Obstacles to Character Formation
There are many obstacles that might ruin the character of a young man.
One common vulnerability is worrying about what others will say if a young man sets out to be virtuous. He will be teased, tempted and tortured by many around him. The young man who cares what society thinks will scarce be able to develop any character. They will be tossed on the seas of fashion, and be stung by the voice of their conscience.
The dominant fault
Young men should recognise that they have passion within them. Unregulated, those passions will tear him down. The youth should avoid this by examining himself and identifying his predominant fault. All men have a dominant fault, whether that be anger, gluttony,greed, pride. They should waste no time tackling those smaller weaknesses and concentrate all of their efforts on the major one. Painting over cracks is futile.
Time is the enemy
The enemy of character formation is time. The young man must recognise that character formation is a long game. He must build resilience and persistence in himself to continue build solid character formation of his whole life. However he must not allow complacence to creep into his life. When he drops his guard, he will be tempted down the easy road of vice,and his character will be deformed by evil. It is tempting to put the virtuous things off for a later moment in your life, but in the meantime moral degradation forms within.
Swimming against the tide
In a world that is defined by it’s hectic pace, the young man is surrounded by short cuts and ways of the easy life. To be caught up in this world is to swept away by the tide of moral corruption. He must swim rather the difficult crossing, against the tide. This means he must know himself, his faults and strengths. He must make time to spend moments in prayer and self reflection. He must step back from the world and see the madness of all the souls being tossed in the wind in a storm.
Like the soldier who battles till the end, against the greatest odds and without thought of surrender, dying even for the cause, the young man must be resolute in his determination also.The prize is too great to run away from.
Develop vigilance early
As cockle that grows amongst the crops, the weaknesses in young men are but soft and not too dangerous, but as the crops develop the cockle becomes like the weaknesses, sharp and hard, clinging to the youth like a coat of misery. The youth must cut the cockle before it grows, when it is easier. His crop of virtue will be so much more abundant. Weed the cockle out; be ever on alert.
The struggle in our soul is part of our nature. Our fallen state and stain of original sin entices us towards wickedness from an early age. We know what is good and pure and that it will lift us up, but our weak nature drags us down. Knowing this, the young man should not surrender or despair, but accept that he has a life long struggle before him. It is his chance to be a hero, the person who is in control and not a slave to passion and disorder.
Sacrifice is unavoidable
No one these moral trophies are won without sacrifice. Christ commanded us to follow Him and take up the cross and deny ourselves. In our world of convenience and comfortableness these ideas are alien. But nothing good can be achieved without self denial and asceticism.
The youth should not be confused in thinking that self denial is a joy killing austerity. In fact the joy that comes from sacrifice to achieve a greater good is more important than any superficial pleasure to be found in society. The young man who finally understands real freedom as being emancipated from immoral slavery, will win the greatest prize: the road map to salvation.
Guarding against the passions
All men have a multitude of passions within them. It requires a constant vigilance to avoid the passions from overpowering the faculties of person. The man must guard his eyes lest they look for evil. He must guard his tongue that it should not do harm and degrade him. He must guard his limbs that they become ends for the good rather than the evil. He must guard his heart that it stays calm and strong.He must guard his ears that he should not listen for scandal and gossip.
Understanding that the person makes sense of the world, literally though his body, is the first step to defending those faculties.
Be not a weathercock
There are times when the young man will be affected by his mood. He may wake up grumpy and tired or at other times, he will inexplicably feel on top of the world. Always he should try and control his moods, no matter which one he finds himself in. Striking the centre path is the sure bet to keep on an even keel.
Too much time spent in the extremities of emotion is damaging to a person’s mind. Keeping control of the mind and the mood is the only way to keep control of the work that lies before us. It is necessary that when we work and socialise we do not display sulkiness, irritability, excessive festivity or ecstasy.
The extremes are no place for the young Catholic man to dwell. Instead the young man should strike his anchor in the middle of the channel and be a model of sense and sensitivity to those around him.
No such thing as luck
Luck has no place in the life of a young man. He must strike the word from his vocabulary. Those who believe in such things, plant false hopes in the future, thinking everything will turn out for the good in the end. Life is not so.
