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Human Commitment as a Religious Experience

By Michael Moga, S.J.


(The task of this essay is threefold. First it analyzes the character of human commitment
to understand how it is a distinctive level of human existence. Secondly it points out the
elements of commitment in the experience which may be characterized as religious.
Finally it describes the nature of God as He is revealed in this experience.- This italized
summary is supplied by Winifredo Nierras, Theology Teacher of Ateneo de Davao
University, Davao City Philippines)
It is impossible to limit the extent of the experience of God in human life. Man
may experience religion when caught up in a liturgical ceremony, at moments of crisis
when seized by fear and the sense of his own weakness or when deeply impressed by a
realization of a moral obligation. An experience or religious depth can also be found in
normal human involvement. We well call this type of involvement a commitment, an act
where man has given himself to another person or to some human activity or project.
Such a sphere of human life is not normally considered pious or religious and yet there
is a dimension to the experience of commitment which is profoundly religious.
The Nature of Commitment
Commitment demands a very concrete involvement. It goes beyond mere talk
and ideas. A man may spend hours and hours speaking of his desire to serve the people
or his love of humanity but until he actually serves or loves concrete people there is no
possibility of commitment. To fall in love with love, to be filled with respect for the medical
profession, to have compassion for the underprivileged, to be interested in science are
all commendable human sentiments but they are not committed actions. Commitment
demands a concrete expression. It is only when you give your future to a person in
marriage, when you work as a doctor or nurse, when your actually give your life serving
the underprivileged or when you spend hours in a laboratory that commitment is present.
Commitment involves a response to a transcendental call. It goes beyond the
satisfaction of personal needs. If a man is committed to his wife or family he is not just
seeking his own satisfaction or pleasure. He may be attracted to his wife and family, they
may satisfy many of his needs: for sex, for security, for comfort, for respect. But his
commitment goes beyond these satisfactions and the proof of this is that even when
these satisfactions are absent or frustrated the truly committed father remains true to his
family. He is answering a call that is more than a personal need.
In the same way commitment goes beyond the practical demands of a situation.
Man needs to earn money to live and practicality demands that his job furnish whatever
he and his family need. Yet the man who is committed sees more in his job than just its
earning power. He may, for instance, be involved in a craft or trade in which he is
dedicated to excellence. He takes pride in bringing forth a product which possesses
excellence. To make a well-constructed chair, to teach a good class, to perform a
successful operation, to bring out a well-written newspaper, to plow and to plant a field
with care, all of these human actions have value in themselves even apart from any
practical benefits they may bring. The committed person lives in this world beyond

practicality where persons and projects are valued for their own sakes.
Similarly a committed person aims at something more than the satisfaction of
obligations or the fulfillment of a duty. His dedication to his work and his fidelity to his
wife are more than responses to social pressure or fulfillment of social and religious
laws. He loves and is dedicated because of the intrinsic value that he finds in such living.
He lives beyond the extrinsic requirements of society and law.
In all true commitment there is a self-forgetfulness. A man loses himself in the
object of his dedication. If he gives himself to his family the object of his concern is the
welfare of his family. If he immerses himself in a profession, trade or career his efforts
are pointed toward the excellence of that work. He forgets himself and his own
satisfaction in order to build a good chair or to perform a successful operation. He losses
himself in something bigger than himself, a group of people or an activity, and becomes
identified with it. Form this it is evident that there can be no true Commitment to ones
own self. Commitment always points beyond the narrow self toward a larger reality.
It is in this loss of self that the risk of commitment is found. Man feels fear in the
face of a possible dedication such as marriage or a future career since he knows that he
will lose control of his future in such a commitment. What he is in the future will be
determined by the object of his dedication. A man lets himself be molded as a doctor,
teacher, husband or priest. His very being will be affected and changed by his wife or
career, changes over which he will have little power. Commitment involves this risk.
There is an unconditional character to any commitment. When man dedicates
himself he does so no matter what happens .There are, of course, degrees to this
unconditionality since some dedicated acts are more qualified than others. A
commitment to friendship is generally less unconditional than a commitment to marriage.
The marriage partners give themselves to live with one another, to love one another and
to be faithful until death. They bind themselves to love even if this love brings pain, even
if their marriage is a failure, even if their marriage partner proves unfaithful. In a similar
manner the man who dedicates himself to a cause, career or profession accepts in
advance whatever may happen to him in that dedication: success or failure, poverty or
riches, fame or obscurity. His commitment is like writing a blank check which will only be
filled in with the passage of time. He gives himself unconditionally.
Finally, commitment entails a rising above time. Man changes physically through
time, his feelings necessarily change. In commitment, man promises to be faithful to a
person or to a career despite these changes. A dedicated writer continues developing his
craft through long years of failure. A dedicated husband is faithful to his wife even after
the physical attraction has gone. A dedicated soldier fights on in defeat as well as in
victory. The committed man thus lives on a level that is somehow above the changes of
time.
Commitment as a Religious Act
After examining the basic characteristics of commitment it is necessary how to
turn our attention to the question of the religious character of a life of commitment. It is
easy to see that such activity is somehow special and rare, a type of human living which

is deeper than the ordinary. But why should we call it a religious act?
The Religious character of Commitment is shown in its source. The act of
commitment comes from beyond the person and the human sphere. The inspiration to
become dedicated to some person or profession does not come from an idea in my mind
or from the practical needs of a situation. You cannot think yourself into a deep and
permanent love for a person. Nor can you create such love by the mere power of an act
of the will. Man is in the position of having to wait for such an inspiration. Only when it is
offered to him from outside can he live in it and make it part of his life. Similarly the
dedication to a trade or profession requires a more profound inspiration than an act of
mans will. Frequently one encounters men who labor in a trade or profession with much
hard work and determination and yet they seem to lack something very basic. Their work
is just a job. There is a spirit that is missing, a spirit that makes the activities of a truly
dedicated man much more real. This inspiration that leads to human commitment is
beyond human power. Man is dependent upon it and waits for it with reverence and
hope.
In a similar way the goal of human commitment is beyond the human world.
Although this commitment is expressed in very concrete actions its full meaning can
never be dissolved into these actions. The commitment of a dedicated doctor is more
than his physical actions and words. These same actions and words could be performed
by an uncommitted doctor. In the one case they are the expression of commitment while
in the other they are not. The goal and meaning of commitment is always more than any
concrete action.
Similarly, although commitment may be expressed in terms of certain social
roles it cannot be reduced to these roles. A dedicated mother directs her life to doing
more than just following the norms that society lays down for a good mother. In a true
sense she would be living her life the same even if there were no such rules. Her life is
much more than the correct and empty actions of an automaton.
Finally, the goal of human dedication is more than the satisfaction of needs. The
dedicated person has given himself to something beyond these needs. This something
beyond may be understood as a call, a value or an ideal. The committed doctor is
striving to realize the ideals of good medicine, the committed cabinet maker points his
life to the value of good craftsmanship, the dedicated father is striving to be true to his
call to fidelity and love.
Thus the goal of a committed action transcends concrete actions, social roles
and needs. It reaches toward a meaning that surpasses all of these elements of mans
life. The committed man is religious in that he is pointed beyond the human realm toward
a transcendent goal.
Commitment further manifests its religious character in its basic context of
dependence. The man who is committed lives in a spirit of reliance upon a transcendent
power. The dedicated man is never secure and self-confident because he lives beyond
the strengths and supports found in himself and in society.
This dependence is revealed in several ways. First of all the dedicated man is
dependent upon his inspiration since the value, ideal or call that he has given himself to
is not a product of his own mind. It is something given him, and the gift is never a

permanent possession that he can confidently affirm as his own. The inspiration to love a
person or to give oneself to a profession or trade can vanish just as quickly as it
appeared. In such a situation the person is left hanging, performing actions which are
empty and without their original meaning. Even in the midst of the full flush of inspiration
the dedicated man is aware of the fragility of the situation. What was given him may be
taken away.
The dedicated man is aware that the inspiration given him is a priceless
treasure. Man discovers many values in his life. There are many goals given him for his
actions: wealth, power, success, satisfaction, fame. Very few of these values are ones
that call for full self-donation, very few of them are worthy of living and dying for in a
complete way. The value that inspires such dedication is especially precious and rare.
Man is never sure of permanent possession of such a treasure.
The dependence of commitment is also revealed in its character of selfforgetfulness. Man needs constant help from outside if he is to go beyond himself. To
lose oneself in a family, craft or creative art is to go against the demands of nature.
Mans personal needs constantly cry out for satisfaction and pull man inward toward
himself. This natural drive to be self-centered is transcended in commitment. That is
why all true human dedication is wondrous, miraculous, filling us with awe and
amazement. We feel reverence in the presence of a Schweitzer, a Gandhi or our own
parents. Something more is present here than the usual human impulses. There is a
super-human power at work.
The dedicated man is also dependent upon a transcendent power for the help
needed to be faithful to his commitment. In himself there is constant change, fluctuations
of attitudes and feelings. In his commitment he has promised himself to a project that he
cannot fulfill by himself. To be faithful he needs something more than human help. When
the marriage partners promise to love till death do us part they have pledged
themselves to something which is not in their power. They realize that if this pledge is to
be fulfilled the inconsistency of their humanness must be strengthened by a power from
without.
The religious aspect of commitment can also be seen in its openness. The man
who is dedicated is somehow not limited to the small ideas, prejudices and goals of a
narrow human view. He is open to a transcendent horizon, a horizon that reveals
persons and human activities in all their mysteriousness, preciousness and depth of
value. The mother who is dedicated to her child sees more in that child than the teacher
who is testing the childs knowledge of arithmetic. Through her dedication she is open to
the mysteriousness of the childs existence while the teacher is limited to seeing the
child in terms of a special framework, the knowledge of mathematics. The carpenter who
is committed to his craft finds a mysterious richness and value in his work while the
undedicated carpenter sees his work only in terms of the limited context of money.
Thus in his life the committed man is open to a horizon or understanding of
value which extends far beyond the action in which he is engaged. It somehow includes
all his possible future experience, enabling him to understand all of it in terms of its
depth of reality. His life is immersed in this mysterious preciousness of reality. A simple
committed act shares in a great profundity.
That this trusting, loving openness to the whole of reality is somehow religious

can also be seen from the fact that such openness is the horizon within which any
authentic prayer and worship takes place. The man who worships lives in an impractical
world, a world where the intrinsic value of life is recognized, a world where he no longer
looks a things and persons in terms of their practicality or function. Commitment opens
him up to this world where he values persons and activities for themselves.
The Concept of God
One final question in our study of commitment remains. What is the
understanding that we have of God in such an act of commitment? How is He present
there?
First of all, God is revealed in commitment as the sources of its inspiration and
strength. It is from a transcendent source that man is called to dedicate himself. Man
depends on a transcendental basis for the power to give himself to dedication and to
carry it through. God is not necessarily recognized here as a personal Being. The call
and basis of commitment comes from a beyond that does not precisely define itself.
Although present in mans life God remains mysteriously beyond these concepts of man.
Secondly, for the committed man God is found concretely in his life. God is not a
static being sitting above and outside of history with a prearranged plan that he puts into
effect. This is the idea of god that flows from Greek philosophy. For the Greeks change
was a sign of imperfection. If a being changed from one limited situation to another it
showed that it was not perfect. That reality which possessed the fullness of being could
not change. If he were perfect there would be no state to which he could change. God
thus lives in a situation of eternity which is an everlasting present without change.
For Greek philosophy God stands outside of history and guides it. He is like the
director of a play who fixes from all eternity the plot of his play. When the plot works itself
out in the changes of time God is not part of it. There remain, however, other ways of
understanding God. From the previous analysis of commitment we see that God can be
conceived as part of time since He lives in the committed actions of man. These are very
much His action. It is His power that inspires them and carries them through, His
mysteriousness which gives them meaning and value. The eternity of God does not
separate Him from time but rather immerses Him more deeply in it. Eternity is not
opposed to time but is the fullness of it. It is an eternal God who enriches time, keeping it
open, providing ever new possibilities for man.
The reality of God should not be thought of as opposed to change. God is vital
and real and we cannot conceive vitality apart from growth and change. Gods being is
not finished and static. He will grow and develop as human commitments and love grow
and deepen. Thus God is coming, He is not yet. Full of dynamism and life He is the God
of the future.
God is working in human history, attempting to bring to fulfillment all the deepest
human hopes and commitments. He is part of the efforts to achieve justice, peace,
wisdom, understanding, love and joy. He takes upon Himself all the risks of human
activity where the outcome of our actions is never certain. God also suffers failures as
well as successes and the tragedy of human life is deepened by the fact that it is a

divine tragedy.
This conception of a changing God immersed in human history is found in
Christianity. The Christian calls God the Lord of History and means that God somehow
works and lives in history. The reality of God is bound up with the work of redemption
and reconciliation, a task that is found in progressive earthly activity. The Christian sees
the fullest presence of God in the life of Jesus Christ. In Jesus as Incarnate God the
Christian sees the growth and development of God. Through the union of each Christian
to Jesus this Incarnate God continues to grow in the historical lives of each follower of
Jesus.