Chapter VI The Mystery of Fidelity
The problem with commitments is not so much making them, but keeping them. Judging by human behavior, at least, that must be the harder part. So our subject matter for this chapter moves from commitment to the question of fidelity. First we will inquire into how fidelity and commitment are related, then we will analyze the components of fidelity, and finally we will attempt to situate human fidelity in its religious and theological frame of reference. In comparison to fidelity, commitment seems to be a brittle category. In comparison to fidelity, furthermore, commitment plays a relatively small part in a person’s conscious life, it seems to me. On the other hand, I believe most of us expend a good deal of psychic energy trying to figure out what is entailed in order to be faithful to the reality we find ourselves in. For those who have already made their commitments, commitments might no longer be a significant category. Commitment is like a door to be gone through, but once [page 151] through it, fidelity or infidelity is the moral shape of the land entered. In other words, for one who has gone through the narrow gate, commitment is likely to be a nonproblem. Once inside the reality of a committed life, the problem of commitment passes over into the interaction between the primordial direction of one’s life and the ways one chooses to express this by word and action and relationship. In other words, I think there comes a time when commitment recedes as an operational aspect of one’s life. We might call it a self-consuming artifact. It can re-emerge at any point, for a number of reasons, as a vital question. But the sooner one gets beyond it, so to speak, the greater the likelihood that one is living a committed life.
One aspect of fidelity has to do with the past. One does not live as if each moment of his life begins from zero. No, he comes from somewhere, and fidelity has to include adverting to what it is he has come from. The most formal determinations of our past, of course, are the doors we have come through to bring us where we are–our choices, in other words. But that’s just part of it. One should not be faithful to the past as such, for that would be to seek the living among the dead. The past must be the source of our orientation to the future. As the same time, one’s past cannot supply one with strength to continue into the future the commitments made in the past. The commitments one has made must authenticate themselves in the present. The fact that they are assumed in [page 152] the past is not sufficient reason in itself for their continuance. The faithful man never tries to live his life as if he could disengage himself from his past, which means more than taking his own history seriously. One could take one’s history seriously while regretting or tolerating the situation one is in. To be faithful one must not only take one’s past into account but also accept it in freedom anew and choose it again as one’s own, particularly as regards one’s commitments.
Should Anyone Say Forever? Page 71 The ultimate criterion for fidelity cannot be continuity with one’s past or with the decisions one has made in the past. To continue to maintain earlier choices is good only if past decisions now produce, or give promise of producing self-donation, indwelling and communion. Fidelity has more to do with the present than with the past. One of the consequences of commitment should be to free one from a superficiality of presence to another or others. Being faithful means, for starters, being fully present in the relational situation in which one finds oneself. The faithful person lives facing into a “we are” horizon. What one is faithful to is the communion one is in or is coming into or is hoping to come into. And at the center of that communion is the indwelling one enjoys or hopes to enjoy. Faithfulness has these realities as its...