The Leadership That Marks the World

Deep down, everyone has a deep desire to touch lives, inspire hearts and minds to do the best. We want to do great things. We want to win the great battle. We want to reach the mountaintop. We want to live our ordinary life extraordinarily. We not only want to be these things, we want to point others to them also. The purpose of this paper is to identify some characteristics of an excellent leader.

To be a leader is no walk in the park. We have the arduous task of inspiring ordinary people to attain the extraordinary, and to stir natural man to the supernatural. Leadership demands us to be selfless in the service of others, and to sacrifice our lives to save others; it demands us to act alone sometimes, even if we don’t know most of the consequences— “loneliness of command”. So, that’s why many fail.

Although in the modern world people are reticent to accept things based solely on authority, when someone bold, courageous, fearless, and authentic emerges, they follow him faithfully. Bold leaders who can lead people to greatness inspire people how to win the inner war are followed without question. Young and old, men and women are looking for a leader who can look at them in the eyes and tell them the truth about themselves, about reality and life. They want someone who lives what he teaches. That’s the leader that inspires.

cPeople want a leader who leads by example. Do you ever wonder how was Jesus able to have so many followers, and get 12 uneducated men to set the world on fire through the gospel message? He inspired them through the examples of his life. They remained committed to him because he was never afraid to tell them the truth in love, even when it hurts. Sometimes the truth is so bold and mind boggling, some left, but they returned. “Lord to whom shall we go you have the world of eternal life” (John 6:68).

He was the finest example of authentic leadership. His conviction, humility, oratory skills made him one of the greatest leaders we have ever had. Throughout history, kings, queens, emperors, and presidents send their subjects off to die for them; their servants serve them. Jesus is the only leader who came to serve not to be served, and the only one who died for his subjects. This style of leadership has never been seen before, and I am not sure if any great leader has been wise enough to imitate it. However, the fruit this style bears is more effective than any style we are familiar with. It yields followers who are not afraid to give their lives for him. He has faithful followers in every corner of the earth. Genius huh?

Why was he so successful we may ask? Inspiration is everything. Great ideas and eloquent phrases are indubitably beautiful, but none is more effective than someone capable of inspiring others. The most beautiful speeches that cause change of hearts are not the poetic, and flawlessly written ones; the most effective speeches are demonstrated, and lived. They are the ones that inspire. They are unforgettable.family-driven-faith-3

A true leader is courageous. Courage is a virtue, so it must be acquired. No one was born a leader according to Aristotle. It is a choice just like exercising is a choice. One becomes a strong, courageous, inspiring, and bold leader through practice, sacrifice, and discipline. Jesus was never afraid of the consequences of the truth, like when he was teaching on the Eucharist. The saints are courageous. Was St. Joseph not courageous? Good man, but ordinary man that he was, God asked him to accept Mary as his pregnant wife although he never did the deed; he accepts. Could you believe this? He accepts to take Mary as his wife although he had no idea at first how she became pregnant. That’s bold. That’s courageous. He fulfilled what St. Paul would say years later: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). That’s what kept the saints going among ridicule, doubts, fears, and during periods of the dark night of the souls. They kept their eyes on the goal. They remained grounded on their spiritual Reference Point— God through daily prayer. Consequently, they won the unfading crown prize.

lincolnCourage is the mother of every great moment and movement that has changed the course of history. It is what led Abraham Lincoln to do fight to preserve the union, abolish slavery, strengthen the federal government, and modernize the economy. It is what inspired Gandhi to stand up for freedom through the use of non-violence against the British. It is what led to the passage and ratification of the Constitutional amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote in 1919. It is how the civil rights movement won passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for black Americans. They succeeded because they were not spiritually malnourished. Courage cannot be maintained unless rooted in a prayer life; that is necessary if anything noteworthy is to be accomplished. Courage, perseverance, and the will to fight for what is right till the very end make them a great leader.

