Some time ago, I had the good fortune of having lunch with one of our elected officials. After our time together I came away with a much better understanding of the unique challenges facing those who are elected to public office in this day and age. While elected officials at times must face the unfair caricature of being inflated with their own self-importance, making decisions motivated by selfish interest, it was refreshing for me to hear the moral struggle and soul searching that this individual candidly shared with me when it came to being a leader of principle and conviction.
To be a person of principle and conviction has never been an easy task. To be a person of principle and conviction is to live our lives out of a personal character that has been shaped by the perennial values of goodness, fairness, integrity, compassion and a commitment to the truth. The term “character” has been defined as the collective qualities or characteristics, esp. mental and moral, that distinguish a person or thing. [The Oxford Modern English Dictionary, Second Edition]
In the second letter of Peter today, we are challenged with the question, “What sort of persons ought you to be...?” What is it about our character that should distinguish us as a man or woman of integrity? My sisters and brothers, one of the great tragedies in our contemporary society is that in midst of incredible scientific and technological advances, what has become of the person of character?
The word of God during this Advent Season helps us all to reflect on the qualities that should shape our lives if we are to be men and women of character.
The Prophet Isaiah sets before us the image of a God whose greatness is imaged through compassion. “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” Compassion is that human characteristic that enables us to be merciful and to enter into the struggles of others. More often than not, there is no material gain that comes from compassion. You’ll rarely find that term on the pages of the Wall Street Journal or in the Congressional Record. But it is compassion that has the ability to shape our lives and our hearts into being men and women of Gospel Integrity.
In the letter of Peter, we hear that we are to conduct ourselves “in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God...” A person of character, possesses a perspective on life that sees beyond the hear and now. The fatalism that so often stifles creativity and hope gives way to the realistic expectation that in the end, all will be well because our lives and our world are in the hand of a good and loving God. A person of character can indeed say together with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a dream...” That dream is not pie in the sky wishful thinking, but rather living our lives trusting in the power and providence of the God of gift and promise.
In the Gospel of Mark on this Second Sunday of the Advent Season our liturgy presents us with the familiar Advent character, John the Baptist. John’s greatness as a man of character was shaped by a keen understanding that one mightier than himself was coming after him. John knew who he was. He knew his strengths and his gifts. But he was also aware that his call in life was to point to another - Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
A person of character is a person for others. A person of character is one whose greatest meaning and joy in life comes from his or her ability to be at the service of others. A person of Christian character is one who humbly acknowledges that there is indeed one mightier than oneself to whom belongs obedience in faith and that is the God of our lives and surrender to the one has come in his name, the Lord of our lives.
During this Advent season, let us open our lives to the power of God’s spirit that our character may more and more be shaped by a sense of compassion, a vision of hope for the future and a humble acknowledgment of the one who is Lord of this Advent Season and all the seasons of our lives.