Failure to Commit

"It is love alone that gives worth to all...

“It is love alone that gives worth to all…” _ St. Teresa of Avila

Sometimes a failure to commit is telling us something quite different than what we usually take away from the experience. For instance, in my case, I have a long history of these events and they have carried over in life to the present day.

While attending Long Island University in Brooklyn back in the 60’s I had a desire to get my degree in philosophy and eventually teach at the college level. However, as a philosophy major, I blamed the philosophy courses and especially the teachers for being second rate at best. So, using the wisdom of my twenty some years of life, I changed majors to English Literature and after a few more years of boredom quit college to pursue my real attraction: worldly distraction. It was a fall not unlike that of Adam. Strike one, for failing to commit. The question which I now pose to you is, was the fault in someone else or within me?

After bouncing around New York, earning rent and food money driving a cab, it struck me that it would be nice to follow my latest dream of being a blues guitar player. With guitar in hand I left for Boston. So I entered Berklee School of Music and pursued music along with some very talented people. But once again, I failed to commit. My excuse this time was that I just wasn’t good enough to continue this dream. The way I looked at it, was this: if I were an artist, my genius would most likely be in painting pictures of Elvis on black velvet with glow-in-the-dark colors. So whether or not I had the talent is not the question anymore because, for all my excuses, Berklee had accepted me into their musical studies program. Therefore, in their opinion, I had the ability to succeed. Strike two, for failing to commit. So I was back to driving cabs again; this time for many years. Was that failure based on lack of talent or lack of motivation or just plain sloth?

God had a plan to rescue me and I almost failed to commit here as well. But thankfully I did commit to my wife of thirty-four years who I fortuitously met while earning a meager living as a cab driver. Well it was about time that I committed to something. Halleluiah, for commitment number one! Was this commitment made because I saw the imperfections in my wife or in myself that would destine us to failure? Obviously not. True love it seems, makes the imperfect, perfect. It heals the wounds of life while making the impossible, possible. We become blind to any obstacles that might stand in our way.

Well life proceeds and I earned a living selling industrial products, becoming adept in electric motors, solenoids, transformers and industrial fans, to name a few. It supported my family a whole lot better than driving a cab and took me all over the country. I committed to a career in life which was made not because I loved selling and loved what I did but because I loved my family and their well-being. This commitment was also made for love and not for my own fulfillment. Another lesson to be learned.

My wife was a Catholic and I was a ‘nothing’ at the time we met and married. I had always been interested in religion but again, I could find nothing that I was willing to commit to or fully have faith in. I was a fallen-away protestant.

Years before I met my wife I had become a lover of Buddhist writings, especially in Tibetan Buddhism. But I did not get Buddhism: it was for an Eastern mind and that was just too abstract from my nature. However, some Buddhist writer, who I cannot remember, suggested to his readers the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. So I read Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross as well as another Catholic Book he suggested; The Cloud of Unknowing which had been written anonymously. Both of them are on Catholic mystical prayer. They had more impact on me than I realized at the time because I read them through the spectacles of Buddhist thought.

Years later, my wife was raising our children in the Catholic faith and as a dutiful but unbelieving father I would accompany them to Mass on Sundays. It was during this period, inspired by the Franciscan Monks who were the pastors of the church I attended (which looked like a Spanish mission from the Middle Ages), I began to read again the mystical writings of Catholicism. My reading accelerated as I became convinced of the truth of what I read. God tested my commitment by delaying my entrance into the Church by almost 3 years as I watched with sadness the old Franciscans, who were becoming a bit senile, forget that I was even getting religious instructions from them. So I awaited a new pastor and after he got his footings in his new assignment, I again started the whole process anew with him. Yes, maybe I can form a new habit of commitment after all: this was commitment number three. I had committed to read about the faith, to go through with the sacraments to gain membership to the faith and to abide as best I could, to the teachings of the faith.