A leadership vacuum exists in our culture. The world is in need of leaders. Our church is in desperate need of leaders who can inspire people to boldly embrace the gospel. We need leaders who are not afraid to defend our divine right in the public square. When we speak, even our own people don’t listen. When we get attacked, we don’t have one voice that could present our case for us, although many little voices are trying. We continue to succumb to the pressure of the masses about what to teach in our schools. We accept the fact that the natural law is not a valid argument in the public square. We continue to honor pro-abortion politicians with honorary degrees in our colleges. Our universities, the media, and Hollywood have done a masterful job at ridiculing every Christian virtue and elevating every form of sin as a noble right, cloaked under the guise of rights of freedom of choice.

slide_346602_3652488_freeThis is a direct result of poor leadership. We are all guilty; if we radically live the gospel, people will listen; they would not trample our views underfoot; they would not dare asking us to cover our cross when they are passing by. It does not take too many to change this trend. Just as it did not take too many St. John Vianneys to change the city of Ars, just as it did not need too many Mother Teresas to transform Calcutta, just as it did not take too many John Paul IIs to change Poland, it will not take too many of us to change this trend. But it will take some of us. Don’t ask who will it be? Look in the mirror.

May the Good Lord give rise to courageous leaders capable of leading us out of this mess. Amen.

The Friendship That Lasts

There’s nothing more beautiful in this life than a beautiful friendship. For Ben Sirach the sage, “a true friend is a sturdy shelter; he who has found one finds a treasure”. A true friend is beyond price; no amount can balance his worth. A loyal friend is like a medicine that keeps you in good health. Only those who fear the Lord can find such a friend (Sir. 6:114-7). Thomas Aquinas agrees. He says “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship” (Summa Theologica, Supplement Question 73, Article 1). Aristotle noted in the Nicomachean Ethics book VIII that a friendship based on virtue is the most glorious thing we can achieve on earth. Some go through life without ever finding one; these are grumpy and frustrated. Others do find one, but fail to recognize his value; these have experienced some good days. Still others find one, but only recognize his value after he loses that friendship. These kinds are in search of that true friendship. And the luckiest of them all do find a true friend and ipso facto recognize that gift and cherish it like the greatest pearl. That one is blessed indeed.

friendWho is a true friend? It is someone who is there, physically or in spirit, in moments of anguish, trials, adversity, joy and festive. It is someone who is not afraid to challenge you to become the most virtuous, disciplined, and the best you can be in life. A true friend is always honest and trustworthy. A true friend knows his friends. A true friend lets himself be known.If you want a true friend, become one yourself.

So it is really difficult to find a true friend, and it takes time to come to maturity. According to Cicero, “nothing in the world is harder to find than an excellent friend” (on friendship #21). Only the test of time allows us to know whether or not we have found one. Plutarch, the first century Roman philosopher, argues that a true friend stays true to the truth; a true friend is not a yes-man; he approves only what is good in his friend, and would even go so far as to hurt him for the good. Plutarch suggests that we test friendship by pretending to change back and forth to see whether he will follow indiscriminately. Not a bad idea!

For Cicero, goodness is what makes friendship work. Friendship can only exist between good people. By good, he means those whose actions and lives are unquestionable; those who are free from greed, lust, and violence; those who have the courage of their convictions (Essay on friendship #5). In this view, friendship is defined as a complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual goodwill and affection. The latter is crucial for friendship. Without it, there may be a relationship, but not friendship. The former is what binds the friendship together. They help each other discover what is most important in life and they encourage each other to live it out. Aristotle views friendship as a necessity, but something rare to find. That view finds echo in Aristotle’s Nicomacheans ethics, he asserts that a friendship grounded on goodness has a lasting quality to it.

fraThe saints are the best of friends. Whereas you and I can be unbearable at times, the saints are always pleasant company. They don’t show off; they don’t blame; they show no petty humor; they don’t lecture us even when they should. They challenge, inspire, and encourage us by simply living their own lives to the fullest. By the examples of their lives, we are inspired to live the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives extraordinarily. Think of Pier Giorgio Frassati. He bore witness to his faith among his friends in the most exemplary ways. He did not force them into his way, but his beautiful life inspires them to adopt his way. His dedication to the poor made him outstanding among us all. How many of his friends did he influence to live a more humble, joyful, helpful, and meaningful life by his dedication? Goodness is contagious. Even a blind man knows when he is in the presence of a bright light.

