Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Every so often, especially after I come out of the confessional, I make what I hope is a sincere resolution to be a better person, promising myself that I’m going to try harder to change so that tomorrow I won’t be the same flawed guy I was yesterday.

But, when I give it serious thought and assess my progress in the quiet hours of the night when I’m suffering insomnia, I come back to the unsettling conclusion that I’m the same person I was at 19, with a lot less hair and immeasurably more wrinkles. I’m still immature, still self-centered, still spending more than I make, still swearing too much and still saddled by countless foibles.

No one wants an epitaph etched on his gravestone that says he lived and died as if he were 19, the only difference being most of his zits – but not all of them – were gone.

Does everyone suffer from the same chronic inability to be a better person? Over the years, I’ve searched for role models and for people I could pattern my life after – or at least find some inspiration in, so that I don’t give up the fight.

In my search for a "power of example," I’ve generally come up empty-handed wherever I look, in business, in education, in entertainment, in politics, in finance, in law, in the media and often in religion. As they say, we’re all human – actually, we’re all too human.

The shortage of role models is even worse for the Millennial Generation, those 78 million young people born between 1985 and 2000, because they have no one to look up to besides highly publicized characters like Kim Kardashian and the cast of "The Jersey Shore," which shows you just how bad things have become.

But the answer doesn’t lie with celebrities and dignitaries. I believe you can find the greatest goodness among ordinary men and women.

I’ve been blessed to know a few who have values they actually practice. They’re common men and women. None ever got a Pulitzer Prize, a Nobel Prize, an Emmy, a Grammy or the Chamber of Commerce Businessperson of the Year Award. Not even an Employee of the Month parking space. None of them reached six-figure salaries or led large organizations or institutions, and yet when I get discouraged by the morning headlines, I think of them and realize there’s still good in the world.

I’ve come to believe that God put them in my path so that I wouldn’t lose hope when I’m on the verge of despair.

One is a man who has been sober 42 years in Alcoholics Anonymous and who was there when my father hit bottom after a lifetime of drinking. Because of Len, my father lived his last 25 years sober a day at a time, inspired by the example of other recovering alcoholics. Miracles like that don’t happen every day, and when you witness them, you can’t forget what you’ve seen with your own eyes.

Another is Father Ed, who brought God to the inner city and to prisoners in jail cells and to prisoners in suburbs who were bankrupt financially, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve met a lot of men and women who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk (I’m one of them), but Father Ed is different.

And then there is Catherine, a nurse who for years cared for a young man in a coma, along with many more seemingly hopeless cases, because in the end, they weren’t hopeless. That wasn’t the kind of employment that would get you a Goldman Sachs bonus, but that’s probably why it was so special, because it was the kind of work that Christ himself would do.

What is their formula for goodness?

They understand the difference between right and wrong, and they choose right without deluding themselves into thinking wrong is really right.

They trust God when the chips are down, and they give him all the glory when they succeed.

They are compassionate, tolerant and kind even to troublesome people.

They don’t take themselves too seriously and they’re never self-righteous, because they know they’re human, and the human condition can be a deceptively fallible experience.

They know they can fail, and when they do, they get back up again until they get it right.

And they are humble and never think of themselves as heroes … even though they are.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.