My intentions and my desires, however, were not to merely be a pew sitter. I wanted more. I wanted what St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avilla had: a real substantial union with God while still in my human condition. In other words, I wanted to be a saint in this life; to enter by the “narrow gate.” My desire drew me to Carmel and to spiritual retreats given by traditionalists who said Mass according to the Missal of 1962; which is sometimes referred to as the Tridentine Rite or the Extraordinary Rite. I attended classes for the Third Order of Carmelites or OCDS. Once again, I saw my interest wavering. I judged everyone and everybody and only saw an order that did not live up to what I had imagined in the writings of the Carmelite Saints. Was it the Order that was changed by the modern world or was it me, once again? I could not commit and therefore retired to my own hermitage hidden within my family life. Strike three, you’re out!

Apparently not in God’s game of baseball. We get many balls to hit and many strikes that we take while we just watch them cross the plate, right in the sweet spot, without even taking a swing.

So here I am, still drawn to a life of prayer, to which I am not willing to commit. I pray but I am no prayer warrior. I am weak and suffer from the capital sin of sloth. My inabilities to commit in life always show me the same things should I care to watch and listen: commitment comes from love and sacrifice not just because we want it. Pray for me, that Christ might increase my faith, my hope and my love: and that through this increase find the courage necessary to make a sacrificial commitment to Him through my prayer and all my actions. Commitments are sometimes hard to make and even harder to keep. Pray for me, as I also pray for thee.__ a favorite form of ‘goodbye for now’ from my old and honorable friend and mentor, to whom I simply refer to as Monsignor. May his prayers from heaven have even more effect now than they did while he walked this earth.

Listen to the Silence

Vigil Mass

Let all mortal flesh keep silent, standing there in fear and trembling, let all things of earth vanish from our thoughts; for the King of kings, the Lord of lords, Christ our God, is about to be sacrificed and to be given as food to the faithful. Before Him choirs of Angels go, clothed with power and dominion, with faces veiled, chanting the hymn, Alleluia. __ St. James Liturgy, 4th Century.

What is the value of silence? It is nothing, it is emptiness, it communicates nothing and yet by abiding in it we gain all, we find fullness and learn everything we must know; God Alone. It is the desire of the Church that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass be observed and participated in with a certain type of spiritual quiet. The instruction for the Missal requires that a period of silence be observed after the hearing of the Gospel and also after the reception of the Eucharist. It allows us to quiet our spirits and meditate on the moment. We do not obtain this stillness in a conversation with our friends or in the waving and holding of hands in Mass. Nor do we find it by smiling at all our friends that we spot in church. It is found in interior solitude. The exterior stillness is only a help and a symbol to aid the soul who wishes to enter that moment. The St. James Liturgy, the oldest existing liturgy known to us, knew the value of the silence of which I speak, as you can quickly see from the excerpt above.

Silence is the ultimate reverence. It is the humility and homage that Christ should demand of us. And if He doesn’t, we should demand it of ourselves. It is an expression of true dignity, respect and worship. How dare I make a sound lest I miss His whispers within my soul?  “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language He best hears is silent love.” (St. John of the Cross)

As a dog shows his love by lying silently at the feet of his master, so too should a soul lay in quiet expectation for the slightest movement that His Lord might make: for whatever the Lord demands, that we should faithfully, willfully and lovingly fulfill. It is how we come to a complete reliance on God while ridding our minds of any consideration of self.  “The most generous choices, especially the persevering, are the fruit of profound and prolonged union with God in prayerful silence.” (Pope John Paul II)

Silence informs our prayers. We cannot possibly pray as we ought if we do not allow God to speak to us and our prayers become merely a list of personal requests and demands. “God speaks in the silence of the heart, and we listen. And then we speak to God from the fullness of our heart, and God listens. And this listening and this speaking is what prayer is meant to be….” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

We live in a noisy and busy world where we find it difficult to find time to be alone with God and feel continuously oppressed by the demands of our lives. Somehow, we need to make room for the benefit of both our minds and our souls. “Let us allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by St. Joseph’s silence! We need it greatly, in a world that is often too noisy, that does not favor meditation or listening to the voice of God.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

May we all find at least an hour during our week, especially during Mass, where our souls might have an opportunity to plumb its depths to that stillness, that quiet spot within our souls, where God abides, God speaks and we silently listen.