From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character
Be firm. Be virile. Be a man. And then… be a saint.
Today’s entry is aimed most especially at men. I’ve read a translation that attempts to be inclusive and changes the word “saint” to “angel”, among other revisions. But I want to focus on the masculine today.
“We of my generation have lost one line of fortifications after another, the old South, the old ideals, the old strengths. We are now watching the followers of Jesus and Buddha and Socrates being driven from the face of the earth. But there’s time ahead, thousands of years: there is but one good life and men yearn for it and will again practice it, though of my contemporaries only the stars will see. Love and compassion, beauty and innocence will return. It is better to have breathed them an instant than to have supported iniquity a millennium. Perhaps only flames can rouse a man from his apathy to his destiny.” ~ William Alexander Percy, from his 1941 book Lanterns on the Levee.
In the passage above Percy seems to invoke a psalm prayed during this morning’s Office of Readings. It is a prayer against the proud.
Save me, Lord, for the good men are all gone:
there is no-one to be trusted among the sons of men.
Neighbor speaks falsehood to neighbor:
with lying lips and crooked hearts they speak.
A virile man is a man possessing strength and energy. One of the greatest sappers of these traits is gossip and apathy. Both of these are representative of an idleness of mind and spirit, a quality that is pervasive and consuming too many men today. We become, as C.S. Lewis described in The Abolition of Man, men without chests.
We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.
The reasons for this are legion and today I will briefly discuss just one: celebrity worship. Due in part to the round-the-clock news cycles and the ever-decreasing attention span that relates only to short sound bites, people grow bored quickly and look for new heroes every day. But instead of seeking real heroes who perform heroic deeds or lead saintly lives of virtue (too boring!) we tend to demand a fresh new celebrity-a-day, be they a pop star, movie star, professional athlete or politician.
Historian Daniel Boorstin took note of this phenomenon in the early 1960s. The cult of celebrity was on the rise and he coined the phrase “The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knowness.” They are famous for being famous. They occupy our idle minds and so we chatter about them. And when we do we ignore the real heroes, those whose lives and works have stood the test of time.
Worse, we are passing this trait on to our children who are rendered ignorant of genuine heroes: the Founding Fathers, Mother Teresa, Katherine Drexel. Occupying this vacuum are the tastes, vices and sexual habits of Kim Kardashian, Tiger Woods, or our political leaders.
Later in the psalm I cited above is a plea for the Lord to “help us and guard us from now to all eternity” while acknowledging that “the vilest are most honored of the children of men.”
Children today, as they were thousands of years ago when the psalm was composed, are looking for heroes to emulate and honor. What kind of role model will you be? What examples do you provide? What lessons are you teaching?
Dare to strive to be a saint. If not you, who will?
He picks out his favorite,
And mimics his game,
He’s got a new hero,
Their swings are the same.
He gets the player’s signature,
Collects all his cards,
Then turns on the news,
And forever he’s scarred.
Now ask yourself this:
Who will I be
When a boy in the stands,
Is looking at me?