And yet we do [today] seem to be going to the opposite extreme [from past over-emphasis in religion on the value of suffering]. Obligations no longer bind if they involve suffering, if there is strain or difficulty. People walk out of a marriage, out of religious life, out of the priesthood, because there is an apparent lack of fulfillment; life is felt to impose a burden which we are free to throw off.
Accepting the will of God at whatever cost, certain that he gives us the strength whatever we feel, this is to follow Jesus and be his disciple. One feels that there is a great deal of frivolity nowadays, a lack of seriousness in the face of life. Yet think of the gravity of our life-span, how much is at stake.
We have only one life to live. It is easy to think we are doing God a favor, that there is an alternative to total commitment. Is there? What is it?
Ruth Burrows, Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, 22
Reflection – This will be my last Ruth Burrows post for now – time to move on to other writers. I would encourage anyone who has enjoyed these excerpts to pick up the book – I am barely scratching the surface of it in this series of posts.
Yesterday she (and I) wrote about the centrality, not of suffering, but of love in our faith. It is love that redeems, not suffering, yet Christ’s love is expressed in his embrace of our pain on the Cross. There is a deep unbreakable connection between love and being willing to suffer for the beloved.
It has become almost a cliché to write as she writes here about the breakdown of commitment in the modern world. It is worth noting that this book came out in the mid-70s, when the culture of divorce and non-committal commitment was still fairly new. Now, it has become a relative norm, with many avoiding the ugly messiness of divorce by the simple expedient of never getting married, and of course the plunge in numbers of candidates for priesthood and religious life is well documented. I realize that this whole phenomenon of our modern world, so drearily familiar to us, is a complex one, not resolvable into facile explanations or solutions.
But it does seem to me that in the face of it, a serious presentation of the spirituality of the Cross of Christ is needed. That life is in fact about total commitment, that it is love and love alone that is the force of redemption and hope in the world, and the love is not expressed in sentimental bromides or sensual escapades but in the daily choice to commit, to live, to suffer for the sake of the beloved—this needs to be said loudly, forcefully, and repeatedly today.
‘There is a great deal of frivolity today, a lack of seriousness in the face of life.’ Indeed. You have noticed, perhaps, that I have not mentioned on this blog that most pressing subject that has captivated the whole attention of the free world, the most riveting issue of our times which has had such a devastating effect on us all. I refer, of course, to Miley Cyrus’ booty.
No, somehow I have not seen fit to mention that. Somehow, with a very real possibility of World War III breaking out in Syria, with Christians being slaughtered in Egypt, with apocalyptic scenarios genuinely threatening on all sides, the particular dance moves busted by pop starlets on MTV just seems… well, frivolous, and shows a lack of seriousness in the face of life.
God is always calling us to a total commitment, a serious taking on of life and its challenges, joys, sorrows. In that, there is great room for laughter and fun, celebration and good cheer, but always in the context of living a serious life of consecration to love and truth, as Christ lived.
I don’t know how to communicate to the young people currently coming of age in our world how utterly essential it is to make a life commitment. Many do, of course (we have six new applicants coming into Madonna House next Sunday!), but many more are finding it very hard to get there, and there is a great loss in that for them and for all of us. Because this is the key to a glorious, happy, exciting, consequential life. It is a cross-shaped key, indeed, but that’s just the way it is. And with that, my own commitments are calling me (time for prayers!), so I will leave it at that for today.