With what force do previous lessons return to me today! How enthusiastic I was once about the daily, practical pursuit of holiness. How I reveled at the beauty and importance of the single day – the idea that one faithful day was of priceless value and that is was precisely the loss of this knowledge amidst cares and concerns that so paralyzed the spiritual journey. How loudly I wanted to speak, nay preach, about the immense value of one day holy. I wanted to write blogs, make videos, teach courses, write books.
Today, as I set out on the ocean that is Scheed’s translation of Augustine’s Confessions, all in a flash I realize the presence of a thought, persistant as a drumbeat, that has been in my head these recent days (weeks, months, years?) – what good is the now?
What good is this action without the surety it will be repeated? What good is today without a plan for tomorrow? What good is this thought or inspiration if it is not remembered? Written down? Communicated? Shared? Recognized and appreciated? (Shown off?)
How long have I been in lost in this thought? How many days have passed by far more quickly than they ought? What an immeasurable loss.
I see now, too, that my old habit of comfort-seeking had returned in a new disguise and has taken me long to unmask. In an earlier stage of life, this vice needed no cover, for it was allowed openly and consciously. My time, I thought, was my own, and after perhaps giving the bare minimum to my duties, I would fill and compose every moment with my whims and desires.
As duties increased, leaving less room for whim and desire to play, I see now that even amongst my duties, amongst the normalities and inanities of domestic life, I fell again into the habit of doing the good I want rather than the good I ought, choosing according to my preference rather than according to what is best. I worked, but first and primarily on the things I enjoyed and which returned quick satisfaction and feedback. I prayed and studied, but only when the need arose and only at times and in manners that pleased me. I loved but only when so doing was pleasant and rewarding.
Day after day I felt more powerless to choose rightly, for I deluded myself into thinking my choices were anything other than according to my own whim.
I see now the full, terrifying truth that Wojtyla discussed in Love and Responsibility. Does man have free will? Only, ultimately, in moral choices. All others will contain all or some part of necessity following from biology, society, desire, etc. Only the moral choice offers man the opportunity to step outside the stream of causes and influences, to choose something, perhaps something unutterably difficult, simply because it is right or because it has been commanded by one who it is right to unconditionally obey.
For a time my adherance even to my simple rule of life faltered. After a time it failed. Days passed and I would enter into daily life running, tripping, but not living, certainly not choosing in any very meaningful sense. Did I fight back against my sloth? Against my descent into the bindings of comfort and pleasure? As the bonds pulled tighter, reinforced by daily practice, I certainly told myself and others that I fought them. But what form did my resistance take? I see so clearly now: I simply moved to different comforts, different pleasures. In every area of my life, I neverthless chose the most desirable rather than the most right.
Even those mornings that would arise early in an effort to recall by imitation my earlier fervor, yet in my heart I only chose what I believed would bring comfort, bring release, bring lightening to my melancholy, bring ease to my conscience. Why was I surprised or disappointed to find that displaced or redirected self-will was still self-will? That a change of setting or content could not change my captive will?
Strange to think that one can, ultimately, only lose one’s free will to one’s self. The more my will has become my own, the more it has waned. The more my will has become my own, the more I have felt at the mercy of my whims, my passing and immediate desires. The more my will has become my own, the more all my best plans, hopes, dreams, resolutions, and promises have slipped from my grasp a moment after their conception. How loose the grasp has become on my very self, my very identity, the more I have practiced a continual and near complete self-willing.
And now here I find myself. Three days ago, in the morning, I arose again, early, determined, so I thought, to make a new start of study, of reflection, of growth, of work. If only I could return to my routine, my plans, my devices, if only I could think for a moment…if only I could work things out in my mind…
And all at once, I hear those soft creaks, those soundless murmers that signal the waking of my family. Oh no! Are my efforts to be frustrated yet again?
On this morning, in a flash, it occurred to me that I had a very simple choice to make before the day proceeded.
I saw that I had been looking at everything through the lense of my desires. All my family duties, spousal interactions, professional responsibilities, academic endeavors, and even my spiritual life, had been begun to be looked at, evaluated, measured, and chosen according to me. It was not that I had ceased doing/choosing good things, but rather that always and everywhere I chose the good things I wanted precisely because I wanted them. It mattered little, after a time, that in many or most cases my choices lined up with the actual good or God’s will.
Thus the subtlest, simplest of choices lay in front of me: obedience to God or obedience to self.
And now with all the prodding the memories and clarities begin to fade. I know simply this: at the moment I realized the bondage of my self-will, I made the simplest, subtlest resolution: I will simply expect, accept, do, and embrace the next right thing. Today will be a day for others and for God. Whenever a choice arises, my standard of evaluation will be thus.
And now how things have fallen, gently, peacfully back into place. All at once, how free, how frighteningly free I feel. Suddenly, with its relinquishment, my will is again mine. My self is again my own, to squander or to lay at the feet of my Lord.
The thought of how easily I have squandered my freedom before haunts me. It is the thought by which I have been recalled to that simple reflection: one day holy, one day holy. I needn’t and mustn’t worry for tomorrow or even tonight, but only for NOW.
I have grace, I have freedom, I have now. I choose the good.
“I will be good though my body be broken!
I will be good though my body be broken!
I will be good, may I want for nothing at all.”