Hard work, planning and persistence are the key elements that being good fortune to its adherents. Many fine talents have been ruined though a haphazard approach to life, whilst many unlikely successes have been crafted through determined application of endeavour and design.
Understanding the difference between serious willing and half-hearted desire is a key element in character formation. So many well intentioned folk make New Year’s resolutions during Christmastide yet in reality they are but pipe-dream’s masquerading as serious intent. That is why only the very few keep them, by determined resolve.
Avoid self pity
The young man should avoid self pity in thinking he has tried to be good/healthier/kinder but has failed. The reality is probably closer to he almost tried but he failed before he started. Being serious about the strength and determination required to complete any noble purpose is fundamental to its successful outcome. To whine and complain that nothing seems to go right is a testament to the degree of volition and planning that has gone into it.
When the young man of character understands the heights he can rise to with proper effort and planning, he will see the greatest of obstacles as merely things to be overcome, not backed away from. Napoleon, Hannibal, Robert the Bruce all had obstacles presented to them which they overcame when it would have been easier to avoid them. To reach the greatest heights, the youth must scale the greatest obstacles.
In doing so, he should not expect the way to be easy. The road to hell is paved in the luxuries and sensuality of life, whist the road to Heaven is the road of the Cross: uphill, rugged, difficult. Any worthy pursuit requires resilience to pick oneself up, time and time again. Behind the man who wins the true way is the understanding that only hard work, void of excuses, will keep him moving towards his purpose. There is no room for despair. The strong man does not break under pressure.
Beware the ego
And when the young man sees success, it is here that he is in the greatest of danger. The conceit and pride that develops naturally from some success are sure to knock the youth down to where he started, should he not be careful. Maintaining dignity and humility in both success and failure is the correct path to tread.
The young man should be wary of parents who crown them with laudation for achievements they have yet to win. Parents can be blinded by the hints of success far too early and deflect the youth from the hard work needed to really succeed.
Furthermore the youth must avoid boasting. It is said that the wise are wise enough, never to boast about it. The young man will develop through hard work and study, the knowledge that the more he knows the more he understands how little he knows. He should see himself as a speck of dust in the universe: humble about success and determine to keep on the true path.
The evil of debt
In dealing with money the young man of character must determine always to earn his keep by honest means.He must never borrow money for things that are not within his practical means. It is perfectly fine to borrow funds to build a home for a family but never to satisfy a want like the latest car, a holiday, a wardrobe full of unnecessary clothes.
Far better to save and understand the value of money than to succumb to the easy option of quick loans with painful prolonged penances attached. Debt is a great evil that enslaves the debtor. It brings men to despair. A man must never borrow money then needlessly and furthermore should never create debt by lending money.
A friend should never borrow or lend money. It is a means to great evil and will destroy any friendship in the end. The young man should not confuse this position as uncharitable and develop a hard heart. The greatest charity can be to give where it least looked for.
Turn away from easy money
To often the youth hears the siren song of society that offers him unlimited wealth. The gathering of riches has become an occupation to many of our youth for the end in itself. ‘I want to be a millionaire’ has become a cliche.
There is a story of a man who spent the first forty years of his life gathering riches and spent the next forty years guarding them: he was rewarded by nothing other than food and shelter.
For those who do have great wealth, they should prudently conduct themselves in acts of charity towards those who are more needy. Charity behoves the man to encourage self help where possible. Misdirected charity can do more harm than good.
Supporting the work of the Priest and Parish is a noble endeavour and should be done according to the means of the benefactor.
Everything in its ordered time
An old saying goes like this: ‘Never play until your work is done, and never spend what you have not earned.” The former clause reminds us that no money will be earned until the job is done, whilst the latter reminds us that money can only be spent when earned.
Society instils a different message that the youth must see as an evil: that money is freely available without working first to merit it. In the evils of loans and so called ‘credit’ cards, man is tempted into less work and more play, but only for a short time until misery comes knocking at the door.
Do not become a slave to money and enslaved by it for an end in itself. When a man dies he is often judged by how much ‘he has left behind.’Would it not be better to ask what good deeds he has sent before him to his judgement?
The curse of gambling
A youth should avoid all forms of gambling. The innocent card game becomes a habit that leads to regular games for money. The man becomes ensnared in the excitement of winning but loses always in the end. Always be ready to say no to gambling. “I don’t gamble’should always be on the tip of the young man’s tongue when the situation arises.
