“Honesty is such a lonely word.” This is the refrain of Billy Joel’s 1979 hit song, Honesty, which expresses the inherent lack of integrity even in the closest of relationships. The world needs honest people.
Donna went to the local store to buy groceries for her family. During the checkout, the cashier accidentally grabbed a one-hundred-dollar bill instead of the twenty and gave it to the young mother as change for her payment. It was not until Donna had put away the food items and began recording her expenses that she noticed the obvious mistake. She immediately returned to the store to explain the mistransaction and handed over the one-hundred-dollar bill. As a sign of appreciation, the store manager offered a twenty-dollar gift certificate. The following week, Donna serendipitously encountered the same cashier. Overwhelmed with gratitude and tears forming in her eyes, the cashier leaned forward and whispered to Donna, “Thank you for your honesty; you saved me from losing my job.”
Honesty is a basic building block of an authentic relationship. When the heart is not firm in this conviction, it can fall prey to other perceived values such as money, fame or even the desire to be held in high esteem. When this happens, trust breaks down, chaos ensues and human dignity is trampled upon. Amos, speaking on behalf of God, vehemently condemned dishonest business practices that fix scales and buy the poor for a pair of sandals. To these, the Lord will “never forget a thing they have done!”
Our Lord warns against hypocrisy and the false belief that we can serve both God and mammon. A true disciple does not only make the morally upright choice when others are observing, but does so even when alone. It is insincere to believe that we are good Christians because we have made large donations or given years of service while remaining dishonest in private personal choices. Our Lord reminded us that “the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.”
Authenticity, the opposite of hypocrisy, demands that goodness is consistent on all levels and spheres of our lives. What is virtuous and beautiful begins on the personal level.
For Thomas Aquinas, honesty is synonymous with virtue and beauty. In question 145 of the Summa, Thomas establishes that honesty is one of those rare virtues that “allure us by their own force, and attract us by their own worth, such as virtue, truth, knowledge.” Simultaneously, Thomas defines honesty as the same as the beautiful because “God is said to be beautiful, as being ‘the cause of the harmony and clarity of the universe.’ Hence the beauty of the body consists in a man having his bodily limbs well proportioned, together with a certain clarity of color. On like manner spiritual beauty consists in a man’s conduct or actions being well proportioned in respect of the spiritual clarity of reason,” which are the virtues. Lastly, honesty is the virtue that moderates reason with all that is connected with the person. Therefore, honesty is beautiful.
Who among us is not attracted to a person who is honest, virtuous, and beautiful? Billy Joel laments that honesty is such a lonely word, but it doesn’t have to be so.
*Abbot of St. Martin Abbey Lacey, Washington
By Fr Marion Nguyen osb *