Friday, November 22, 2013
Yes, We Can
The meditations I write are often triggered by a paragraph I have read, a sentence, a word, or a thought. This morning it was the re-statement of something I knew, in a book I was reading. There I read of the meaning of the word “Amen,” which is said at the end of many a prayer. It means “I concur.”
Amen is said at the end of the Creed, which begins with “I believe.” It is also said at the end of the “Our Father.” Our saying of Amen is as if we are taking an oath: “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” And the answering words are: “I do;” I concur with what you have said. The thing unique about the word “Amen” is that regardless of how a prayer begins, with an “I” or with an “Our” or even with a “We,” it ends with me saying, “I” concur.
Making a personal commitment, a big one, is something which scares many a man. When you put that “I” to it, you are saying you will do it. You are saying that you can and will live up to it. And you are triggering a natural anxiety: “What did I just commit to? Can I really do that?” Ask many a future spouse what they are thinking about in the days before they commit to marriage with the words: “I do.” Many are wondering if they can live up to that promise to be made to their spouse, to that promise made in front of a gathering of witnesses: they’ll be watching! And not a few (I pray) are wondering if they can live up to that promise made there to God also, for He is part of any oath in the Church.
The marriage “I do” is a great example of a personal commitment, made only by you. You know only you are responsible for it, and only you can live up to it. You can’t delegate it as in: “Hey, will you care for my spouse and kids? Could you give them money, so they don’t go without food or shelter? Could you take them to where they need to go? Could you be with them when they feel alone?” No you, not someone else, promised to do these things, and it is your responsibility. Nor could you make the following request of another: “Hey, could you make my family know how much I love them?” No, no one but you can do that. Love is the most personal of personal commitments, and only you can give your love. Only you can do actions with love, so that those you love see and feel your commitment, so that they feel loved.
The “Amen” we say in prayer is like that commitment of love. The prayers we say, the Creed, the Our Father, and the very personal prayers which we address beginning with “Lord,” are prayers stating more than just something we will do, but commitments of how we will do things: with love. Scripture, and many a saint, has called on us to speak with “prayers from the heart,” prayers of love, which are not just recited prayers, but ones spoken with our hearts.
God told us in simple words how we must live our lives, the personal commitment He asked us to make: Love God, and love your neighbor,” in all you do. And our response, our response and personal commitment, our personal commitment to God (!) is a simple “Amen.”
So how could we ever believe that we can delegate such a personal commitment, to say to someone else: “Well, here’s what we must do.” I once before wrote here about the question: “Can you delegate moral responsibility?” The answer is “no,” personal moral commitments are personal; like love, only you can do them. Yet despite this truth, which we often affirm when we say “Amen,” we still often try to hide our personal fears of failure in our commitment behind the word: “We.”
We think if “we” commit to do something and fail, then “well, it’s not MY fault.” We think if “we” say we will do something, “I” don’t even have to understand it. Somehow we think there is power in numbers, a power where I can hide my perceived --- or feared --- weaknesses. But I cannot delegate any moral responsibility, any commitment I made to God, to any group of “we.”
But, you might say, surely some things are done more efficiently in a group. That may be so; I will even go so far as to concede that may ALWAYS be so. But, some things are not meant to be done “efficiently.”
A man could have all his food needs, all his clothing needs, all his entertainment needs efficiently dropped on his doorstep each day. Technical marvels could be attached to his body to determine his medical needs, and pills delivered to him each day. Mechanical devices could be attached to his limbs each night to provide him with efficient exercise while he sleeps. If we provided all those needs, would “I” be meeting my individual moral responsibilities to love this man, my neighbor? Obviously not; love is a personal thing which can only be expressed or felt by a person-to-person interaction --- even if “things” which might indicate our love can be delivered efficiently. But what about some poor person overseas, you might say, “I can’t be there to help or love them in person.” No, but there IS someone who can and should be there, someone who in answering God’s call for them to love, acts as a missionary. And yes, we can support him financially, or with our prayers, but he is called to primarily live his vocation as missionary, as we are called to live our vocation. Each one of us has our individual responsibility to act with love to our neighbor. Perhaps our call is to love in our family. Perhaps it is to help lead our church family to work at a soup kitchen. Perhaps it is to visit, alone, a lonely person. And perhaps, and this is a very important responsibility, it is to take another with us on our vocation, our child or our fellow Christian, to show them how we love our neighbor, by our personal commitment, by our person action. In doing so, we are teaching them how to love by example, even as God taught us, a most important moral commitment we also made.
Man was created to love; Jesus told us this is so in two simple commandments. It’s not a confusing thing, and it cannot be and should not be done “efficiently,” or impersonally. We are called to learn to love in this life so that we can possess eternal life, the life of love with the Trinity in heaven. We practice love here on earth so that we can fully live love in heaven. If we try to delegate others to “love for us,” then we don’t really love or teach others to love. We are alone, not doing what we committed to do. And if we become perfect in delegating all our responsibilities, we become perfectly alone. And that is the definition of hell, a fulfillment of all our desires for ourselves --- alone.
A man ran for president of this country on the motto of “Yes, We Can,” and so many rallied around him, each one thinking of some “good thing,” some personal commitment they made to God at one time or another, which this man and his minions would bring about. Very little was said by the man about exactly what he would do, but “we” would get it done, and many people followed, relieved that someone else, rather than they personally, were stepping in to fill the void of their fears: “Can I do this?” with a resounding answer of “Yes, We Can.”
There are many things in life which “we” can and should do “together”, but “together” in supporting one another as each does his part, first and foremost. First and foremost is what “I” do, for I have made a commitment. When we do things “together,” it should not be my watching what you others can accomplish, and then perhaps me offering some small token of help, if needed (and hopefully not). The Catholic Church’s definition of “in communion,” together, has each living his part, his commitment, to work in love with each other. Unlike the oft-spoken saying, the Catholic Church believes there IS an “I” in “we;” in fact there are many of them.
The man who shouted a political slogan of “Yes, We Can” should have been watched most closely, nervously, but instead many sat back, in sort of a personal victory: “Yes, they will,” they thought.
And they felt no responsibility to do anything, nor strangely, any responsibility for ultimately what was done. But they are in a self-imposed darkness, not seeing the light of their responsibility, for they ARE responsible for their neighbor, personally responsible, as am I and you.