Arts and Culture

Life Commitments and Freedom

Fourth in a series

I HAVE BECOME aware of a pattern that has developed in writing weekly columns. I start a column, intending it to be a single column on some topic, but as I am writing, the column ideas come to me from books and courses that were part of my life many years ago. Those ideas lead me to develop a series on a topic that I had originally intended to cover in one column. That is how this series on freedom developed. One book that has returned to me from the past is “Should Anyone Say Forever” by Father John C. Haughey, S.J. The subtitle of Father Haughey’s book is “On making, keeping, and breaking commitments.”

Father Haughey mentions that he became aware of the nature of commitment by asking students in one of his classes about their commitments. His question revealed his presumption that a person’s commitments are or can be made completely conscious. He came to see that they cannot. He wrote the following:

“What I am sure of is that what one is conscious of with regard to commitments is symbolic of the deeper direction one has chosen to take in on one’s life. The symbols I am referring to are the commitments that are formally made and the actions that are undertaken as a result of the formal commitments one has made. These actions and these formal commitments are like whitecaps, however; that are merely the visible portion of the deeper currents and flow of one’s life.”

Father Haughey’s comments are especially applicable to life commitments. I am thinking of persons who are asked why they chose the people they did to marry. I don’t believe that anyone can give an accurate answer to that question. Choice of a marriage partner involves several mysteries: the mystery of self, the mystery of the other, the mystery of God and the mystery of the person’s decision and choice.

There is no way I can accurately answer the question: “Why did you become a priest?” In order to answer that question accurately, I would have to understand myself completely. I don’t understand myself completely and I never will.

What I can do is tell what motives were on my mind as I prepared for ordination. I recall thinking that being a priest was a wonderful way of serving people, a great way to spend a life. What I don’t recall is having a clear image of what my life would be like after I was ordained. However, about two months after I was ordained, I realized that being a priest was far more wonderful than I had ever imagined. In spite of the crosses in my life that are part of just about everyone’s life, I still think that being a priest is a great blessing.

Father Haughey’s comments on what he calls a primordial commitment fit in with my idea that a life commitment is the best road to freedom and sanctity. He wrote:

“The thrust one gives one’s being, the way one chooses to face reality to pursue the fullness one sees oneself capable of, this is what I mean by primordial commitment. Though not fully extricable, this is where our moral responsibility reposes, par excellence…This primordial commitment is not to something nor is it to oneself; it is, however, of oneself in the direction in which one perceives a transcendent good. Since we are talking about the primordial flow of one’s being, commitment in this fuller sense is more ‘felt into’ than made. It is more tendential than volitional, though it is chosen. It is more discovered than made, and it is discovered only gradually. The conscious objects which symbolize it at any given moment do not exhaust it or fully express it.”

I believe that the more of oneself that one offers in a free action, the more free someone becomes. Just as certain actions like taking drugs or viewing pornography can make us less free, there are other actions that involve a free, total gift of self. That is how I think of a life commitment. Except for Jesus and the Blessed Mother, perhaps no one makes a life commitment totally, no one successfully offers himself or herself in love. I think, however, that even to make the attempt at making a life commitment can lead to a deeper freedom. Of course I cannot prove that but we do have the evidence of the lives of the saints.

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