happen, is to appear weak. St. Thomas Aquinas says[ii] that the stubborn person is too attached to his own opinion and unwilling to give up his own will; the person wants to appear to be great, and not weak, and therefore fears that any weakness might be discovered in him.
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Now some people do not have the courage to be openly aggressive, and so they have learned to get their way by more subtle methods: doing a job begrudgingly, slowing down their work as a statement of protest, excuse-making to avoid what they don’t accept.
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Dr. Allers, in his famous book on Psychology[iii] says (that) serious problems with obstinacy are often due to mistakes in a child’s upbringing. If a child has feelings of worthlessness or inferiority, and is not shown understanding, but is criticized, the reaction can become anti-social behavior: he sets himself against the world and doesn’t trust anyone.
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Obstinate children are generally very unhappy, and will spend their life protecting their self-esteem. If they have a choleric temperament, they will be openly confrontational; if their temperament is melancholic, their stubbornness will be seen by passive methods of defiance. The diaries of such children are full of complaints of loneliness, thoughts of running away, and longings for affection.
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But obstinate children are easily helped. A 12 year old girl who at home was stubborn and obstinate, and who went away to a school run by some Religious Sisters, she changed completely. The first nun to meet with the girl spoke to her with affection and understanding, and that was the end of her obstinacy.
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If our co-worker or family member is stubborn and bull-headed, we might just try telling him that one of his ideas is very good, and showing him some real affection. What the stubborn person does not realize, is that if he would trust a little, and open his heart, people would not hurt him;  if he would not be so insistent on his own way people would respect him more, not less.
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Stubbornness is not a natural virtue, nor a Christian virtue; it is not a virtue. But courage, perseverance, and faithfulness, these are virtues. Living them means dying to our own will, and embracing God’s will, especially if it is not what we prefer.
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May the Blessed Virgin intercede for us; Mary, pray for us, that despite our failings, we may become virtuous, and configure ourselves more to Jesus Christ.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas]

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[i] Philokalia(1), p. 101.

[ii] Summa Theologica, Q. 132 a5, under Vainglory.

[iii] The Psychology of Character, pp. 162-170

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