The Collegiate Laws of Life Essay Contest asked Penn State students to explore ethical values and intercultural issues, and their talent for expressing their views in writing. Raymond L. Hoy, ’20 Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar in economics, and community, environment, and development, won Honorable Mention for his essay, “Man of the Cloth” in response to the prompt, “What does it mean to live a life with honor(s)?”
“Man of the Cloth”
It was during a sermon a few days ago when I found myself struck dumb mid-sentence. From the pulpit I stuttered and stammered, unable to explain the words of John which ask us to live with persistent honor and glory. Glory was within reach, for I give glory to God every waking hour of my life. Honor, however, escaped me. Honor still escapes me, and it too escapes definition from my sons and daughters who wander aimlessly towards honoring the dead or the Commandments or a deal sealed by a handshake when I ask for their own meaning of the word. My inquiries among my parishioners are but one part of an investigation I have embarked upon towards the meaning of honor. As with all meaningful investigations I seem to have found more questions than answers, and, as you will soon read, many surprises along my search for the meaning of living a life, as John writes, with persistent honor.
Not much is new to a man of my age and mission, but I am deeply baffled by my parishioners’ range of situations in which they associate honor. Yes, I too honor the word of the Lord and lay our faithfully departed to rest, but how can we use the same word to describe the exalting joy the scripture brings and the immense pall death casts? I cannot imagine a greater divergence in emotion, yet something tugs at me to use honor in both settings. I fear words fail me in more meaningfully describing the reverence and awe shared by hand shake sealed arrangements, hallowed ground, and the scripture. I am tempted to say honor feels like devotion and remembrance, but we bring no honor to the deceased by giving in to grief and dying with them. We cannot honor our mothers and father by never leaving their home, for we must devote ourselves to a life of our own. A gentlemen’s agreement loses its honor if we dither over every detail of the arrangement. I fear I am further from defining honor now than at my outset.
Although I am unable to put honor into other words, we all seem able to put honor into other actions. Aye, shaking hands is just the example I look for. The reverence we feel for a hand shake sealed deal is not in the physical touch between two palms, but the action is the most accessible thing we have to hold the intangible and indescribable reverence of an honored agreement. Mourner’s veils and stained-glass windows too. Although I myself have never lived the loss a widow feels I imagine her donning daily black to honor her late husband and finding peace and permanence in her routine. Our parish’s stained-glass depiction of Moses on the Mount is as lucid and luminous as the Commandments themselves.
Honor in all its ubiquity and intangibility holds incredible power if it is able to endow inanimate objects with aura and reverence. Without a voice of any kind, honor is able to tell me how to feel, even if I cannot put that feeling into words, by radiating from relics it has embodied. I wonder, does the reverence flow in the other direction? Stained glass is high art and the white marble of headstones is dense and delicate. We extend the tenderest part of our hands too. These rare and precious things are all which seem to store honor. Are these objects honorable on their own?
This proximity to materialism brings much discomfort to a man who has devoted his whole faith and heart to Christ. My oaths of poverty and celibacy tell me to avert my gaze from the worldly, but I cannot imagine another way to explain honor. I wonder, are these material objects not blessings from the Lord? He provides us black lace for veils, the daily bread to the glass workers, and trust we have in one another. If I am to honor the word of the Lord, the faithfully departed, and the rest of my life ahead of me, I think I must find peace with making tangible the intangibility of honor. I will find peace in thinking of these gifts as physical, finite manifestations of God’s infinite love. Even after all this searching I still cannot wrap my mind around honor in the ideal, but I can wrap my hands around my bible and honor my God this way.