“Remaining” is an essential part… What the Church Fathers call perseverantia–patient steadfastness in communion with the Lord amid all the vicissitudes of life–is placed center stage here. Initial enthusiasm is easy. Afterward, though, it is time to stand firm, even along the monotonous desert paths that we are called upon to traverse in this life–with the patience it takes to tread evenly, a patience in which the romanticism of the initial awakening subsides, so that only the deep, pure Yes of faith remains. This is the way to produce good wine.
→ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Now, Pope Benedict XVI) - Jesus of Nazareth (2007)
Pope Benedict must know me very well, indeed. The lustful exhuberance with which I jump into things inevitably fades and I’m left with the dreary dolldrums of day to day life again. What lasts in the face of that? For years my technique has been to start as many projects as possible knowing that most will be thrown to the wayside after a few days, a week, maybe a month if I’m lucky. But the hope was that with many tries, some would occasionally stick and become a part of me. They would weasel their way into my life and become a normal thing, something I didn’t have to think about. The worst part is, it works.
I can think back on all the ridiculous projects I’ve started and stopped before they had even really begun, and interspersed among them are little gems that I still follow through with today. These rare pieces of my life give me a hope that more will come and that I’ll find life fulfilling in this way. The little choices that stick, like spaghetti dripping down the wall, become my life. When I think about it directly, though, it depresses me.
Why is it that I can be so accepting of so much failure. Yes, it is a failure each and every time, if of nothing else than my own will power to stay on task. I certainly ask to much of myself, but that is not an excuse; it is more of a second issue to address. Every time I stop writing my novel, or fail to do a lesson in my Italian book, or skip a trip to the gym, or put off building my next portfolio site, or any number of other little jobs I’ve assigned myself, I have failed. I have watched the initial enthusiasm fade away and lost the patience to measure each day in the desert so that I could complete the journey. Certainly, some of the tasks are no big loss in the grand scheme of things, but that also isn’t the point. The point is my lack of perseverantia. And the real fear is will this lacking in myself also rear its head in my religious life.
I can accept the many little daily failures because they don’t mean so much to me. If I go to the grave having never learned to properly speak a foreign language, it won’t be the symbol of my total failure in life. If, however, I try–if I pursue that call that comes from outside myself and my own weakness of character and will keeps me from fulfilling my duty, I don’t know that I would be able to forgive myself. I would hope that my investment of soul, energy, and love would carry it through the difficult days, but my little testing attempts have not gone well.
I try very hard to pray daily, whether it is the Divine Office, a Rosary, reading the daily mass, or at the very least well intentioned prayers of reverence and hope for friends and family. Even with this simple task I look back at the months gone by and see long stretches of time that are empty of any spiritual life. I try to tell myself that living a full life with others around who are living as I know I should will help me stay on task, but how can I know? Is this another step in faith, to trust that I’ll find the spirit to carry on as the Pope says? Most likely, but it is still frightening.
There’s so much I want from life, and there’s so much I know I should be doing. These two things are not always the same list, but in the case of religious life, I think they are. I just wish I wasn’t so terrified of failure. I suppose it does at least prove its worth to me, though.
Pope Benedict says that this sense of perserverence of faith comes from being one in essence with Jesus in all of the little ways he taught us. As it says in the Gospel of Thomas, “Whoever drinks from my mouth shall become as I am.” It carries the same message of John’s Gospel that while Christ is the vine, we are connected to it, one with it and him. Though he doesn’t use St. Paul’s “Body of Christ” terminology, the metaphor is obvious. By being one in the body with him, as a Church, we find the strength of God in ourselves, through the Holy Spirit. But I don’t want to get preachy here. I suppose my point is that it all makes sense both logically and in the numious way that God can’t make sense.
I guess it all comes down to choice. God, like any human father, asks things of us, but he gave us the power to say no if we want. We can live out our lives ignoring what he asks of us. We can live for ourselves and for the riches and treasures we can scoop together in our brief time here. We can put our value in life itself and seek to extend it as long as possible and experience as much of the world as we can. We can enjoy all the pleasures granted to us; but in the end, when God looks at his vine and calls on his servants to give up to him what is his, what he allows us to tend to and care for, what type of wine will we offer him?