Getting prepared for his “hooding” ceremony for graduate school, LB asked me “Do I really have to order another cap and gown? I mean, it’s the same as last year’s (from his baccalaureate) except for one small thing, and it costs more!” Getting ready to graduate with a master’s in business, LB had learned a thing or two about practicality and finance. He wasn’t sure he needed to walk the stage in order to feel accomplished. He knows the hard work he had poured into grad school this past year, accomplishing a 4.0 last semester, and what it means for him moving forward. If you asked him, it didn’t mean a degree as much as it meant learning how to conquer great challenges with the gifts he has been given.
Similar to LB’s feelings about the cap and gown, we remove similar ceremonious lenses when viewing our moral and spiritual life. We know efforts we have (or have not) poured into understanding our moral life by reading, spiritual direction, practicing virtue and working to eradicate sin from our lives. Unlike our education, however, there is no point in our moral development where we can move that little tassel to the other side of our spiritual cap and say “done!”
I used to think that once I had learned it all (the easy way or the hard way) I would “graduate” to eternal life. But like the old adage goes, “The more I learn, the less I know.” Why? Only through humility and our dependence upon God–can we cultivate the establishment of God’s Kingdom in our hearts, and humility is something we can never fully “conquer” ourselves. By virtue of what humility is, we must constantly rely on God’s wisdom and grace, and for that reason, every future moment will be a new moral circumstance. We can never “graduate” from grace, as we might from a university. Pope Benedict XVI says it well;
[W]e must acknowledge that incremental progress is possible only in the material sphere. Here, amid our growing knowledge of the structure of matter and in the light of ever more advanced inventions, we clearly see continuous progress toward an ever great mastery of nature. Yet in the field of ethical awareness and moral decision-making, there is no similar possibility of accumulation for the simple reason that man’s freedom is always new and he must always make his decision anew…Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. –Pope Benedict XVI Spe Salvi; 30 Novemeber 2007 #24
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought. –John Paul The Great