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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Theology

The value of commitment

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:34:00 +0000 Posted in Religion Confidential

Pope Francis writes that "to commit oneself to another in an exclusive and definitive way always involves a certain amount of risk and daring". He adds that the refusal to assume this commitment has a certain self-interested selfishness, fails to recognize the rights of the other and fails to present him or her to society as worthy of being loved unconditionally (cf. exhortation Amoris laetitia, n. 132).

Situated between the synods on the family and the synod on youth, commitment is a bridge topic worth considering. We begin by looking at the cultural environment of commitment and examine its anthropological meaning. We then look at the biblical and Christian content of this value. Finally, we show some characteristics of the commitment proper to the vocation to form a marriage and a family.

1. We find ourselves in a culture that withdraws young people from commitment. Among others, the following factors have been pointed out: problems of subject economic, work or study; influence of ideologies that devalue marriage and the family; experience of the failure of other couples; fear of something very high or sacred; social opportunities and economic advantages derived from simply living together as a couple; a merely emotional and romantic conception of love; fear of losing freedom and independence; rejection of the institutional and bureaucratic (cf. Ibid. n. 40).

2. Given this status, it is worth asking whether the commitment or promise has a value in itself or not; whether it is "worthwhile" or not because it is useless or utopian, for example. In this regard, some observations of Hanna Arendt, professor of Ethics, who died in 1975, are enlightening, in the framework of her Philosophy of action.

According to this philosopher of Jewish origin, human action avoids the apparent meaninglessness of the human dynamic towards death. Human action is capable of creating new processes, among other things, thanks to promise and forgiveness. For both Nietzsche and Arendt the promise is "report of the will". But while Nietzsche defends an irresponsible and autonomous subject capable of forgetting and destroying promises, Arendt underlines the value of the promise as tool of responsibility that makes us freer.

As H. Arendt explains, the promise is able to channel the unpredictable consequences of action, controlling them by the power of the will. The power to make promises and to keep them makes us stronger and more open, able to go out to meeting for truth, goodness and beauty. So it is, one might conclude, and that is a good reason why commitment has the capacity to transform the world. The promise is related to forgiveness, which is the power to allow another to begin again to redo what has been walked. Those who pledge and forgive can change the world.

3. How does this value of promise or commitment look in the biblical and Christian perspective? If we examine the Bible we find that the living God is the one who goes ahead in the commitment with man. This is especially evident from Abraham and the covenant with the "people of the promises", Israel, to whom he offers innumerable descendants, a splendid land, a kingdom of peace and justice. We see how God's promises are revealed and discovered also through human love between man and woman, so that "marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of God's relationship with his people and, vice versa, God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love" (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, n. 11).

The promise of happiness that opens up in all human love requires that eros (possessive love) accepts to be elevated by agape (self-giving love). Now, this can only be fully achieved by participating in the love of Jesus, in whom the divine promises are fulfilled. And so the marriage bed can be transformed into an altar where true worship of God is given and Christian service to others is rooted in the core of married and family love. The Church, the mystical body of Christ, is the family that is the depository of the divine promises for each person and for all humanity.

4. Christian commitment, as a response to the divine promises, is characterized by creative fidelity, with the financial aid of the grace of God that precedes us, and is manifested in marriage with the notes of exclusivity, permanence and openness to fruitfulness. Commitment is sample in the life of Christians through generosity in the service of others to the point of heroism, so often silent and discreet in ordinary life.

Certainly, Christian marriage implies a high level of commitment, public and all-encompassing. As Cardinal Ch. Schönborn points out, marriage is demanding, but full of joy. It is in line with Christian commitment to the poorest, weakest and neediest, and also with commitment in the cultural and socio-political spheres, in order to transform society with Christian criteria as an offer of peace and justice, at the service of the common good.

All this can be symbolized by four words, three of which are developed in the exhortation Amoris laetitia: beauty, exigency, joy. Of the fourth, madness, anyone who has truly loved has experience; for there is no such love without a hint of that madness proper to gratuitousness, as Francis explained in his homily at the opening of the second synod on the family: "Only in the light of the madness of the gratuitousness of the paschal love of Jesus will the madness of the gratuitousness of a unique conjugal love, usque ad mortem, be comprehensible" (Oct. 4, 2015).

Indeed, only a true love, that is to say, gratuitous and ready to give and sacrifice itself for the other and for the common project , beyond rationalistic or pragmatic calculations, and capable of going beyond a mere conviction or legal rule , is the one that overcomes selfishness and fear in the face of commitment.