Commitment always brings suffering. Even on a small scale, we see it in the fact that accepting an invitation to something on a Saturday night means having to say “no” if a better invitation happens to come along. On a larger scale, it’s seen in the decision to be a father when it means giving of one’s time and living for another and when it brings suffering as the child makes choices on her own, even at the expense of her own happiness. Again, professing the faith gives a dreaded “label” that may cause ridicule. Entering into marriage means dying to one’s own will, inflated self-concept and pride and going through the painful process of becoming one in heart, will and mind with another person. Answering the call to the priesthood or consecrated life means sometimes feeling forgotten, taken for granted or rejected by those who are tired of hearing what they have never heard. Many different experiences underline this truth.
Commitment always brings suffering. Perhaps this is the reason that commitment is becoming increasingly rare: invitations are accepted with a halfhearted “maybe,” marriage is shelved for the sake of a supposed freedom in the relationship, fathers choose to be friends to their friends instead of fathers to their children, the faith is rarely professed in all its fullness (and therefore lacks its coherence and beauty), we shrink away from those who request our help because of the added responsibility, and there is what we like to call a “crisis” of vocations in the Church.
As our society increasingly defines happiness as comfort, it isn’t any wonder why this is the case. When comfort becomes the goal of life, the things that truly enrich our lives are never experienced because the discomfort of risking them overwhelms us. Commitment always means giving ourselves away to a greater or lesser extent; and the gift of oneself to another makes a person vulnerable, dependent and limited – in a word, uncomfortable.
The problem is that we’ve got it wrong: comfort and the invulnerability of our ego aren’t the purpose of our lives. Forgotten are the joy and fullness of life that are experienced in commitment, in giving ourselves away and even after the suffering and discomfort it brings. Indeed, we’ve averted our gaze from the reality that, in a world affected by sin, the fullness of life is discovered only through suffering for what is true, good and beautiful.
The glory of the Resurrection proclaims this truth most fully to our lives. At the very beginning of the narrative that would end in Jesus’ death, St. John describes the committed love of the heart of Christ: Now…when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1). The “end” that John refers turns out to be death on the Cross: [Jesus] said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).
The words “end” and “finished” that St. John uses in Greek both have the same root word, forming an intentional literary connection between them: the Cross is the ultimate extent to which the committed heart of Christ was willing to go. Indeed, the Cross stands as the fullest image of committed love: Jesus not only gave of himself, he gave himself completely.
And what is the result? In a word, life. The Resurrection of the Lord stands as an everlasting promise that the suffering that comes from handing oneself over in an act of commitment is not the last word. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).
On the natural level, much is gained and a newfound joy is discovered in a life of commitment – think, for example, of the joys of marriage: entering into relationship with another, unfolding the deepest and most intimate sharing of human love, the gift of life in the family, learning to love authentically, the joy of forming one’s children, having a family to fight for, and later, grandchildren. Despite the suffering that commitment brings, the cost of our freedom is more than refunded by the natural benefits.
However, the Resurrection raises the natural “fruit” that is born of commitment to another plane. On the supernatural level, commitment becomes the only way that the life of Christ can be formed in a soul. Only by giving oneself away in love does a person begin to love like Jesus (John 15:12-13), only in the gift of self does he truly find himself (Gaudium et Spes 24.3), only then does he experience the resurrected life of Christ in his own body (2 Cor 4:10). The Resurrection proclaims that death leads to life – to the fullness of life that is otherwise untapped.
In fact, the only true death and lasting sadness are found in the opposite: refusing to give oneself away. We flee commitment as a means of fleeing suffering and insulate ourselves from having to give of ourselves. The ideal becomes a life of egoism – how prevalent it is, yet how little it is seen for what it is! It is the life that never learns to love because it is incapable of giving itself away – the brutally ironic pursuit to find life that ends in losing it, for whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:25).
Brothers, as we glory in the Lord’s Resurrection, it remains for us to experience its effects in our own lives by the gift of self that commitment demands. What a beautiful encouragement, then, to marry the girl, to become a true father, to empty yourself in your vocation, to claim the faith, to answer the call, to give of your time, to live the committed love of Christ. For only then can the victory of the Resurrection – the victory of committed love – take root in you.