When was the last time you heard the word “duty” in any kind of context in the public square? Even with the recent 223rd anniversary of our independence the concept of “duty” seems sparse if not non-existent. We banter about: freedom, choice, patriotism, independence, safety, lack of fear and religious choice. These are all fruits of the bloody conflict begun in 1775 but I don’t recall anyone talking or writing about “duty”. Do you realize that our fight for independence actually lasted eight years with the final battle fought in 1783? In my personal opinion I believe that this lack of recognition is because of the nature of the word itself: “duty (noun) - the binding or obligatory force of something that is morally or legally right; moral or legal obligation.” (Dictionary.com) This current culture, quite frankly, has a strict abhorrence for obligation. We have even come to a place where we can placidly watch three wars on the television and have no involvement in them at all because they’re “over there” and I’m “over here”. In today’s culture duty is a concept of inconvenience rather than convenience. The truth is, however, just because we ignore the concept of the duty around us doesn’t mean that it goes away. Duty is not something that we can tally or get “extra credit” for. Duty, rather, is part of the fabric of human nature which we are expected to exercise and strengthen, but no one can see if we are doing that. Only God the father knows our “duty quotient”.
Within the human personality are certain “cravings”. There are the basics of hunger and thirst and when we get older we get to know the passions, for better or for worse. There are other cravings, though, that we may go a whole lifetime without being able to name or put our finger on. These are the “basics” in our personality, the things that are part of our soul just because we are humans created by God. Everyone has these tendencies and theologians and philosophers categorize them into a grouping sometimes called “natural law”. This group includes things like, conscience, morality, a sense of justice, and compassion for others. Needless to say, all of these are intangible and unmeasurable. Yet, they are the things that drive the human soul.
Duty is what moves us to help a stranger, give a beggar a dollar, weep at injustice, root for the underdog, share or become politically active. In our current society, though, there is a great effort to eliminate our sense of duty and dilute our core morality. Instead of responding to the “natural law” written in our heart we are being taught that if a prompting causes us trouble or inconvenience we should “get rid of” or replace it. This trend has even moved into our legal system and we are busy creating laws that will change our civic and public duty to an activity which will please us or be easier to accomplish.
The thing about duty, though, is that no matter how many laws are revamped or societal trends change, the duty written on our heart can’t be erased or altered. It is present in the human soul, placed there by God and not “removable”. Duty will continue nag at us, no matter what we do or say.
It is clear that in today ‘s society we have lost this sense. “We are no longer a people of clarity who know about this one Lord and who stand in simplicity, without usurping the Lord’s rights, without betraying our duty to him, or bargaining. We have become a people of many lords, somehow divided, somehow separated [from him as well as each other].” (Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. as quoted in Magnificat, Vol.12, No.5, July 2011, p.119) It is not a question of not knowing what our duty is, rather it is a matter of turning a blind eye and deaf ear to those things that duty prompts us to do. In Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy he makes our duty abundantly clear: “Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” (4:2 ) Paul’s summary becomes even more significant when we recall that Paul never met Jesus face to face or even glimpsed him. Paul’s original self-declared mission in life was to expose and kill all Christians. Nonetheless his concept of duty to Christ is crystal clear and defined without a hint of doubt. If you were a follower of Paul you did not ask the question about your personal mission twice. Clearly, each of us has the exact same commission to protect and encourage goodness in ourselves as well as in others and defend the natural law that is planted in the core of our spirit no matter what form that may take.
We run headlong toward “happiness” trying every which way to create it for ourselves. We try to “self-define” in a society that hands us every imaginable temptation and pleasure that is external. We are all clearly “created in the image of God”. Our happiness lies in hearing the deep whispers that rise up because of that very reason. Attention to duty will define us, shape us and give us peace and stability in a world where none of those things exist. “Happy is the man who will abide in wisdom.” (St. Benedict)
Copyright©2011, Kathryn M. Cunningham
Read more of Kathryn’s writing @ www.atravelersview.org
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