Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sign Me Up!

“Youths or young men who feel a strong desire to toil for the souls of heathen people and who are willing to go afar with no hope of earthly recompense and with no guarantee of a return to their native land are encouraged to write, making their letter personal, to the Editor of Field Afar.”

This 'call to vocations' was printed in 1911 by James A. Walsh, M.M., editor of the Field Afar. It was a call to join the Maryknoll congregation for foreign missions. The complete story can be found at America here.

Two things struck me when reading this.

The first was that joining the Army has always seemed to have parallels to entering religious life: it is a life of work and discipline, of hierarchy, of living by a code of conduct, in community, sacrificing for a common (and higher) purpose, etc.

The second thing that I thought about was how much the 'marketing' has changed for the Army since the World Wars. I run into a lot of Armed Forces recruiters at college fairs, and it seems there has been a shift from serving (and dying for) your country because its patriotic, to, "you can earn money for college!" They are catering to a self-serving generation less familiar with the idealism of serving for a common, collective purpose. (One of my favorite papers in graduate school was by William Cavanaugh, titled "Dying for the Telephone Company." kind of relates here.)

Just reading the above quote about "toiling for heathen souls...with no earthly recompense and no guarantee of return," I couldn't help thinking, "who in this generation would take up that offer?" It's no wonder why people living in a "what's in it for me?" age are not joining religious communities.

This applies to marriage as well. If marriage and the family truly is the building block of society, that suggests there is an irrefutable 'social' component of marriage--that is, a healthy society is built on healthy families. The majority of our families in the West are not healthy, and as a result, our society suffers. That means marriage is not just about 'you and me,' but about the good of society, as well.

Now, few people get married 'for the sake of society.' They get married for themselves or for their families--sometimes out of love, sometimes out of obligation (as in arranged marriages). But the residual effect of this marriage bleeds out into the social fabric inadvertently. Marriages that break up are not just rifts between two people, but they tear at the fabric of society as a whole.

Think of a National Forest that has signs posted everywhere "DO NOT LIGHT FIRES." For the collective good of all, somebody (the U.S. Forest Service) takes precautions so the forest doesn't burn down because of the carelessness of one person. Does this mean that starting a campfire for one's own pleasure is going to burn down the whole forest? Not necessarily. One might be responsible, watching it carefully, building a fire ring, dousing it with water to make sure its out. But the more people who disobey the rules--ie, if the signs are taken down, or generally ignored-- the greater the chance of the destruction of the forest as a whole.

I honestly don't get a good feeling about the direction our post-modern society is headed as it gets more individualistic and relativistic. Less people willing to join "God's Army," and live by an established set of moral guidelines spells disaster for future generations. "Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

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