May 2024 - Putting Our Hand To The Plow

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

There exists a general agreement that we face a crisis of commitment – and not just in the young.  With the young, it is more recognizable and expected.  Inexperience and untested idealism will naturally result in some initial instability.  But this sickness of non-commitment has deeper causes which need exploration.  If we are going to build the Kingdom of God through the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, it necessitates that we have committed builders in priestly, religious, and lay states of life. 

Life is serious because eternity is serious and the steps towards eternity require commitment.  This pertains especially to the permanent states of life which demand a life-long vow or promise, both for the good of the community to which the individual belongs but also for the good of the individuals themselves. 

A spouse will serve the good of all through a deep lifelong fidelity to the marriage and family.  But even at a personal level, short of being forced to remain in a spiritually or physically harmful environment, that fidelity will provide the opportunity for stable growth in virtue, which needs time.  All the more, the priest who is permanently marked with the character of Christ’s High Priesthood, benefits others and himself through his fidelity, while risking grave consequences to others and self through infidelity. 

Clearly, within these holy states of life, the need for commitment is great.  But what of those who hold back from committing themselves to a permanent state of life in the first place?  Why is there such hesitation? 

The immediate answer might be: fear. There is the fear of losing familiar points of security: immediate family, one's town, one's familiar work and play. There may be the fear of making a mistake and the fear of failure. But one should not hold back from committing to something good because one might not do it perfectly. Intentional mediocrity aside, the wisdom of GK Chesterton applies here: if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.  Besides, doesn't the cross of Christ appear externally as a failure? Our successes will be built upon and even bolstered by failures because true strength is in humility and true success is only through the grace of God.  No, fear is not a sufficient explanation. 

The deeper cause for this crisis of commitment in our time is due to the wound of ignorance: people don't know who they are. Let's first answer this basic question of man's identity in a true and correct way and then see where the fundamental assumption about man's nature went wrong. 

The most concise definition of man is “rational animal”. That is to say he shares functions with the animals with the enormous difference that he can think. This power to think and understand is superior to all man’s other abilities and therefore, by its nature, governs the lower and irrational powers. Very importantly, the operations of man's rationality are immaterial, clear proof of the spiritual and eternal nature of the soul. That spiritual and eternal soul is created by God and has a purpose only found in God. This has been determined by God without loss of liberty on man's part. There is one last element to complete the description of man: sin. Through the misuse of his rationality, i.e. sin, man became disordered and wounded himself.

The errors of the day which try to interpret fallen man are many and complex. Nonetheless, it is not an oversimplification to point out that they deny the spiritual element of man's nature. Denial of the spiritual and eternal soul results in individuals becoming determined by material, temporal needs and “success”. Denial of wounded nature suggests that this material desire is inherently good. Such unbridled pursuit of earthly delights also gives man the appearance of being irrational and some have gone so far as to affirm this. Denial of God, who created man for Himself, leads to a spirit of absolute self-determination of the human being – which is where we are today. Slogans like “be yourself” express a deeper rebellion against the divine order of the world.

What does all of this have to do with commitment? If the ‘self’ is what matters most, then why would anyone sacrifice this ‘self’ for anyone else or any other cause. Though no one reading this letter will agree with the aforementioned errors, we are not exempt from being affected by a culture of self. Commitment demands the sacrifice of self for higher things.

There remains the question of the means by which we form a deep-rooted sense of commitment and these boil down to three essential elements: mind, will, and grace.

It is the part of the mind to build convictions. These convictions are fixed ideas which are as unchanging as they are true: God is my end, Christ is the means, sin is the obstacle... But then these convictions become more particular or personal: I must use the means available to me to save my soul and the souls of others; all else must be sacrificed…  This necessitates the need for sufficient reflection so that one is doing what God wants and not what impulse dictates. The soul echoes Saint Paul after he is unhorsed and humbled: “Lord, what would you have me do?”

It is then the place of the will to decide. The decision is as firm as it is constant. Difficulties will lie ahead; the investment of a lifetime will be required. But the difficulties don’t change in the least the determination. Does the soldier who sustains battle injuries regret an act of heroism? Does a parent afflicted with worry over a struggling child regret their marriage? Does a priest tempted to discouragement second guess his vocation? A resounding ‘no' answers each question. But it does necessitate the third element, grace.

If there is no grace, then we must give up all hope of persevering in anything good. But the grace of God is active and effective in all who are seeking and doing God's will. We must pray for it, believe in it and trust in it.

There are other elements of great importance in building convictions. Mention should be made of the impact of upbringing. Parents and anyone with the care of the young are well reminded that children are formed every minute through little routines, little judgments... every little thing.

I recommend to your prayers the intention of many good vocations and the perseverance of our priests and seminarians. Be assured of the seminarians’ prayers for our friends and benefactors.

In Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,      

Fr. Michael Goldade