Back in the 90’s, when I was young, I liked a particular female rock singer. She of course had a song bitterly excoriating her boyfriend who had left her for another woman. She sang, “And does she know how you told me you’d hold me until you died? But you’re still alive.”
The father in the parable we read at Sunday Mass might have his own version of this song, in which he would sing to his second son, “Son, don’t you know that you told me you’d work in my vineyard today? But you’re still in your room.”
Let your Yes mean yes—anything else is from the evil one, saith the Lord. Eager and well-meaning people can get themselves into a lot of trouble by making beautiful promises, and then not keeping them.
Next month our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will meet in Synod with bishops, theologians, and married people from all over the world. At this Sunday’s Mass we pray especially for the success of the Synod. The Synod will discuss marriage and family life in our times, the age of the New Evangelization.
I bring it up because a marriage, of course, involves the consummate example of promise-making. Certain sections of the Catholic press quiver these days with speculations about what the upcoming Synod will say regarding second marriages. Will the Synod approve divorce and re-marriage?
To my mind, these kinds of speculations try to focus the spotlight somewhere it doesn’t belong. Bishops, priests, and Roman Synods do not administer the sacrament of marriage. A man and a woman minister the sacrament to each other. And they do so by freely making a promise of commitment until death.
Can anybody tell me the first of the four cardinal virtues? The virtue that guides us in our entire moral life? Thank you: Prudence.
“I know people make promises all the time, then they turn around and break them.” Who sings that one? Yes: Justin Timberlake.
They do. Break them. A holy promise can make a day beautiful. But, then, when the promise gets broken…
What, then, can help us to make only promises that we can keep? That great neglected virtue of the 21st century. Prudence.
Holy Mary, virgin most prudent—pray for us.
“A prudent person is one who sees, as it were, from afar, for his sight is keen, and he foresees the event of uncertainties.” Quoting a medieval saint here.
This human virtue has fallen into neglect, because we live in the Age of Emotion. These days, someone is good if he or she is ‘passionate.’ “Oh, yeah! He’s really passionate about that!” “It was awesome! He gave a passionate testimony!”
Reality, however, gives the lie to the idea that passion is the greatest thing. Passion may be good or bad. The fighters of the Islamic State have plenty of passion–passionate about their beliefs–passionately pursuing their goals. And passionately robbing, enslaving, torturing, and killing innocent people.
Ready for a doozy? Passion is the enemy of prudence. Passion can help us be virtuous. But passion can also hurt us very badly, hurtling us headlong in the wrong direction. A prudent person must take counsel—that is, seek advice and listen to it carefully. A prudent person gives the truth every opportunity to overcome whatever emotions I might feel right now.
“But mom, I love him!”
“Yes, honey. But you just met him earlier this summer.”
“But it’s true love!”
“Okay, honey. But think about this. You got accepted to Harvard on a full scholarship. And he never finished high school.”
“What does that matter?! We love each other!”
“Yes, honey. But he just got fired from his job at the garage because he tried to bolt someone’s tires onto the wheel hubs with ball bearings from the broken Shop-Vac in the bathroom closet.”
“But he says he will love me forever!”
“Sure, honey. But he’s already been married twice. And the second time was to his first cousin. And he has an arrest warrant in Tennessee for delinquent child-support payments.”
“But he said he’d give me a church wedding, if I want one.”
“Yes, honey. But he does not share our faith. He points to his red-Solo-cup tattoo and says, ‘Toby Keith’s the only Savior I need!’”
…I am young enough to have grown up in a world of divorce. And I am old enough that now I have plenty of divorced friends. My young heart got broken by my parents’ un-kept marital promises. And now I am old enough to understand that those promises had been imprudently made in the first place.
Let’s be the people whose Yes means yes. Which means being people who mortify our passions and live prudently.