Commitment

Concerning commitment. There is a profound mystery here and I would like to clarify it as much as I can. One of the things that has always intrigued me is how a priest, monk, or nun can go through years and years of religious life, praying the office daily, receiving the Sacraments daily and not be transformed. Their lives, outwardly at least, are centred on God and they are daily recipients of Sanctifying Grace, oned with Christ in the Eucharist. Yet they can remain indifferent to the needs of others, be petty and selfish, worldly and materialistic. Many have been involved in gross child abuse. I have a feeling that this apparent hiatus is due to a faulty Sacramental theology which places too much emphasis on ex opere operato and not enough on the dispositions of the administrator and recipient of the sacraments. According to traditional sacramental theology it is simply necessary to receive the Sacraments, only minimal dispositions are required. Sanctifying Grace will work its magic, unfelt and unseen in the soul, gradually transforming the individual so that at the moment of death he, or she, will be able to respond to the face to face encounter with God. This is all very comfortable and it lets everybody off the hook of total commitment. It places all the emphasis on the next life. There the fruits will ripen and be harvested. In this life nothing may be visible but the tiniest of buds.

The Gospels are quite clear on the need for total commitment. They also require the purity and single-mindedness of a child. This one-pointedness, as the Buddhists put it, demands that everything one does should be an aspect of this focused commitment. There should be no holidays from it, no pampered relaxations, no little indulgences ‘because on has deserved them’, no time out. All this sounds very daunting and austere and it certainly puts most people off. No doubt that is why the church has relaxed the requirements of the Gospel. But I am coming more and more to the conclusion that total commitment is, not the only way – God is infinite mercy and the variety of callings is vast – but essential for those who would presume to teach others about God.

I don’t believe either that this is an ‘either – or’ matter. There has to be a way of integrating this focus on God with all the day to day activities of ordinary life. This, again, is nothing new. de Caussade wrote about the ‘sacrament of the present moment’. But arriving at the state where one is able constantly to be aware of God does not come easily. The world intrudes, the body intrudes; so do feelings and other people. It is not easy to be both involved and detached. When one has a tenuous hold on existence the difference between trivial and frivolous matters and those which are fundamental and important becomes glaringly obvious. The knack is to hang on to this glaring obviousness all the time.

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