Maybe it’s not in the current vocabulary of today’s world with the exception of many of our military and law enforcement personnel. It’s rarely mentioned in the media, hardly ever in modern literature, never in today’s movies or television, because it’s not even thought about or taught about or even alluded to in our grade schools, our high schools, and our universities. It’s called honor.
I’m not talking about egotism or the scratches upon one’s vanity that led to duels in previous centuries. That’s just the sin of pride. True honor is virtuous, just, and bespeaks wisdom. It evokes and demands upon our consciousness a sense of fidelity. It can never be contradicted by those who actually internalize its meaning because that would mean self-destruction. The person who lives by its code is duty bound to abide by divine dictates and must lead a life of pious contemplation which can often conflict with the status quo. There simply is no other way.
In this there is truth. St. Thomas Aquinas put it succinctly in his Two Precepts of Charity: “There are three things necessary for the salvation of man: To know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; to know what he ought to do.”
The brilliance of this quote lies not in secret but in the obvious. It’s all about being honest with yourself. It speaks of duty and obligation. Aquinas’ words of instruction kindle within our souls a sense of concrete destiny.
Despite current theological and philosophical arguments, especially concerning gradualism in the reception of Holy Communion (as if this had any standing in Catholic teaching which it does not), and the politically correct dictates of moral and cultural relativism, there is and always has been the pang of innate and supreme wisdom instilled in all of us to do the right thing. Of course this is sometimes never easy. We seek, like water, our way to lower ground. Driven by gravitational forces for the easiest path. Downhill we may go for a while but there is something in us that propels us to greater things, greater pursuits, greater knowledge and wisdom. And this greater inclination is God’s voice, sometimes subtle yet always real and compelling and stringent. It’s what “we ought to do.”
Today, we struggle for meaning in our lives. We search for promise in a world devoid of hope and rife with promises broken. This is because the world offers us little in the way of true happiness and satisfaction. It cannot deliver what it claims. Since it is not God-centered it can never do so. And, since it dismisses the “honor” of God, it drives us into an oblivion of dissatisfaction and eternal remorse. It compels us to obliterate faith in a higher power and stake our claims on the state as our lord and savior. No wonder we wander in a desert of “fake news” and rumors of things which hold no truth. No wonder we seek pleasure in fleeting experiences and popular, but not well-grounded, illusions that the world would be a better place without any religion at all.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It certainly wasn’t for our Founding Fathers. Whether they believed or not in an all-encompassing and hands-on God who directly did intervene in the lives of mankind (like George Washington), or who passively let things go as they may after the act of creation (like Thomas Jefferson), they certainly referenced sacred scripture on a daily bases and in our most important and historical documents.
Let’s not get into the separation of church and state thing, please. For anyone knowledgeable, and that’s an understatement, on American history, there is no question about the impact of biblical authority on both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. These men knew this and knew it intimately. The bible was their mainstay. It spoke to them as it speaks to us now. Our republic was founded upon it, no matter what they teach in schools today.
Our founders did, without question, a heroic and historic deed. When they signed the Declaration they knew it was a death warrant. They knew that their homes and property would be forfeited. They certainly knew the impact it would have on their families. They accepted, somehow, the fact that everything they had worked for would be compromised, destroyed, ruined, and annihilated because of one signature on a document. Eleven of them did lose everything. A few lost their lives.
Yet, there is one thing they never lost: their sacred honor. Because they knew and had internalized the code of Aquinas. They knew what “they ought to do.” They did it. And that’s what we celebrate with parades and banners and marching bands and hot dogs and ball games and fireworks today.