In the Catholic tradition, today is Mary's birthday. This beautiful Madonna by Fra Angelico captures the youthfulness of Mary when Gabriel appeared to her with some history-changing news. Despite her virginity, she would bear a son, who would be named Jesus. There had never been an announcement like it before, or since.
Several years ago, I heard a wonderful reflection on this passage (Luke 1:26-38). I usually don't have a great memory for such things, but whenever there is a Marian feast day, I easily recall the words Fr. Gerard spoke that day.
When Mary gave her fiat (yes), she meant what she said. Although she couldn't fully comprehend Gabriel's message, she did know what her answer meant. For millennia, a person was taken at their word. Remember when deals didn't need a lawyer, but were sealed with a handshake?
In his homily, Fr. Gerard spoke about the fact that in our world today, our yes doesn't mean what it once did. Now, more often than not, our yes means maybe or let's try it out to be sure. Just one or two generations ago, when a person took a job and did what was required, they were safe in their belief that they would have the job as long as they wanted. When they retired, their pension plan would be there, fully funded, to take care of them in their old age.
Just one or two generations ago, when people made commitments, they were in it for the long fall. Now it seems that most of us are committed until something/someone else comes along.
Just one or two generations ago, it would be unheard of to walk away from a mortgage. Maybe that was because they would have never been taken advantage of by deceitful lenders.
I don't want to sound preachy, so I'll use Fr. Gerard's words. They went something like "we need to get back to being the kind of people who mean what they say. When you say yes, you need to mean it. When you make a commitment, do it with a conviction that you'll stick with it in good and bad."
Of course, Fr. Gerard didn't mean that we have to remain stuck in situations that are bad for us. Instead, he meant that we get into it with the best intentions, rather than a what's in it for me attitude.
There's an easy way how to make this a part of your life. Pray before you make decisions. Speak to someone you know to be wise before you make major commitments. Seek their input, ask them what they would do if they were you. Oftentimes, just building these little delays will keep most people out of bad situations.
This post has ended up a lot longer than I had wanted, so I'll end here. To sum it up, we need to start meaning what we say, and we need to take responsibility for our actions/commitments. By bringing God into our decision making process, I feel pretty confident that we'll all make better choices. Try it out.