I considered several subjects for this letter of the alphabet. But in the end I wanted to focus on this one: commitment. I want you to live committed lives. Lives committed to your principles, values, conscience and actions. It is a word that many fear. It is a word that many spurn.
“But dad,” you may ask, “what do I commit too? For example, wasn’t Hitler committed to his principles? How do I know a good principle from a bad one?” Excellent questions, all. Which is why I would first preface any commitment you embark upon with the following steps. These are taken from the well-worn Post-It note you’ve seen on my desk for years now since 2000 when I wrote in a now faded ink: Contemplation. Communion. Mission. As you’ll see below all of them flow in an endless cycle. The seeds are sown during Contemplation. They are watered and nurtured during Communion. And in the Mission their fruit is brought forth. However, it doesn’t stop there. You must always return to the first step after spending some time in your chosen mission field in order to regroup, re-energize and re-organize yourself. Then you go forward with Step 2 and so on. But I got ahead of myself. Let’s back up to Step 1.
Before you can commit to anything you have to have thought about it. And before you can consider a value or take action you have to weigh it against your conscience. And this is where it all begins.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “a well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience.” (CCC 1798)
You should know that I agree with this principle 100%. It is the duty of every human being to form his or her conscience. This is where so many fail. Whether through ignorance or laziness they simply do not properly form their conscience. The result of which is evident in the acceptance of moral relativism, which stated simply means that there is no truth. All “truths” are equal. “I can do whatever I want as long as I don’t harm you. You can’t judge me.” It’s true. I can’t judge them. Nor do I want the job. But to say that you can do whatever you want and it has no ripple effect upon others is ludicrous. (As an aside, an excellent article on what we can and cannot judge, including excellent examples from St. Francis de Sales, may be found here.)
Please set aside the time and effort necessary to form your consciences. A place to begin is by reading that section of the Cathechism I quoted above, specifically paragraphs 1776-1802. It is an excellent place to start.
Napoleon Hill coined the famous phrase “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” The same principles I’m outlining for you from a Catholic or Christian point of view are also used by those such as Hill. One of his Principles of Success was the Acquiring of a Creative Vision (video link). Of creative vision, Hill said:
Creative vision is a quality of mind belonging only to men and women who follow the habit of going the extra mile, for it recognizes no such thing as the regularity of working hours, is not concerned with monetary compensation, and its highest aim is to do the impossible.
Creative vision is definitely and closely related to that state of mind known as faith, and it is significant that those who have demonstrated the greatest amount of creative vision are known to have been men with a great capacity for faith. This is both logical and understandable when we recognize that faith is the means of approach to Infinite Intelligence, the source of all knowledge and all facts, both great and small.
The imagination is the workshop of the soul wherein are shaped all plans for individual achievement.
(Click here to see all seventeen of his Success Scrolls)
Another word for it is meditation. Here are two passages from Saint Josemaria Escriva’s book The Furrow where he mentions meditation:
It is possible that you might be frightened by this word: meditation. It makes you think of books with old black covers, the sound of sighs, and the irksome repetition of routine prayers. But that is not meditation. To meditate is to consider, to contemplate God as your Father, and yourself as his son and in need of help. And then to give him thanks for all that he has given you and for all that he will give you.
To meditate for a while each day and be united in friendship with God is something that makes sense to people who know how to make good use of their lives. It befits conscientious Christians who live up to their convictions.
There are many ways to meditate. You kids know that I prefer to pray the Divine Office or a rosary, to read, or listen to music. The best way I know how to do so is one you rarely see as you’re asleep when I walk or drive to our church and spend time in adoration. I recommend any of these methods to you, and echo what Napoleon Hill spelled out as ways to meditate also:
- Spend time each day in mediation. Calm yourself. Take your mind off of your daily routines and allow your creative juices to flow.
- Talk a leisurely walk in nature. Exercise, fresh air and nature will stimulate your thinking and creativity.
- Set a goal to spend some time writing. Keep a journal. Don’t restrict your thoughts/ideas and write them all down as they flow to the page.