Virtue precedes friendship. It is the standard by which we measure friendship. How can life be worth living without friends? There is nothing more delightful than to have a trusted friend to whom you can say everything with the same absolute confidence as to yourself. Without a friend to share one’s joy, prosperity is devalued by half. Misfortunes would be unbearable without a friend to feel them on one’s side (on friendship #6). The attitude of job’s three friends corroborates this view. When they heard of his troubles, they went and empathize with him and comfort him. They could hardly recognize him; they weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights without saying a word (Job 2:11-13). Friends such as these, everyone needs one. So true friendship enhances even the most unbearable misfortunes of life.job

Cicero, the greatest of the Roman orators, asserts that friendship embraces innumerable advantages. It is more expedient and universal than wealth, power, office, and honor. Where true friendship exists, it enhances prosperity, and relieves adversity of its burden by half (on friendship #6). A true friend is the image of a second self. Where one’s friend is one is; if his friend is rich, he is not poor; though he is weak, his friend’s strength is his; and in his friend’s life he enjoys a second life even after his own is finished. The Romans went so far as to say that whatever in nature and the universe was unchangeable was so in virtue of the binding force of friendship (friendship #7). There’s a lot to chew on here.

Choose your friends wisely. As the proverb goes, “you end up resembling whoever you spend most of your time with”. If you had a choice between St. Clare, St Joseph, and St. Francis and Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, and Bruno Mars, who would you choose? Is it not better to spend time with dead people who bring us to life and with live people who bring us to death? If you could choose between virtues and vices, spiritual growth and material growth, what would you choose? You have that choice. Choose wisely.

Befriend the saints and you will be the best of friend to your friends. Nothing is more precious than a spiritual friend because it does not seek its own advantage but the well-being of the other. That’s the selfless and unconditional love that’s born out of true friendship.

From Their Biography

What do all successful CEOs, athletes, authors, scientists, inventors, or anybody who made it have in common? What do Steve jobs, Michael Jordan, Dante Aleghieri, Louis Pasteur, Leonardo Da Vinci have in common? We often forget that they were not born famous, wealthy, and successful. We forget they were once unknown and unimportant. We tend to forget about their hard work, the setbacks they encountered, and the determination they showed before they got to stand on the pinnacle of the world’s cathedral. It can help us if we remember that they failed just as you and I have and will. They knew setbacks, dark nights, the bottom, and bitterness. The difference is whenever they fell, they dust themselves off and try again. They learned from their failure and moved on to the next challenge.

What makes them stand out? Why are their names on everyone’s lips today? The answer lies in their ability to remain focus on the goal. FOCUS is what they share in common. It is ingrained in their personality and honed in their DNA. They persevered despite thick and thin. And at the end, they win the prize. Perhaps, their advice can help us on our own journey (whatever that journey is).

Take Jerry Seinfeld for instance. The first time he went on stage, he was booed, ridiculed, and humiliated. What did he do? He went back to that same theater next time with renewed confidence and better prepared. He stayed at it. He kept the fight, and he won the war. It is inevitable that we lose some battles. But it is contingent on us to win the war. We learn from the losses and use them to win the war. Life is a battleship; those who survive are heroes. As someone once said, “the rule of life is tough, but once you reach the top, the view is pretty amazing”. So what does Seinfeld learn from his failure? “Keep your head up in failure and your head down in success.” Courage and focus make him one of the most beloved comedians on television. Failure then is part of the game. As Janet Fitch eloquently says it: “The phoenix must burn to emerge.”

Another inspiring figure is the British author J.K. Rowling, whose brilliant writings we have grown admiring through the Harry Potter movies. She knows what it means to give herself to the one thing that matters. Once she discovered the one, it grabs her whole being. Once she found the pearl, she sublimates all her energy to it. This is how she expressed her attitude at a commencement speech at Harvard university: ”… I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

Know this: those who don’t fail are those who don’t try. Failure can be the wings upon which you reach success. Don’t be afraid to ride on it. Many seem to thrive on it. It motivates them to keep on improving. Michael Jordan has an outstanding take on failure. The best basketball player in NBA history, the legend, the champion has lost many games, missed many shots, but he used them to win five championships and a handful of MVPs. As he puts it: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He failed and that motivates him to improve.

churchill2-300x224What to say of the most successful person in human history, Jesus Christ, the son of Mary and Joseph? He asked the father to take away the cup from him. 3 times he fell on his way to Calvary; he endured 480 strokes, nailed to a cross, beaten beyond recognition, and humiliated to death. He persevered to the very last breath. The result is astonishing and magnificent, astonishingly magnificent, and magnificently astonishing; “I have made all things new”; the whole human race is redeemed. Creation is restored. Greatest success than this there is none. By the power of Christ crucified, we can do all things. No mountains are too steep for us. so in our efforts to be a a more virtuous person, a holier Christian, a better teacher, parent, child etc. We will know setbacks and many dark moments, but we can use them for our benefits. Focus. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2). Pray for the grace to stay focus. There will be noise around you; there will be distractions; there will be threats. Just keep your eyes on the goal. Focus on the one thing you know you can do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.

