Previous Months' Topics

A Man of Character

By Brian Caulfield

Reputation is what men and women think of us.
Character is what God and angels know of us.

These are the words a wonderful grade-school teacher wrote in the album of every graduating student, in an impeccable script that never wavered throughout the many years she taught. To receive this message from Miss Howlett was a rite of passage; you knew you had truly earned your ticket to high school when you were entrusted with these weighty words about life.

Character is what God and angels know of us.

But what, exactly, is character? Well, certainly, as Miss Howlett would say, it is more than just being thought well of by the world. It is more than simply appearing good, or even actually doing good things in public. Character is doing the right thing even when no one is looking, even when it hurts, even when it means personal loss, to the point of losing a good public reputation or favorable position.

The test of character is not when it’s convenient or easy to do good, but when it is difficult and arduous – when to do the right thing is to buck the tide and trend of the day.

We men must consider long and hard how we shape up to this standard. Do we do the right thing even when it’s the tough thing? Are we willing to stand up and stand out for principles? Where do we look for guidance and encouragement – to “God and angels” or to the promptings of the world?

After all, Jesus has strong words about the requirement to do what is right despite the cost:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10).

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21).

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Character and Greed

The issue of character, or lack of it, can hit close to home and have wide-ranging social effects.

Although there were many causes and forces at work in the current financial collapse, at the heart of the troubles is a crisis of character. If those in the financial sector, and government, had thought first about the common good, rather than greed or personal gain – and had refused to engage in what many knew to be bad business practices that had no long-term life – then we certainly would not be facing the depth of the present recession.

If men had developed the character to “do unto others as they would want others to do unto them” (see Matt 7:12), a whole lot of bad debt would not have been passed along the financial pipeline, only to choke the whole credit system and bring down entire banks. If more Wall Street whizzes had treated the money of investors as their own money, there would have been fewer risky investments, loans and “derivatives.”

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson talks about these facts in  a recent column distributed by Zenit, and Pope Benedict XVI is also expected to address these issues in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Love In Truth), which is due to be released on July 7.

If we ever needed to hear a message about “love and truth,” it is now. We need desperately to hear the truth about the human person and the human condition. And we need to hear it in terms of charity or love, because only love reaches the heart, touches the will, and changes the person. As Pope John Paul II repeated often, “only love is an adequate response to the human person.”

Character and Creed

Character comes down to this: What do we believe and in whom do we believe? What are we willing to do or sacrifice for the truth?

Here’s a short check list for fathers:

• Do I do the right thing even when no one is looking, or will find out – at home, at work, in the public sphere?

• Do I refuse to be part of, or to give approval to, the wrongdoing of others?

• Do I speak the truth in charity when the situation calls for me to do so – standing up for my faith, defending those unjustly accused, seeking justice in all my dealings with others?

• Do I seek to pass on my faith and values to my children, even when they rebel or ignore me?

• Do I live according to the Golden Rule, treating others as I would want to be treated?

• Do I care more about the view of God and angels than the opinions of men and women?

Character Resources

For a deeper meditation on the content of character and the duties of fathers, download the exclusive Fathers for Good pamphlet:

A Guide to Confession for Fathers

It carries the imprimatur of Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

The St. Joseph Series booklets address the issue of masculine character. They may be read online or ordered through the Fathers for Good website.

• A Man of God

• A Life of Virtue

• A Life of Prayer

Let’s build character together!

Brian Caulfield is the editor of Fathers for Good, an initiative for men and their families by the Knights of Columbus.