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TOGETHER IN THE MISSION WE HOLD IN COMMON

Discussion Paper on ‘Commitment’ by Julie Buckley smr

(CORI Committee Religious Life and Ministry)

Amongst the diverse definitions of commitment are, “A pledge to do,”  “A state of being bound emotionally / intellectually to a course of action or to another person.”  [1]

Commitment is intrinsically linked to the idea of promise, integrity, honesty, vision, love without limits, passion, fidelity, continuity, stability, depth of relationship, sharing the ups and the downs of life.  Commitment is a dynamic, ongoing process of living, of growing and of giving and receiving.  According to American singer LeAnn Rimes, commitment is ‘playing for keeps’. It is not a once-off choice but one that needs to be renewed and worked at continually.  

Commitment is always culturally conditioned.  In our rapidly changing culture where ‘the new’ is venerated and materialism attempts to fill the emptiness within, commitment is often seen as an old-fashioned idea that makes little sense in today’s world.  There can be confusion about what to commit ourselves to in an ever-changing world of endless choice and possibilities.  The present pleasure culture advocating instant gratification dismisses such notions as self-restraint, anticipatory waiting or putting another’s needs before our own.  Yet, waiting for something important and/or putting another in first place helps us human beings to discover meaning and a sense of purpose.

Traditionally, the Christian understanding of commitment has meant the living out of a vowed commitment forever, i.e. that marriage, religious vowed life and priesthood is a life-long commitment until death.  The theological foundation underpinning this understanding of commitment is the Hebrew notion of covenant.  The Biblical understanding of commitment is based on the idea of covenant.  The fidelity of the Hebrew God is One who is forever faithful.  God’s promise to be faithful is never compromised; it is unconditional and forever.  God’s invitation to us is to enter into this covenantal relationship in faith.  Those who respond in faith are called to a life-long journey of relationship and love. 

In committing ourselves to another, we must firstly know who we are, who is saying yes to God and that we are prepared to give and receive, to work at building this relationship.  It means taking the good with the bad, the difficulties along with the joys.  It means putting the other person in the centre.  It is honouring, valuing the other as the one and only one with whom we want to build our life with.  Commitment costs, but paradoxically, in giving to and sharing with a unique other and trying to put the other’s needs first we receive more than we give.  Abundance flows from the giving of the self to another. 

Christian commitment teaches us how to love God and others in an integrated, wholesome way.  It is the journey towards wholeness and holiness that requires passing through the difficult terrain of real life with all its challenges, difficulties and crises.  Christian commitment is the way of love.  Authentic Christian commitment is born from discovering the deepest desires of the heart; the pearl of great price or the field with the hidden treasure in the gospel stories (Mt. 13:44-46).  We are called to go and sell all in order to possess them. 

Christian commitment comes from the search to discover our deepest desires and God’s desire for us.  It is about shaping our relational capacity in a particular way, a choice about ‘Who’ will be the centre of our life.  It is about the ultimate life choice.  Commitment is a process, from the moment of the first commitment to each daily yes through the dying and rising of everyday life.  Christian commitment is a public acknowledgment of God’s invitation in love and our freely given response in love.   The Christian community is called to bear witness and offer support and love to those making a solemn vow before God and God’s people, whether in Marriage, Holy Orders or Religious Life.  God who calls, who invites us into this relationship of faithful love, is with us as we journey through life, “Yahweh… is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear.” Zep 3:15

The notion of obligation in making a commitment could suggest a loss of freedom.  In western culture this negative slant is often how commitment is understood.  Authentic commitment however brings the opposite; it calls us to a new inner freedom, where we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable before the other and reveal our true self.  Serious conflict is a normal part of everyday life and helps relational growth.  A relationship with no obligating commitment can be in danger of splitting up each time serious conflict arises; whereas within an irreversible commitment the focus is more on how to handle the issue.  Making a life commitment in our present post-modern relativistic, individualistic culture calls for “…enormous courage but also allows for the expression of a love that knows no bounds.”  [2]

While it may be more difficult today to respond to God’s invitation to Christian commitment because of our cultural reality, God I believe still invites and gives men and women the grace to enter into committed relationships that offer life to the full.  May we trust in the goodness and immensity of God’s faithful, unconditional love that calls us to ‘the more’, to become ever more fully human human-beings, committed to the Christian way of love.

Notes :

[1] The Penguin English Dictionary, 3rd Edition.
[2] S.M. Schneiders, Selling All: Commitment, Consecrated Celibacy, and Community in Catholic Religious Life, p. 114.

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