In the Bible, Psalm 1 describes two paths or ways from which to choose in life. Serving as a preface to the whole Book of Psalms, Psalm 1 uses striking similes to contrast the destiny of the good and the wicked. The psalm views life as activity, as choosing either the good or the bad. Each “way” brings its inevitable consequences. The wise through their good actions will experience rootedness and life, and the wicked, rootlessness and death. This choice for good or evil is inherent in God’s plan since the beginning of creation. The spiritual battle between angels and demons, led by Saint Michael against the forces of Satan, and the earthly struggle of right versus wrong that has confronted humanity since the time of Adam and Eve. It is the same challenge that we all face day in and day out.
In his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote of the importance of what he called the Character Ethic, which “is based on the fundamental idea that there are principles that govern human effectiveness—natural laws in the human dimension that are just as real, just as ‘unchanging’ ….as laws such as gravity are in the physical dimension.” To illustrate this point, he re-told a story published by Frank Koch in the magazine of the Naval Institute, Proceedings.
“Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, ‘Light, bearing on the starboard bow.’ ‘Is it steady or moving astern?’ the captain called out. Lookout replied, ‘Steady, captain,’ which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, ‘Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.’ Back came a signal, ‘Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.’ The captain said, ‘Send, I’m a captain. Change course 20 degrees’. ‘I’m a seaman second class,’ came the reply.’ ‘You had better change course 20 degrees.’ By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, ‘Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.’ Back came the flashing light, ‘I’m a lighthouse….’ We changed course!”
In the course of our lives we will encounter many people who will throw their titles, power, prestige, influence and wealth at us demanding that we change course to suit their whims. There will be many who will oppose us, some in small ways and others with great force, but they are not to be feared; they are to be pitied, at least, and loved, at best. In the face of such opposition, we pray with St. Thomas More: “…Teach us to bear patiently and gently all injuries and snares treacherously set for us; not to smolder with anger, not to seek revenge, not to give vent to our feelings by hurling back insults, not to find an empty pleasure in tripping up an enemy through some clever trick, but rather to set good…ourselves against deceitful injury with genuine courage, to conquer evil with good.”
In the mid-5th century, Pope St. Leo I was called “the Great” because in 452, he peacefully persuaded Attila the Hun to turn back from his invasion of Rome. St. Leo the Great was also known for his powerfully persuasive writing and preaching. In one of his most eloquent sermons, he said, “Such is the power of great minds, such is the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible.”
A person of principle is a lighthouse that cannot change course from the path set out for us by the Lord. Remember that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), and that this light is entrusted to the baptized to be kept burning brightly. Jesus also taught us to go and proclaim the truth to all and preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. If we are patient in trials, watchful in prayer, strenuous in work, moderate in speech, reserved in manner and grateful for His favors, an eternal kingdom is being prepared for us. If we stay true to our principles in this way, the Lord will see fit to grant us peace and all good. If we follow the beacon of Christ’s light, that will lead us to His kingdom.