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Now Reading: A Vow of Stability: A Call to Commitment in an Age of Choice

A Vow of Stability: A Call to Commitment in an Age of Choice

Recently, while traveling for business, I was tired after a long day and so began scrolling through the channels on the hotel television. Because there was next to nothing worth watching on the hundreds of channels available, I finally settled on a mildly interesting house hunting show.

If you haven’t seen this kind of show, the basic premise is that couples from different walks of life set out looking for the perfect home with a limited budget (which is hardly ever respected) and must choose between several options, each with its own drawbacks and benefits.

Inevitably, the protagonists end up gleefully choosing the home that grossly exceeds their budget because it offers the least number of compromises. I always wonder how giddy they are after a few mortgage payments.

My point here is not to discuss the merits of house hunting TV shows. But it did occur to me that house hunting is very much a metaphor for the modern lifestyle that sees nearly everything in terms of a choice between competing options.

The Religion of Choice

In nearly every aspect of modern existence, we have a smorgasbord, a veritably unlimited menu, of options from which to choose—everything from what we wear, to what we eat, to where we live, to where and how and what we worship.

We have more options to choose from than any other people group at any other time in the history of humanity. And this fact defines our way of life. Consciously or unconsciously, we are little more than consumers in an vast mall of choices. Shopping is the religion of modernity.

At first glance, this nearly unlimited choice should guarantee our happiness. It should be a tremendous boon. After all, if at any point we are ever unhappy, we need simply reexamine the menu of choices and choose the option that will meet our needs.

This is the promise of consumerism. This is the fundamental dogma of the religion of autonomy and self-actualization. The better option, the right option for you, is just around the corner. It is just another choice away.

The Paradox of Choice

The truth is quite the opposite in reality. For the paradox of choice is that it always leaves us unhappy. The more choices we have, the more dissatisfied we become. And so if we are unhappy, it must be our own fault. We must simply have chosen the wrong option and need only return again to the metaphorical marketplace and find the one that’s right for us.

So we sell the house that has a kitchen that is too small or a yard that is too cramped. We switch jobs if we don’t like our boss or find the work monotonous. And taken even further, we divorce the wife who no longer measures up (I recently saw a sign advertising cheap divorce, a product like anything else). There is always a better option, we are told. We just have to find it.

Consumerism then becomes an itch that must be scratched. It is a canker that is never soothed. It steals any real happiness from us so it can be sold back to us—at a profit, of course.

Commitment and Love

But there is a deeper problem with the culture of choice: It creates a climate that makes it nearly impossible for authentic love to grow. Because we never commit to anything, we never learn to love anything.

For love always involves sacrifice. It will always hurt and cost us in one way or another. And by love, I do not mean spousal love necessarily, though this is of course involved. I mean love for a vocation, for a family, for a place, for a community, or even for a home.

As consumers catechized by our culture to believe unhappiness can be solved by shopping, we are always running away from discomfort in search of the mythical better choice. We are constantly fleeing the pain that comes with investing ourselves in places or things. And so we never learn to love and never experience the joy and lasting fruit that commitment brings. We remain instead rootless, restless, displaced, and dissatisfied.

A Call to Stability

What to do? The only solution to the consumeristic trap is to consciously choose limitation. The only way out is to reject the menu of choices and choose stability. It is the only way to learn virtue. It is the only way to learn to love.

That is not to deny that God sometimes calls us to move or to change jobs or to change our circumstances in one way or another. It is indeed necessary at times, and sometimes more frequently than we wish. But I firmly believe that, more often than not, the opposite is true. I believe that God more frequently asks us to commit and to invest ourselves in people and in a place and to put down roots. But we are too restless and agitated to listen.

So Catholic men, I challenge you to commit. I challenge you to find a woman and love her till the day you die. To find a place to call home and if at all possible love it and raise your children in it and fill it with the warmth of memories. To choose a vocation and grow in it until you are a craftsman who glorifies God with his labor. To invest in the place to which God has called you, even at cost to yourself. To choose the demands of love and experience the joy that it brings.

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Sam Guzman

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25 People Replies to “A Vow of Stability: A Call to Commitment in an Age of Choice”

  1. Shannon

    I think he is saying that sometimes change is good and necessary, but in today’s culture too many people seek change merely for the sake of change and “keeping up with the Joneses”. Make changes if something is truly in need of change, but also know when to be content and when to commit through good times and bad.

  2. Larry

    Well the author isn’t replying to the comments (he usually doesn’t), so maybe we will never know his motivation for writing this piece.

    There are a number of sites and blogs touting an off-the-grid lifestyle including home-schooling, not allowing women to attend college, avoiding processed foods and other practices, with the implication that this stuff represents a more authentic level of Christianity or Catholicism. I hope the author hasn’t fallen under that spell.

  3. Andrew A

    “The author encourages his readers to stay firmly in their rut in life and not seek out a better life. But he retains the right to uproot his family and move them to the backwoods of the Ozarks in search of…”

    Maybe he regrets doing it? It happens. Sometimes people learn wonderful things from their mistakes.