The Master Key

That you know wisdom and instruction, Understand words of insight, Receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; That prudence may be given to the simple, Knowledge and discretion to the youth (Proverbs 1:2-4)

I have come to realize that the key that opens the door to success is discipline and commitment. I have discovered that no one can succeed in a praiseworthy manner without discipline.aaa

I believe I am here to do the small things I am doing with discipline and commitment. That’s what will make it extraordinary. That’s a breakthrough for me in the sense it never dawned on me that discipline and commitment occupied such an important seat at the parliament of the heart. Discipline and commitment are the one necessary power needed to conquer, convince, and lead. A new day is dawned today. This is nothing I did not know before, but I never saw as the master key that opens all doors. The goal is to become, in the words of Matthew Kelly, the best version of ourselves. But that will require us make a choice i.e. to be disciplined and committed. Aristotle agrees with that when he said that we are to strive for excellence- arête— the act of living up to one’s full potential. That’s what later philosopher urged us to cultivate, virtue— “A good habit of the mind, by which we live righteously, of which no one can make bad use, which God works in us….” (ST I-II, Q. 55, art 4).

Little-maximus-myers-Jesus-carrying-crossThat’s what St. Paul, probably after encountering Greek philosophy, asserts:” whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). If we are to always tell the truth, do the noble thing, be pure and lovely, we will have to cultivate discipline and commitment.

It takes a lot to be disciplined all the time. Find what you want to accomplish and commit to it. Practice makes perfect. Practice allows us to master an art until it become second nature to us.child

Think about it, all the historical figures given as an exemplar of life have employed discipline in their lives in order to accomplish extraordinary things. They made a choice—I am sure it has taken them time and grind to find the right one— and they commit to it and work at it with every fiber of their being. They give their whole life to it. Their name is written in the history book because they practice discipline. They listen well. They look for help and were committed to something. They believe in something to the point they would die for it. They had a dream. They make it a reality.

Take Itzhak Perlman for example, one of the gods of music, and Jewish composer who won 15 Grammy and 4 Emmy awards for his works. He is said to be a genius performer. How many hours did he practice per day before he was known? 9 hours. Before he became known was reduced to 4 hours of violin practice in the morning and 5 in the afternoon.

One day, he put an extraordinary performance at a concert in Vienna; afterward people came to greet and congratulate him. One member of the audience who was wowed by his performance said to him: “I would give my entire life to be as great as you are”. Perlman responds: “I have”. He has given up everything to follow this one dream. Today, he is on top of the world. How did he get to be so great? He found what he likes, committed to it, and stuck to it with discipline and commitment wholeheartedly.

Those Olympians we admire watching, do you think they get to be so good overnight or without commitment and discipline? Do you think they practiced only when they felt like it? Do you think they ever take the minimalist attitude i.e. “what is the least I can do to be an Olympic champion?” Was it easy for them to wake up every morning, eat the right food, and go to bed at a certain time regularly? When they go out there, did their body always cooperate? Yet, they keep the faith. They fight the fight. They pushed themselves to the maximum of the ability. They invest their heart, mind, and soul to achieve what they believe in. A few years later, they amaze us with their skills and their arts. They are now famous. They won the prize.Perseverance pays off. The reward is delicious.

Discipline and commitment are the mother of all other arts. On the heights besides the way, in the roads that lead to success they browse; beside the gate that leads to the top, they stand. At the entrance of our house, they beg to be given a place of refuge. In their bosom insight is found and strength resides. Look for their instruction and knowledge instead of wealth and goods. By them, kings reign and issue judgments. They who pursue them find enduring wealth and prosperity. Their fruits are better than gold. So in choosing discipline and commitment, we get everything else. Choose wisely!

