From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character


Don’t say: ‘That’s the way I’m made… it’s my character’. It’s your lack of character: Be a man.


It has been said that character is “who you are when no one is looking.” Your actions, your words, your beliefs. It’s easy to fall in line and do the right thing when surrounded by peers or the spotlight, although today there is less evidence that this is still true as people more often do the wrong thing in broad daylight. Below is an example of someone who had a good thing going and could have easily looked the other way regarding a discretion and few would have ever known.

Today the Roman Catholic Church celebrates Saint Kilian (640-689), an Irish monk who had sought and received permission from Pope Conon to travel to Franconia (near Baden and Bavaria in modern-day Germany) to evangelize the people there. He traveled with two companions and was largely successful in his efforts until he converted Gosbert, the Duke of Würzburg. The duke had married Geilana, his brother’s widow and Kilian had explained to him that his marriage was unlawful and secured a promise from Gosbert to leave her. This enraged Geilana, who had not converted to Christianity. When she learned that Gosbert was going to leave her Geilana was so angry that when the duke had left to go on a military expedition she sent her soldiers to the main square of Würzburg where Kilian and his colleagues were preaching, and had Kilian and his two companions beheaded. She oversaw the burial of their corpses at the crime scene, and when the duke returned denied knowing the location of the missionaries. In time the soldier who murdered them on Geilana’s behalf went mad, confessed is crime and died miserably. Geilana herself eventually died insane.

Had Kilian said nothing to Gosbert he could have continued to spread the Gospel message in safety and relative obscurity, and kept his head. But he didn’t just talk idle words. The Gospel was his conviction. It was married to his character. Kilian confronted the ruling class on matters of Christian ethics and these acts of virtue and character were ultimately responsible for his death.

In 1 Kings 2:1-3 we read that

When David’s time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn;

It takes strength to hold to your character when no one is looking. It takes more strength if your character is such that “you walk in his ways.”

St. Kilian's statue on the Old Main Bridge in Würzburg.

St. Kilian’s statue on the Old Main Bridge in Würzburg.