    I have lived in the same city and the same general urban part of that city for 42 of my 45 years. Most family and relatives live within walking distance or a short drive. I consider myself very lucky. The irony is that stability enables one to travel more and to appreciate other places and other people in ways that less rooted people can not.

    Two years ago while travelling abroad, I noticed a particular neighborhood had an unusually large number of churches in honor of St Anthony and St Benedict. I commented, “The people here seem very concerned about stopping the Devil and avoiding evil influences.” Our traveling companions/guides, who were much more seasoned travelers and knew the area much better than us, were astonished as though I were psychic or something. They continued to seem amazed even after I explained how I arrived at this conclusion. Just one example.

    Stability and self-restraint allow one the freedom to observe, think, learn, and find meaning and order in a world that otherwise seems chaotic.

  4. Larry

    The author encourages his readers to stay firmly in their rut in life and not seek out a better life. But he retains the right to uproot his family and move them to the backwoods of the Ozarks in search of… of… well, I guess I don’t quite know what. Do they still take pictures in black-and-white there? I really don’t understand.

  5. Mike Martos

    The world has become slaves to their lives with their never ending pursuit of immediate gratification which does not last much longer than getting there. The life of a christian is one of sacrifice, humility, and charity. Not easy, but we must take baby steps each and everyday and continuously ask ourselves what would Jesus do in the given situation we encounter. The message of Fatima is more important today than ever, penance and prayer. With all the choices today, we have no time for God anymore. What a difference it would make if we would put down the clicker and pick up the rosary.

  6. taty

    So great to have found this online community and learn from.
    Such a powerful insight from the author,we are called for change.
    Will we respond?

  7. Larry

    Everyone reading this article should be grateful that their ancestors would have rejected the attitude of this article almost completely. If not, then most of us would be stuck somewhere in Europe or Asia or who-knows-where, stuck in the life of a peasant farmer or a serf or who-knows-what.

    Thank God for our ancestors who saw the innate value of aspiring to a better life and refused to accept the “limitations” that their society attempted to impose on them. That should be our goal too. “Consciously choose limitation” ?? You can’t be serious.

    1. Andrew A

      “Thank God for our ancestors who saw the innate value of aspiring to a better life and refused to accept the “limitations” that their society attempted to impose on them. ”

      My ancestors did not choose a better life, they were forced off their land and orchards by war. They would not have immigrated to America if they could have kept half their property. It is difficult to comprehend the physical, cultural, and psychological dislocation they suffered. In their homeland, they had been pillars of their community, but in America they were nothing more than cheap labor for more than a generation.

      If you research the origins of the modern world, you will find that everywhere the “better life” is rooted in faith, stability, and self-restraint. Ironically those who “consciously choose limitation” tend to be the happiest, the wealthiest, and the most productive people, not those whose vital energies and moneys are wasted in fruitless conflicts, endless wandering, and vain pursuits.

      1. Indeed we often forget that the majority of immigrants don’t move simply because the horizons are greener elsewhere. Rather, their backs are up against the wall where they are.

        This is true in more than one fashion. Sometimes its economic. Sometimes its literal. And sometimes its societal. But rarely do average people choose to move simply because the opportunities elsewhere are better.

        Indeed, as part of that, reverse migration is incredibly common. With some populations that have (and continue) to enter the US, the immigration is temporary if they can make it so. This was particularly true of Greek immigrants, and even today quite a few Greek families retain landed connections with Greece decades after having immigrated.

    2. I don’t think that was the intent of the author.

      Indeed, I think the examples of our ancestors might actually prove the point of the article.

      Modern life is often extremely rootless and superficial. Our immigrant fathers and mothers, like immigrants now, are often quite the opposite. People migrated not only for better opportunities for themselves but their entire families on many occasions, even if that only meant sending money back home.

      Put another way, there’s quite a difference in moving families from Ireland to Quebec to make a better go of it (or just not starve), or from Germany to Iowa to find a job in a community you can sort of recognize but where there are better chances, as opposed to moving from one city to another chasing the dollar because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Prior generations of immigrants still retained a high sense of duty on many occasions to family and Faith, and were not abandoning them so much as planting them elsewhere and lamenting the loss of connections where it occurred. Now a lot of American rootlessness is just because we’re in pursuit of a “career”, and anything that doesn’t suit that, place or people, are disposable.

      As part of that, I’d note, I’m always somewhat amazed by people who work their whole lives in one place and then retire to another. It’s odd to think of retiring to a place that you didn’t live and work in, and aren’t part of, and which may not particularly value you for that matter.

  8. I’m reminded of Sister Lucia regarding (post Fatima) apparitions of Our Lord, in which he explained to her: “”The sacrifice required of every person is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of My law. This is the penance that I now seek and require.”

    I’m just saying here I’m reminded of this, not that I’m drawing a direct connection to the entry above.

  9. This recalls, in a way, Wendell Berry’s “Becoming Native To This Place”. Berry, a Protestant and an agrarian had a deep sense that people lost by not becoming deeply attached to a place. I’ve often thought that as well. Indeed, I’ve sometimes wondered if all places suffer from our current nomadism as people do not stay long enough, and indeed “long enough” is most of a lifetime, to really learn the best and worst of a place.