Letter to a Christian Nation

Unless the blood of the martyrs watered the garden of the Church, her plants could not bear good fruit. The faith of the martyrs is the cistern that irrigates the garden that feeds Christians. Their blood is the pillar upon which the Church is built. When I read St. Ignatius’ letter to the Romans, this understanding seems to have been how early Christians perceived themselves in relation to the young Church. They wholeheartedly believed that persecution presents an opportunity for Christianity to show her greatness. The Church was able to develop and transform the Roman society only because the early Christians lived radically the gospel. Unless the church of today is willing to jettison her privilege and power to follow Christ radically, governments will continue to violate her rights until she is completely suppressed. So, what we have seen lately is only the beginning. It is also a call to live the gospel sporadically, and to make a choice for or against Christ.

Ignatius_of_Antioch_2As St. Ignatius was approaching Rome on his way to martyrdom, he begs the Roman Christians to not try to interfere with his death because this was the only way to get to God (chapter 1, line 2). He understood that only by a tragic death— martyrdom— will the Church be recognized as the foundation of truth, something authentic, and source of salvation. Only when the Roman leaders start seeing that people are not afraid to death will they give credit to the faith.

They could not decipher the mystery of the truth of the Church unless blood is shed, something radical. She would be ‘a meaningless voice’ (1, 2) crying in the desert of the Roman Empire if no one were willing to be offered as an immolated lamb for her. It was that understanding that spurred St. Ignatius to step forward to defend this salvific truth with his own blood. While he was like an offered lamb, while there was an altar at hand (2, 2), the whole Christian community in Rome was like a choir singing the praise of Christ in the ears of the Roman authorities. Their voices echo to the furthest corners of the Roman Empire, and the authorities start paying attention to the Church, which will eventually become the official religion of the whole empire.

aaAre we comfortable with the way governments treat today as Christians? If we are, then nothing needs to be done. If we are not, then we need to start living the gospel drastically. That may mean not buying products from companies that oppose our Christians values. That may require that we don’t follow some inhuman laws although we may have to go to jail for that. We don’t even know if they accidentally make laws that contradict our Christian values, or if they merely think we are irrelevant. If the former, they should be able to easily correct it; if the latter, we must wake up. They test us and we don’t react strongly enough, and so they just keep hurting us. How far will they go? How much are we willing to accept? It is getting late Christians.

The Christians of Rome cooperate because they did not want to be the barricade that blocks St. Ignatius’ blood from watering the garden of the Church. They saw in his courageous act an opportunity for Christianity to assimilate herself with her suffering Lord. They rightly understood that he was “imitating the passion of his God” (6, 3). That imitation was not like monkey imitation. It satiates thirsting souls; it brings hope to the despairing, repose to those who know no peace; it delivers those who were held captive from the bondage of sins, and it leads to perfect joy– the joy of being counted worthy to be treated as our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. He knew what St. Francis eloquently says years later, “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life”. Thus, he says, “do not stand in my coming to life” (6, 3).aaa-Tertullian-church-Meetville-Quotes-239492

What do we learn from this letter? When the Church is in trouble, it is because her cistern is empty. When the church is challenged or under persecution, or seemingly becomes irrelevant, it is a call to live the gospel of Christ radically. She needs men and women to step forward to selflessly give themselves as the fertilizer that helps the flower of the Church to bourgeon without counting the cost. The willingness to die for the faith is a sine qua non condition for the Church to remain herself in the midst of this pervert and crooked generation.

The Early Crossroad

Life is a like a Y-shaped road constantly asking us to choose the right path. We constantly find ourselves at a crossroads. No sooner do we make one choice are we asked to make another. Everything in life is a choice. Making choices require wisdom and thoughtfulness. full_confusion-corner

The choices that we make have consequences, reveal our character, and affect our lives profoundly. Have you observed that some of the most important decisions we make in life—decisions that impact our whole existence— are imposed on us in the early state of life? here, I would like to address you, teenagers as they refer to you. You represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future. In your eyes are hidden the key that opens the door to a bright future. In your hearts is the love that all of us are so desperately needed. So this is an important time of your life. So, it needs to be shaped well.

bieberConcept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.The teenage years are a fragile period in life, yet more probably happens during this period than all the other periods. The moment we attain the age of adolescence, we have to choose a college, a major; that means leaving the bosom of our parents for the first time. It is an exciting time, but it is also full of unknown. The key to independence from parents is wide open. Peer influence and acceptance become very important at the same time. Also, the bodily hormones don’t help the cause either (you know what I mean). More importantly, it is also the time when the church asks them to make a commitment to the faith through the sacrament of confirmation. Thus, indubitably, the teenage years are the hardest stage of our development. To quote a good friend of mine: “it is hard to be a teenager”.

