February 20, 2012
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Fortunately, there are people who rein me in. There was the priest who, when I mentioned that I had been asked to take on a responsible, time-consuming volunteer position, looked at me as though I was daft.
Then, he calmly said, "If you have any extra time that you feel you can give, you should devote it to your work at the Western Catholic Reporter."
Lesson learned, at least for the time being. There were others who have had to gently deliver the same message. Slowly, I'm getting the point - I've been called to do something; I shouldn't mess it up by doing 10 other things.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Mourning here is not so much about experiencing the death of close family or friends; it's about experiencing the loss of potentials in your life that need to be put aside so that you can do the one thing that has been given to you.
I can't comment with any authority about people who change careers in mid-life. Have they lost their marbles or finally found them? Or, did God change the direction in which he was calling them?
Nor can I make blanket statements about people whose marriages end in divorce. Sometimes, there are good reasons for fleeing a relationship that is more abusive or dysfunctional than a person imagined possible when they tied the knot.
'Wise old dogs never make any change but always follow the track they are on.'
However, there is always a new model rolling off the platform and some of them look pretty good. So what should you do? Mourn. Mourn and weep. You can't have them. You are committed. That applies to careers as well as to spouses.
St. Francis de Sales, that wise 17th century doctor of the Church, addresses this issue head on in his Treatise on the Love of God:
"The enemy often tries to make us attempt and start many projects so that we will be overwhelmed with too many tasks, and therefore achieve nothing and leave everything unfinished."
"Sometimes it happens that we forsake the good in order to seek the better, and while we leave the one, we do not find the other."
"Young dogs at every turning leave the pack and change directions; wise old dogs never make any change but always follow the track they are on."
Moral theologian Germain Grisez says the virtuous disposition connected with this beatitude is detachment. "Detachment is the surrender of every good which does not contribute to the carrying out of one's personal vocation" (Christian Moral Principles, p. 640).
Detachment requires self-denial, rational self-denial of those interesting possibilities that, if followed, would interfere with the carrying out of one's core responsibilities. Our impulses and fixations need to be brought under control.
Everyone needs a weekly sabbatical, a break in the action so that one doesn't get totally obsessed with those core responsibilities. Taking a break, however, is much different than taking on a new commitment. Every person – no matter how talented and energetic they are – needs to keep a tight rein on the number of commitments they assume.
Self-discipline is not the same as detachment. One can be highly disciplined in the pursuit of some goal such as fame, power or wealth. This is not detachment; on the contrary, it is a strong attachment to a goal that is ultimately worthless.
The person who is detached from the things of this world is detached because he or she has been converted to the infinite God.
St. Augustine says, "Those who have been converted to God are losing the things which in this world they used to embrace as precious things, for they find no delight in the things they used to enjoy. They are torn with grief until a love for eternal things is begotten in them."
Where do those who mourn find comfort? They find it in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. They have forsaken their scramble for the things of this earth because they have put their trust in God. They are comforted because they know they are working in harmony with God, not just following their own desires.
One can examine his or her conscience in relation to this beatitude with questions such as:
Have I compromised or abandoned a key commitment in my life through an attraction to things that are superfluous?
Have I taken on more responsibilities than I can reasonably handle?
When I lament having to give up things and relationships that are appealing, do I ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to be detached from them?
What do I do to increase my attachment to the things of God and eternal life?
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