The Content of One’s Character

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time


The human body is an amazing machine—all at once simple and highly complex, at times fragile and delicate, yet also ever strong and resilient. I have seen what some remarkable people can do with their bodies, and I am constantly blown away. I have watched videos online collectively titled “People are Awesome,” mostly of gymnasts on parallel bars and balance beams, tightrope walkers and bmx freestyle artists, long distance ball shooters, catchers, and hitters, wall climbers and parkour acrobats, aerial daredevils and dancefloor contortionists. I have yet to see an actual Cirque du Soleil performance, but their videos are breathtaking and beautiful. And no, I am not envious. Not one bit. They grab my attention like a highway accident causes bottlenecks, but I will still cover my eyes and wince when I watch their antics, knowing this old body of mine would never hold up under those stressful and extreme conditions. Most of these prodigies of bodily coordination and balance will never qualify for the Olympics, much less be recognized for their skill and effort. But the joy in their faces is so genuine and infectious, just for succeeding at some momentary amazing accomplishment which, by the way, they may never be able to repeat, like some wild claim of a hole-in-one on the fairway that no one has ever witnessed. At least here, they have evidence of it on video.

Then there are amazing accomplishments of the human mind that demonstrate how our bodies are so much more than a random blend of top soil and exotic chemicals. We may never compare with Einstein or Michelangelo, Mozart or da Vinci, Beyoncé or Meryl Streep, but we can certainly appreciate their amazing achievements knowing they have added vibrant color and meaning to our daily existence, and enriched the human race. They may even have given courage to the timid and the self-conscious to risk rejection and failure, just so they share their unique giftedness with the world.

And often only evident and widely acclaimed among a select audience are the heroes and giants of integrity, character, and Christian virtue. We call them heroes and giants because their brave struggle and faithful perseverance in the face of daunting odds raises the bar for the rest of us. Our faith teaches us that we are created in the image and likeness of God. The uncompromising selflessness and joyful conviction we witness in these women and men of outstanding holiness and heroic virtue give sure evidence that we are a noble creation, meant to appeal to what is true and good and beautiful in the world. You’ve seen the image of a playful child or sometimes a platypus with the caption “I know I’m somebody cause God don’t make no junk.” It reminds us that our dignity as human beings is not bestowed on us by any government or human authority. Consequently, neither can it be taken away. We struggle with the concept when we encounter individuals who have done evil, or whose words or actions are ugly, unkind, demeaning, and unchristian. Still worse, we may never approve of such behavior in ourselves and those we love, but will allow others the benefit of the doubt, because they are only speaking their mind. Decent, respectable people do not resort to crude and obscene language. Ever. That bar must never be lowered.

So when St. Paul tells the Christian community of Corinth that “the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord,”[1] he was confronting head-on a culture that catered to people’s baser instincts, degrading the gift of human sexuality and toying with people’s lives for entertainment and profit. He may as well have been speaking to our culture today, where we glorify extravagant wealth and unfettered self-indulgence. We are told repeatedly that sex sells. And we are continuously subjected to a little tasteful nudity in the marketing of cars and deodorant and alcohol. Some people say that crude language and nudity on TV and in the movies is unnecessary. They adhere to a level of decency that they regard acceptable because that was what they were taught. But others will insist some salty language and questionable behavior make for a more realistic viewing experience. So while we selectively shield ourselves from the harsh reality of poverty, crime, and disease, we are not as concerned about exposing ourselves and our young people to random gratuitous violence, risky sexual behavior, and the inconsequential abuse of recreational drugs. But it makes people happy. And the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed by the constitution. That pursuit might kill our sense of right and wrong, and turn us into slaves of the flesh, just as long as we choose it and embrace it willingly. After all, it’s a free country, is it not? St. Paul does not yield an inch. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.”[2]

Most parents and teachers do not hope and pray that their children and students would one day grow up to become prostitutes, drug dealers, and serial killers. I said most. Yet our culture bestows on these lifestyles a certain level of glamor and prestige. Should we then be surprised that they are picking up the wrong message? I can tell you I have not heard any new sins since I began hearing confessions 25 years ago. And there have been occasions when I felt like scrubbing my brain with boiling water and soap. Which goes to say human nature has not changed much since our first parents were driven out of the garden. But our standards for what is acceptable are changing all the time. And yet our human dignity and Jesus’ teachings remain.

Jesus’ first disciples had been disciples of John the Baptist. And John was not upset when they began following Jesus. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” “Come, and you will see.” Getting to know Jesus and embracing the life he offers requires we take the interest and the time to fall in love with him, to learn, and to express in our living the values he lived and taught. Whatever attracted Jesus’ early followers continues to attract people today who desire and recognize their dignity and that of others which is first and foremost God’s gift.

Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to call citizens of our great country and all people of the world to focus not on what is external, but rather on what is deeper within the human person. “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”[3] Learning the content of a person’s character takes more time than learning the color of their skin. Teddy Roosevelt said it best. Nothing worthwhile comes easy.

The content of a Christian’s character should always be consistent with what Jesus taught and stood for. The Christian response to the turbulent issues of our day demands among other things, that we acknowledge God’s gift of human dignity. Our words and actions will prove the content of our character. We can only demand of others what we first demand of ourselves.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (C) waves to supporters 28 August 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC (Washington Monument in background) during the “March on Washington”. King said the march was “the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of the United States.” Martin Luther King was assassinated on 04 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray confessed to shooting King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. King’s killing sent shock waves through American society at the time, and is still regarded as a landmark event in recent US history. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

Rolo B Castillo © 2018

 


[1] 1 Corinthians 6: 13

[2] ibid., 19-20.

[3] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm