Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Musings (vol. 8): Obligation

The word "obligation" carries a negative connotation with it in the modern American usage.  It brings to mind taxes, bills, middle-of-the-night feedings, or other tasks that bring about a groan.  Washing dishes also comes to mind (anybody with me on this?).  

Okay, okay, washing dishes does not technically fall under the proper definition of "obligation" (as in the one I found on the internet):

"noun  1. an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment."

One of the things that irked me when I was learning about the Catholic faith were the Holy Days of Obligation.    

Just so we're clear, a Holy Day of Obligation is a feast day on which Catholics are obligated to go to mass and refrain from any work or activity that hinders the worship owed to God.  An example is the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, or more commonly known as Christmas.

I don't like being told what to do, or that I have to do something.  

Holy Days of Obligation are part of the Sunday obligation (Catholics are obligated to go to mass on Sundays).  There are weekends where we're very busy and I wake up on Sunday not wanting to go to mass.  I groan about having to get myself ready and dress and feed my toddler and get our family to church at a set time, while kicking myself for not packing the diaper bag the night before.  Not to mention toddlers have a knack for pooping as you're about to walk out the door to get to anywhere with a set time (How do they do this?).  I admit, there are Sundays where I make it to mass simply because I'm obligated.  

But, there are Sundays where I make it to mass despite the hinderances because I love God and I yearn to please Him.  I'm free from the obligation because I'm doing it for the relationship.  

I dug a little deeper into the word "obligation".  Since the 1560's, the main modern meaning of the word "oblige" is "to make (someone) indebted by conferring a benefit or kindness"

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only son, so that everyone that believes in him, might not perish but might have eternal life."  John 3:16

I'd say that God has conferred a great kindness upon me, and that I'm indebted to Him.  

I still groan sometimes about getting to mass on Holy Days of Obligation, and those are the days that the obligation feels like a heavy weight.  And I use to argue that those days had no meaning.  That there was no meaning in me simply going out of obligation, going through the motions; that it was all just ritualistic (as if rituals are a bad thing, a topic for another day).  But there is meaning.  And usually, it is those days that I need to go the most.  That my heart and attitude clearly need adjustment, and when I "just show up", God always meets me where I am.

There are some days where just showing up is all I can muster.  But what I've learned is that the just showing up can be the most important choice of my day.  And it is a choice.  While I am morally obligated to get to mass if I am able, no one is holding a gun to my head forcing me to go.  It is still my choice whether or not I go.  And although it is small, and God deserves better, it is in that small choice to just show up, that I'm saying "yes" to God.  And He can use that.  In even the smallest of ways I'm choosing to turn my heart to God when I could have said no to Him and just stayed in bed.

And I continue going through the motions until I get to those days when I go out of love, out of my relationship with God, out of gratefulness for what my Lord has done for me.  And I do not bear the weight of the obligation.  In fact, I am thankful for it.

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