To Be Righteous

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What is it about a righteous person that the psalmist can say these things about him or her? What does it mean to be righteous and steadfast, even fearless in the face of bad news? Sometimes it is good to go back to the basics when confronted with questions like these. In other words, we need to find out what these words denote, that is, what are their dictionary definitions.

To be righteous implies something very difficult, something that has been worked at for a very long time, something that after much pain, reflection and practice, has become a habit. It is a virtue, something that comes only to the mature, those who have been tested and learned from the ups and downs of life’s crucible. The dictionary definition of the word ‘righteous’ give us synonyms like: moral, upright, just, and virtuous. We can see how these things are, by reason, matters of a maturity. It is to be a person of moral character. We hear the word ethics often today in matters of law, business, medicine, education, etc. Is there a difference between ethics and morals? I got an answer to that question in, of all places, an episode of the TV show, “NCIS.” The forensic pathologist on the NCIS team, known as “Ducky” (his name is Dr. Mallard) responded to the question of the difference between ethics and morals in this pithy and very revealing way: “Well, an ethical man knows that he shouldn’t cheat on his wife; the moral man actually wouldn’t.” You see, ethics are fungible, they can be changed to suit the situation. But morals are universal and constant. They are the same in all situations.

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This is why the righteous man, the man of moral character, does not fear making the moral decision even in troubling situations, or in the face of “bad news.” This is why the righteous person can be called ‘steadfast.’ His or her heart is set on the moral good in all situations. The righteous person is one who has contemplated the consequences of his or her actions, good and bad, who has prayed for enlightenment in these difficult matters, who has studied the scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the teachings of the Church and found in them the wisdom and the reasons for living in this way. Such a person has had experiences, learned valuable lessons, and made decisions to practice more and more often the courage of choosing the righteous responses to life’s difficulties. He or she has become habituated to doing the good, even when it is difficult, even when it requires great courage. He or she has developed what is called moral character. When this is done in faith, it is supported by the grace of God. This is a recipe for becoming a saint, which is what God calls us all to be.

Lord, it is hard to become a saint. But we know that you made us in your own image and likeness and that it is, then, in our nature to desire the good. Because of our faith in you, we know that you are the source of all that is good. Because of Jesus, we know what the moral good looks like and we know that doing the moral good, becoming righteous in this world, is the cross that you call us to bear as believing Christians. Help us to know the moral good more and more each day. Help us to choose it in our actions more and more each day, until it can become our habit. Deepen our courage and our faith convictions so that we may have steadfast, fearless hearts. Let us be known as your just and righteous ones through our faith in you. We pray, as always, in the name that is above all other names, Jesus. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.