Most importantly, shut off the television, the radio, your iPods and video games. Be still. You owe yourselves, and the world, that much once in awhile.
After forming your conscience properly and contemplating your principles and goals, it’s time to begin. Here you must remember one very important thing: you are not alone. While it’s true that not everyone will work with you and some will even oppose you, the mission to which you commit yourself is not one that you can do alone. This is why you must work in communion, in community, and realize it is because human being do not thrive when isolated from others that John Donne wrote:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
There is a Swedish proverb that says: “Shared joy is a double joy. Shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” I believe this to be true.
If you are committing to marriage and/or parenthood, the most obvious partner in that mission is your spouse. If it is a mission of charity, find or inspire others to work with you. There are many people who are just waiting for someone to show the way. Be that person. Of course the most important partner to invite along in any endeavor is God Himself. I often look to books, authors, saints, or other teachers to help me when I’m struggling along my way. The common element I look for in any that I invite as counselors is whether their advice reflects the light of Christ. I can provide you with no better advice than this single point. Why Christ? Because He represents the ultimate Truth. He is not a man who “showed one way to live and who spoke some truth about life.” He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I don’t recall if I’m dedicating a later “letter” to this subject, but may have to. For now I’ll just pose this question as asked by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen in his book Into Your Hands, Father: “If we do not dare to walk hand in hand with God, whose hand shall we choose?”
Webster first defines communion as “an act or instance of sharing.” When you have clarified your goals and are ready to move forward seek those who share them. If it’s to be on a team that wins the state championship, seek teammates that foster that same goal. If it’s to attend college and major in a certain subject, seek out those who have done so. If the goal is to start your own company, look at ways in which other entrepreneurs have succeeded (and failed). Learn always.
So what’s next? That’s easy. It’s time to do.
If you do all of the above in Steps 1 and 2 you will be more than capable of fulfilling your mission. If it seems you’ve spent the majority of your time training and planning before you take the actual action you are correct. I’ve worked as a project manager for years, and any one worth their salt will explain to you (as they have to constantly remind their project teams) the bulk of the work on a project’s timeline will be done “up front.” As much as 40-60% of a project is spent in planning and the gathering of requirements before any actual “production” is done. Remember that before you are tempted to run blindly forward, chasing whatever whim or notion presents itself. You will be ready to not only dare to succeed, but to dare to fail. You will be ready to join the ranks of those of whom Teddy Roosevelt was speaking when he said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
In his great little book Minute Meditations, Fr. Moffatt wrote about the instance when the future apostles Andrew and John encountered Jesus for the very first time. Jesus noted their approach and asked the simple question: “What do you seek?” (John 1:38)
What do you seek, kiddos? If such a question were put to you by Jesus at any hour of the day what would be your honest answer?
“What do you seek?” In life as a whole, what is it that you are seeking? For the millions who jostle their way through life that question, if honestly answered, would tell of feverish questing for pleasure and honor and wealth from daybreak till dark, from life’s early morning till the twilight of aging years marks the closing of the journey. And what of yourself?
“What do you seek?” In the details of your daily round of duties–in your thoughts and words and actions, in your joys and sorrows, in your work and play, what are you seeking? Is it God’s greater honor as life’s purpose requires, or your own praise and glory? Trinkets of time or eternal treasures?
Form your conscience. Search your heart. Set goals that will affect eternity. Put a plan into place. Stretch yourself. Take action.
I dare you, my children. I dare you to be great. Great not in the worldly sense of the word. But great in the quiet, humble manner of which the foundations for greatness are set in the Mortar of Truth. Be a great student. Or teammate. Or sibling, son or daughter. Be a great spouse. Parent. Employee or employer. Be a great example. Be a mirror that reflects the Light of Christ, and help lift others through your edification to great heights themselves. I dare you to fail…and to succeed. I dare you to “spend yourself in a worthy cause.”
I dare you.
I love you guys,
©2012 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.