On Obligation versus Obligation

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like “obligation.”  It’s my Asperger.  It’s my Americanism.  It’s my modernism.  But I balk at being required to do something.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of “obligation” and the faith, and I thought I’d look up what the word actually means.  While today it means more a “requirement” or “responsibility,” it originally meant “pledge.”  Before that, it came from a Latin word for “binding.”  In one sense, an “obligation” binds the person to do it, but also binds one party to another.
St. Augustine’s oft-misquoted “dilige et quod vis fac” comes into play here.  “Dilige” is the root word for “delight” or “delicious,” but it’s also the root for “diligence.”  So while St. Augustine is misquoted as saying “Love and do as you will,” with “love” here meaning “follow your delights” (something St. Augustine quite obviously would not endorse), he really means “Love your duty from that that do as you will.”
This is really a functional definition of “obligation.”  It is always an act of love.  Socrates says he accepts the death penalty because he loves Athens too much to be exiled.  The patriot loves his country so much he offers his life in military service, which involves obligations.  The student has an obligation to study, but if she loves learning, the obligation is easier.
I have obligations to my body.  I have had to drastically adjust my diet and lifestyle since epilepsy was added to my list of ailments last month.  Out of love for my family, I fulfill the obligations of my new condition, whether I really desire them or not.
I have obligations to my children.  Some are difficult.  Some are enjoyable, but I do all of them because I love my children.
I have obligations to my wife.  I keep those obligations because I love her.  Some of those obligations are tedious, like chores, while others are more pleasurable.  But they’re still obligations.  One of the things Natural Family Planning teaches about marriage is how to make love when one doesn’t feel like it: it’s an obligation.
Thus, when we speak of obligations in the Church, or even not obligations but “requirements” of devotions, the purpose is not to be legalistic as such: it’s to provide a tried and true guideline for building a relationship with Christ.  Just as hugging and kissing daily strengthen a marriage, so prayer and certain practices strengthen our relationship with God.  Sure, I could skip checking for discount flowers at the grocery store, but when I bring my wife flowers, she feels loved and I grow in love for her from that appreciation.  Sure, I can skip my Rosary, but when I give Jesus and His Mother that spiritual bouquet, they feel loved, and I grow in love for them.
Studies show that married couples should make love at least once a week, on average, to feel happy and fulfilled in their marriages.  That, again, can be an “obligation” if one or both isn’t “in the mood,” or especially if they have to schedule a time, and if legitimate impediments exist, they are usually stressful situations that will either strengthen or weaken the marriage depending on how they’re handled: do the couple turn to each other or away from each other?.
Similarly, frequency of Confession and Communion builds our bonds to Jesus Christ.  It’s an “obligation” because it binds us to Him.  We should receive the Sacraments because we love Jesus.  Sometimes, the experience can be full of spiritual consolation.  Sometimes, it can be dry.  Sometimes, we receive indicators that we need to improve our relationship with Christ.  And as with marriage, when crises, however frequent or infrequent, impede us from coming to Him Sacramentally, do we turn to Him for help or away from Him?

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