Who Dares, Wins

Before John Wayne put the Green Berets into the American psyche and before the Navy SEALs captivated America with their exploits, Great Britain had its own elite special operations force, the Special Air Service, or SAS. Dating back to 1941, the SAS motto is simply, “Who Dares, Wins.”

That’s true. We sometimes think of daring as a human virtue (or a somehow admirable vice, as in “daredevil”), opposed in some way to the more supernatural virtue of prudence, now usually thought of as caution. 

But daring rightly understood is really courage in action, steered by prudence, as the latter guides all the virtues. And anyone who believes that the daring of our special operations forces is not guided by a stringent prudence has never witnessed the careful training and meticulous preparation that go into any mission.

As Catholics, we need to think about daring in every age and place. There are intimations and examples of daring throughout the Bible: Abraham strikes out on his adventure, Jacob challenged the Lord to a wrestling match, the Apostles defied authority to speak the truth.  

Not all dares work out well, of course: Adam and Eve found that out when they ate the forbidden fruit. There is a vital and all-important distinction between dares informed by love of God and prudence, which entail self-giving, and those inspired by pride and selfishness of one form or another.

But the saints have talked about daring throughout Church history; their lives inevitably show daring of some sort. The Church looks for evidence of heroic virtue when considering a candidate for beatification. Heroism and daring go hand in hand.

In his Universal Prayer, Pope Clement XI petitions, “Make me prudent in planning, courageous in taking risks.” Blessed John Henry Newman tells us, “Therein lies the nobility of the faith, that we have the heart to dare something.”

Daring takes many forms, not all involving physical courage. I was struck by this truth while reading The Catholic Thing this week. Hadley Arkes celebrated his second anniversary in the Church with a column about his retreat with a group of young priests.

Hadley’s decision to enter the Church was, of course, a daring act. But I think here less of his Jewish roots, in many ways a “natural” and essential basis for Catholic belief, than of the reaction I imagine among his fellow Amherst faculty members. 

And the young priests whom Hadley describes, those who will ensure “that the Church, in this coming generation, will be vibrant and manly and joyous,” are off on a real dare, to defy the conventions of the moment and devote their lives to serving others. 

Entering the Church, or re-entering after time away (see Francis Beckwith’s column yesterday), can be a real moment of daring, especially if that means changing a deep seated habit of thought, or that family or friends will object. So can taking a step towards reconciling with an estranged friend or relative. 

Marriage and having children, indeed all acts of self-giving, are daring and daunting – we put ourselves on the line, unsure of what the consequences will be. In our materially abundant age, the story of the rich young man, who turned away from the dare rather than give up his possessions, takes on greater urgency. 

The disciples, who had given up family and worldly occupations when called by Christ, sometimes wondered what they would get in return – whether the dare was worth it.

And sometimes prayer is a daring act. At Mass in the Communion Rite, the priest introduces the Lord’s Prayer with the words, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say. . .” For those who have never prayed or are in a desert of spiritual dryness, just looking up without despair can demand daring.

In all times and places, the Church is dared to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But different ages have their own special forms of daring that the faithful are called upon to undertake.

The current, and likely future, moment in America will require Catholics to dare to speak the truths of the Magisterium. In some cases, this will involve reminding the nation of the (mostly non-Catholic) Founders’ reliance on natural law and belief in God as essential to ordered liberty without license. It will demand discussions of the duties that precede legitimate rights.

In other cases, it will require the steady assertion of the truths of the culture of life: on abortion, unbridled medical research, transhumanism, the broad dangers of the bureaucratic-administrative modern state, and other threats to the human person and the opportunity to choose a genuinely good life.

The daring will come in facing what will likely be an increasingly shrill and intimidating reaction, couched as “tolerance.” The reaction may eventually exceed mere verbal reprimands or legal threats (though for now there are plenty of people, Catholic or not, ready to help).

While this is new in the American context, the Church has been here before. In many places around the world today, speaking the truth in word or deed requires real courage and risk-taking. 

Blessed Pope John Paul II, who dared to oppose perhaps the most comprehensive and fearsome totalitarian machine in history, famously explained how to proceed: “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is well, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.” A consistent theme of his pontificate was, “Be not afraid.”

Who dares, wins.



Joseph Wood is an itinerant philosopher and easily accessible hermit affiliated with Cana Academy, Walsh University, The Catholic University of America, and the University of Notre Dame Australia, none of which bears any responsibility for his errors or missteps.