teensAt that stage of life, life’s most crucial questions such as what should I do with my life? What should I do to be successful, loved, and happy? What’s the meaning of all this? These questions become the most vivid. They demand that answers are articulated, and yet no answers make sense yet. So while it is necessary to let them to figure things out on their own, but not without guidance. Not bossy guidance, but good people they can trust. They are bombarded with all kinds of temptations, so they flirt with failure on a daily basis.

mentorFirst, get a mentor. Have an older person who can advise you, and you can look up to. This is the best gift you can give yourself. Let’s face it. You have to do a lot, but you don’t know a lot. You probably have a lot of potential, but you have no experience. So if you are to make fruitful choices, you must have a guide. That mentor can be a parent, a friend, an aunt/uncle, your pastor, or a teacher. Get someone! Get someone who inspires you to be the best version of yourself, and someone who will challenge you if need be. Be honest with him/her.

read-515531_640Second, befriend books. As the adage goes, “those who read lead”. Make it your goal to read something daily. Magazine, newspapers, online stuff don’t count as part of your daily reading. Reading allows your thinking and verbal skills to develop. Your young mind is open to endless possibility. Be careful what you feed it with. A young age is the time to increase your vocabulary repertoire. The more you read, good words automatically stay with you. Interestingly, reading makes you more attractive and fun too. You don’t want to be a boring conversational partner. The brain is flexible and produces good thoughts through reading. Reading enables you to engage a variety of people in conversation because your brain is well fed.

Praying-Teen-EGirl-TS-56382653-340x344Lastly, pray. If God exists and created you, he probably has a plan for you. It is fitting that you ask him unabashedly what that plan is. Confidently ask God to reveal the path of life for you. Only in God through prayer do we overcome uncertainty, find real meaning to life that we are desperately looking for, curb our passions that declare a war on us, and find light in decisive choices. Prayer is your best bet. Deepen it.

A Reference Point

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Phil. 4:8).

Most Scientists have the propensity to explain all phenomena of life through biological processes. They want to make matter the cause of human activities. Observing the human person, they want to explain his activities such as nourishing, metabolizing, formation, dispositions, motions, and organization etc. in term of what they see. They look at him as a machine, or a mere biological entity. They forget that he is a continuous and integral whole that cannot be explained in term of his parts. They ignore the fact that everything has an underlying principle, or a cause that allows it to be what it is, and capable of performing its activities. According to Leon Kass in his book entitled The Hungry Soul, the human person cannot be explained through his biological activities, which are constantly changing. Form, something that remains stable in the midst of flux, is the best way to explain the activities of the human person.Cravings-FrontCover-DigitalFinal-Vsn2-300x300

Kass makes form the heart of human activities. The form can be understood as the order that maintains unity in the midst of diversity, “giving it an integrity that the components by themselves do not have”. Form is like a reference point, a constant, or something unchangeable. He thus emphasizes the supremacy of form over materiality “though form and material are interdependent in definition and in fact”. It is not visible, but “’invisible looks’ is announced in the language of visibility”. Our look is a manifestation of our form. So, we can perform our activities because we possess a form. In fact, the form represents the foundation for everything that a person does. Action follows upon being as Aquinas says. The action that a person performs is a reflection of how he is structured. I will compare Kass’ primacy of form with Aquinas’ view on the primacy of form, and show that what we are, and do is a result of the way we are formed.

For both Kass and Aquinas, the form determines what a thing is. As Kass sees it, the form is the organizing principle allowing something to continue through a lifetime. For instance, although metabolism means the continuous exchange of stuff between inside and out and no molecule in the organism, although it seems to remain the same and persist over time, although it seems to be maintained of the self, by the self, and for the self, metabolism of itself cannot persist. Its persistence is contingent upon the form. Metabolism undergoes change over time; it needs the form to sustain it when some of its components are changing.