Living within one’s means
Living within one’s means is a habit that should be developed in our youth more than ever. The world wishes to ensnare him in all the luxuries and decadence it can throw at him, yet it knows that he cannot buy it unless he has the money. That is why the banks have made it easier to get easy money through the likes of credit cards. They should be avoided like the plague. Living within one’s means means only spending (wisely) on what one needs when the money has been earned and in the hand.
The wise youth will recognise that keeping out of debt is paramount to avoiding miserable experiences, but more, he will see that prudently putting a little away for later in life will ease his burdens considerably.
Be prudent with money
Like an avalanche that starts with the smallest trickle of snow, the resulting accumulation of compounded savings over many years will be a testament to wise financial management. This nest egg will bring the security of keeping dire want from the door and the evils of getting into debt. It can also be the means of assisting charitably to those less fortunate or who have fallen on hard times.
When spending the money of others, like that of parents, the youth should always err on the side of caution and focus on needs not wants. Be wary of vanity and wasting money on frivolous things. Money is always underappreciated when it is spent by the person who has not earned it.
Understand the necessity of work
When a money has been earned it has been earned from work. That work is the character forming element of the equation, not the money. Work teaches the youth perseverance, attention to detail, concentration, self-control and self-denial. It is the duty of man to work; we are made for it. An old saying says; the devil makes work for idle hands.
Hard work comes from a determination to achieve some noble purpose, like providing for one’s family. The idle in society are a burden. Those like the sick and elderly are a responsibility. The lazy man uses the resources of society but does not replenish them. His hand is forever out,looking for handouts.
St Paul says that the man who will not work should not eat. That axiom applies to both the rich and the poor, for idleness leads to moral degradation. Hard work leaves behind it the lasting impression of greatness, like the works of those tireless authors Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Virgil. These champions of endeavour continue to pay society the wealth of wisdom long after their bodies have failed them.
The young man should be the model of diligence. He should work hard and avoid the evils of idleness. The honey bee works hard all day and brings home the nectar, whilst the bumble bee goes through the same motions but comes home empty handed. Many young men are likewise defined by their acts of industry or idleness. In the end one will have created good, the other evil.
The idle young man will develop his faults into hardened vice that will be as strangling cockle around his character. They will anchor him to the lower life and stop him from ever reaching the greater heights open to him. When it comes to study, he will go through the motions but learn nothing.
His motivation is always to do what is easiest, less painful, less taxing on his faculties. Little does he know at this stage that he is building something nonetheless. He is building a fortress of vice that as time goes on, will take more and more effort to escape from. He is both his jailer and inmate.
Success is forged over time
In the end, it is easy to spot the successful man. But he has worked long at his craft, out of sight, steadily, persistently, diligently working towards his goal. He is no flash in the pan, who has a moment of limelight only to fall again by the wayside. The young man of character has learned to be diligent in how he works: not only does he work hard but he has learnt how to work best. He is no genius, only a devoted character working with purpose towards his goals.
Furthermore he knows the race is long. It is not a sprint but a marathon. He develops resilience and patience to help him through the hard times. He builds stamina by repeated acts of virtue, forming deep rooted habits that anchor hard to the ground as others around him are swept away through impatience, idleness or irresolution. He does not give in when he loses a battle. Even the greatest victories have been won after many defeats.
The triumph of the Will
Finally, the young man of character recognises the double edged nature of the imagination. In the hands of the weak willed, it is akin to the wildest of beasts, reaping havoc to all around. But the imagination of the strong willed man, is akin to the oxen harnessed to the plough. Tremendous strength and creative power is at his service to turn the roughest ground into fertile pasture.
In doing so he brings the imagination and the emotions under his control. He takes command! His whip is the will. He trains the will by subordinating the imagination and emotions to it. The pagan stoic philosophers recognised the dangers of the imagination and emotions to our welfare. They adopted a detached view of events so as to better see what really was happening. The young man should likewise use the will as a regulator to step back and assess what lies before him, prior to making any decisions based on emotion or imagination. He should indeed, look before he leaps.
Angelus Press have produced a recent edition of this work which is highly recommended. It is available both in print and digital format.
Part One here