By Fr. Glenn Jones:
(Sigh). Recently we saw another story of what is commonly called “stolen valor” involving those who falsely (disgracefully) claim of having military honors or positions. But such is not limited to military, but may be extended to such fraudulent claims in civilian spheres as well: EMT, firefighter, police officer or some sort of spy or government agent and the like. Then there are the potentially disastrous fake nurses, doctors, lawyers, professionals and other occupations (who wants a fake plumber or electrician working on their systems, either?). Of course, this is infuriating to those who have either worked to hold, have held, or at least hold dear, such honors and positions.
But most people love the limelight, and some pursue it regardless of whatever they have to do to get it—even with shameless deceit. Yes, St. Paul writes that it’s good to be made much of…but only for a good purpose, and certainly not to seek underserved self-glorification, but rather only in being an example of virtue to emulate. And certainly one should not crow about his own virtue; that is in itself a grievous fault. As even the world-renowned marital artist Bruce Lee said: “Humility forms the basis of honor, just as the low ground forms the foundation of a high elevation,” and Leonardo da Vinci: “Who sows virtue reaps honor.”
The virtuous person simply acts virtuously and worries not about reputation, the Christian in particular remembering Christ’s promise in John’s vision: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12) Peter reminds us of this as well, urging similarly: “…if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your [earthly life] …” (1 Peter 1:17) Of course, Jesus and Peter and the apostles all pointed toward those two great commandments of loving God first and foremost, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself—principles around which all virtue revolves.
But there is often much confusion between esteem and glory on the one hand, and strength and honor on the other. As stated above, one may receive much false esteem and glory through deception, but those who seek such purposely sacrifice personal honor—their integrity, trustworthiness, merit, dependability. Righteousness. And is not one striving for false honor a declaration of one’s own deficiency and even weakness rather than strength—admitting one’s own inadequacy, or even fear of, the professed task or commitment? Even honest admission of one’s limitations would be better than shaming oneself as a contemptible fraud.
After all, once outed after a false pursuit of glory, who will ever trust that person again? We don’t even find boasting of merited achievements of self to be honorable; how much less the unmerited? Jesus tells us that one who is found worthy in little things is entrusted with greater things. (Luke 16:10); the reverse is also true: He who is found untrustworthy in great things will certainly not be trusted in lesser things. For “…a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor,” (Ecclesiastes 10:1), and we might think of a saying from the Japanese bushido code: “Dishonor is like a scar on a tree, which time, instead of erasing, only helps to enlarge.”
Honor is said to be the treasure that one gives to himself, and that which only the self can truly destroy or take away. For instance, almost daily we hear of politicians who have been successful in being elected and having received glory by their proponents and voters, only to come crashing down due to some crime or scandal. Even after all the glory and esteem and adulation that they had previously received, they are seen to have little to no true honor—their lives and actions façade … a deception to cover what was actually their dishonor in shameless pursuit of personal advantage and glory.
We might remember the poet: “Our own heart, and not other men’s opinions, forms our true honor.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) The strong person needs no public esteem or glory to possess self-worth, but rather the active pursuit of praise for oneself is much more like a weakness—perhaps even a type of arrested development. After all, do not toddlers and young children do all they can to garner attention and praise? But the strong person strives for the good regardless of glories he receives, knowing that true personal honor—even if unseen by the world—is glory enough for anyone. For, as the journalist wrote: “Honor is simply the morality of superior men.” (H.L. Mencken), and novelist Miguel de Cervantes: “A man without honor is worse than dead.”
The strong person does not seek glory and praise—certainly not unmerited praise—but rather allows his own integrity and actions to speak for him. To do what is right and just, having care for others even above benefit for oneself, will trumpet one’s character even if one never hears it in this earthly life. Conscience is the soul’s bugler calling each person to battle against temptation for unjustified admiration and glory … against the temptations of pretension and arrogance. The righteous person … the strong and honorable person—seeks only the good, and lets all else fall where it will.
He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.