aaaWithout the form, in Kass’ view, the metabolism would disintegrate during change. The form of a given organism is a certain organization-in-action. So, organism is only the effect of the real cause that allows a thing to perform its activities. The true organizing cause is the form. Aquinas follows the same path. The intellect is the form of the human body. For that whereby primarily anything acts is a form of the thing to which the act is to be attributed. What allows the soul to know is primarily knowledge. So, knowledge is a form of the soul. We primarily perform vital activities through the soul. The soul is the primary principle of our nourishment, sensation, and local movement, and likewise of our understanding. Therefore this principle by which we primarily understand is the form of the body (ST I, Q. 76, 1). What is true for the relationship of soul and body is also true for the relationship of form and metabolism.

anatomyanimalMoreover, our human uprightness, which is due to our form, allows us to relate to our world. As Aquinas asserts it, it is fitting that man possesses an upright stature (ST I, Q 91, reply 3). Further in this same reply, he says that due to his erect stature, man’s superior part (the head) allows him to turn toward the superior part of the world (heaven), and his inferior part turns toward the inferior part of the world. Our uprightness, in the word of Kass, is reflected in every detail of our deep structure. The way we are shaped and formed allows us to experience the world in a manner different from all animals. Even though they and we are experiencing similar objects, we respond to these objects exponentially different. As Strauss asserts through Kass, “upright posture pre-establishes a definite attitude toward the world”. As Aquinas would have it, our structure permits us to better accomplish our proper end (ST I, Q 91, 3).

Though that is the case, our uprightness does not happen without steep effort, but that effort is rewarding because it removes us from the ground, distances us from things while at the same time allows us to overcome distance, and provides a certain mastery over nature. One of the greatest benefits of our upright standing is that it allows us to become ‘detached beholder’, or ‘disinterested interest’.

aweFor instance, a deer looks a person in order to detect whether or not he is a potential danger. We, on the other hand, look so as to see to behold and discover something new. Being a detached beholder gives us the capacity to search for the true, the good, and the beautiful through our seeing, imagining, understanding, pointing etc. Looking disinterestedly opens us to see things the way they really are without seeking closeness, nor remoteness, nor unification, nor separation. We must keep in mind that we are capable of performing these activities on a consistent basis only due to our inwardness— the form.

Our hands and arms are two of the most obvious manifestation of our inwardness. The form gives us the freedom to use our arm and hand in space and time. Though animals do seem to have hand and arm, unlike them, ours can be used on a variety of ways. our hand and arm allow us to have a ‘gnostic’ encounter with the world. When the hands and arms are cooperated with the eyes and ears, we can swing our arms to and fro, sideways, upward and downward etc. so as to relate to the different parts of our body. The capacity to perform these activities gives us the freedom to provide for ourselves through crafting. The fact that we have hands and arms opens us to “unspecified possibility”. That means that there is nothing we could not do with our hands—be it fighting or defending. Moreover, our hands and arms allow us to express our affection and create new forms of communications. In encountering someone we express our joy to him with a handshake, a hug, or simply with a wave. When we see something that catches our attention, we point to it; we behold it or show it to someone. As Aquinas says, we look for beauty and of itself. Through our hand and arm, we express both friendship and philosophy according to Kass. Again, it is due to our uprightness that we are able to access, or perform these activities. What we do with our hand and arm is a reflection of what is going inside of; it is an expression of our inwardness.

rsWhat is obvious from all this is that the human person is a mystery being that cannot be reduced to mere material entity. The human person is a masterpiece that science can never completely decipher. This lesson is simple, but profound. We are not to change our biological makeup as we see fit because we are much more than a biological being. We transcend what science will ever be able to discover about us; so, even if science opens the door to endless possibilities by allowing us to change how we were born, we must not do so because it stands in steep contradiction with our underlying principle. That’s a choice that demands us to be grounded in something other than biology. It is a reminder that man is a middle between nothingness and greatness, so he must labor if he is to be great. He is nothingness due to his biological makeup for today he flourishes and tomorrow he withers and fades like the lily, and greatness because when he grows old and decay, our body and soul are not annihilated but glorified. We are nothing since biologically speaking we are like animals, but we are great because what regulates our biology transcends biology.

constantTherefore, our decisions must not be based on our emotional needs primarily or on what the body is demanding of us. They must be grounded in something incommensurable— something constant. That’s the moment of choice. For each one of us, there will be a time when we will have to decide for or against the Good, for or against the Truth, and ultimately for or against greatness. So the question is: will you choose mediocrity or greatness? Choose wisely.