  10. Andrew A

    “Inevitably, the protagonists end up gleefully choosing the home that grossly exceeds their budget because it offers the least number of compromises.”

    There is something wickedly evil every time a young couple gleefully exceeds their budget in exchange for the “least number of compromises”. I can almost hear the Devil laughing in the background.

    I remember making the last mortgage payment on our property 3 months before my 40th birthday after 13 years of mortgage slavery. What a relief, a joy and pleasure! We could start living again, travelling again, going on vacations, not living in fear of every economic downturn, not fighting over money, we could enjoy life, and be more generous with other people.

    My wife sometimes subtly hints at trading in our current house for a better one and going into debt again to finance the difference. I subtly hint that if I were that type of man, I might also want to trade in my current wife for a better one. Stability comes from working within one’s current choices rather than constantly making new ones.

    1. “We could start living again, travelling again, going on vacations, not living in fear of every economic downturn, not fighting over money, we could enjoy life, and be more generous with other people.”

      To add to that, I know that I had a sense of relief that if something really bad happened, we’d still have our home. Our income wouldn’t have to be based on paying for a house we were buying as we now owned it.

      I’m often stunned to see people keep entering into mortgages that commit into their retirement years. Even getting a typical mortgage at age 40 means that if you pay through the full term you’ll be 70 when you finally pay it off.

  11. Brian

    Very good post. I agree. The endless options on EVERYTHING makes us much worse. Even Catholic dating sites are essentially meat markets.

  12. Amanda

    Wow. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight. The words in your blog that spoke to me the most were:

    “The only way out is to reject the menu of choices and choose stability. It is the only way to learn virtue. It is the only way to learn to love.”

    This, I believe is my favorite blog and I love all your blogs.

  13. Most Roman Catholics-and others-have made our vow of stability in the Sacrament of Marriage. Trappist monks take a Vow of Stability to live and die in a particular monastery, usually the monastery of their profession.

  14. “Inevitably, the protagonists end up gleefully choosing the home that grossly exceeds their budget because it offers the least number of compromises. I always wonder how giddy they are after a few mortgage payments.”

    You and me both.

    My wife loves those shows, but I always end up irritating her by asking “what do these people do for a living”? They must be sinking every dime, every future dime, and pennies from the bottom of the swimming pool into their house.

  15. Brilliant. Stability and commitment are the only path to greatness in any endeavor, whether sports, education, relationships or faith.

  16. Beginning in the mid-1960s, but prior to the massive collapse that parishes have experienced over the past several decades, this menu of consumer choices greatly infected the Catholic Church, as well. A typical parish would have the Mass for children at 8:30, the Folk Mass at 10:00, the Adult Choir Mass at Noon, etc. I recall in the early 1970s some parishes even had a “Jesus Christ Super Star/Godspell Mass” on Saturday evenings—with music exclusively from those two musicals. When I was a child, one felt duty-bound to attend one’s geographical parish: at least that was the case here in the USA. A typical Catholic parish had several identical Low Latin Masses about an hour apart, with the High Mass as the last Mass of the morning. In most parishes the music at High Mass usually was rather terrible, so at least that’s something that hasn’t changed! On a more positive note, I see a growing interest in restoring the sacred at Mass and a sense of “stable community” in parishes: a movement that largely is being led by laity. Unfortunately, because such parishes remain in the minority, those who seek reverent liturgy and Catholic “fellowship” often must “shop” for such a parish—and be willing to travel a distance to join such a parish community. After hearing several heretical homilies at our geographical parish, my wife & I now travel 35 minutes to attend a parish that’s in a different diocese; one family that recently joined our parish travels 90 minutes each way to attend Mass. We recently purchased plots in the parish’s cemetery—so I suppose that might be considered the ultimate stability!

    1. “I see a growing interest in restoring the sacred at Mass and a sense of “stable community” in parishes: a movement that largely is being led by laity.”

      Not only by the laity, but at least by my observation, the young laity.

      This is, I think, something that’s been missed (although it was oddly picked up in the television dram “The Young Pope”. The young are rebelliously orthodox. In polls it is they who lean towards the traditional.

      Indeed, it’s interesting to observe if you attend a parish that has a mix of young and old. The old hippy boomers are the ones who think we need a guitar Mass, to modify the church, etc. while the young want authentic church music and a traditional Mass.

      1. “Not only by the laity, but at least by my observation, the young laity.” Yes, that also is MY observation. My wife & I actually attend a Sunday morning Solemn Traditional Latin Mass–the only such scheduled on Sunday MORNING in the state of Connecticut–and a large percentage of the congregation consists of young adults and young families with children. This is an urban, ordinary-sized diocesan parish, at which the other Sunday morning/Saturday evening Masses are the 1969 “Ordinary Form”.

  17. Christopher Freeman

    You expressed something I’ve been thinking for a while. We’re always looking for what will make us happy next.

  18. Bob

    Benedictine Spirituality.


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