Remove modern cultural sentimental accretions from the Catholic faith, and a muscular Church Militant emerges from the Catholic tradition. We are in an epic, life-long battle for the salvation of souls. Hence, military metaphors are particularly useful in helping us understand the interrelationship of faith and life.
Not long ago, I celebrated a funeral Mass for Major General Victor Hugo, Jr., the great-grandson of the celebrated French author. General Hugo was a legendary U.S. Army soldier, a leader of men. As he trained his Special Forces, his operating catchphrase was “Think, work, and give a HOOT” [expletive deleted]. Whether he knew it or not, the motivational slogan applies to every life, including our life of faith.
The general patterns of success are variations of the same theme. We grow up, go to school, sometimes college and higher education, and we get to work. Every vocation shares this convention: intellectual and physical formation followed by execution.
We find a job, some people marry, and others remain single, and some become priests or religious. We get to work.
Our first obligation is to think clearly. Blaise Pascal writes: “Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought.” (Pascal, Pensees n. 146) He adds: “Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality” (n. 347).
A soldier must think clearly to identify threats and objectives. A student must think clearly to prepare for his final exams. A Christian must think clearly to accept God’s revelation.
But knowledge without service is diabolical. The Devil knows God but will not serve. So St. Paul insists that we work. “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess 3:10) Work is good for us and others. Adam and Eve worked the Garden before the Fall. But work became arduous and painful because of the Fall. Our thought – our education, formation, and training – prepares us for the labor of our vocations.
This conventional pattern of life is mostly unavoidable. But what is the purpose of our habits of behavior? Why should we give a HOOT?
We give a HOOT
We give a HOOT to give meaning to our work. We work because we love our family and friends; we love our space, our freedom, reasonable comforts, good health, and cleanliness. To be more specific: I want to marry that person, take this job, earn this salary, and buy this house with these features, and so on. We want to love and be loved. We want happiness. So our pattern of life not only includes thinking and working but giving a HOOT.
But we also give a HOOT because we fear: unhappy family life; difficult marriages; disobedient children; loneliness; unpleasant and unjust bosses and co-workers; high taxes; encroachment on personal freedoms; threats to personal safety; heavy traffic; threats to personal comforts; running out of money in retirement; chronic health conditions; physical or emotional sickness; crowded and unpleasant nursing homes with loud TVs.
We fear rejection. We fear loneliness and sadness.
Who can object to any of these conventional and universal aspirations and anxieties?
The phrase “giving a HOOT” may be profane, but it’s hard to think of a more succinct motto to describe the intense feeling of care that impels one to fulfill one’s duties. We can teach and train others sometimes at the point of a bayonet. We can send them off to work, sometimes in forced labor camps. But we can’t force them to give a HOOT. Giving a HOOT reflects the deepest loves or primordial fears.
But as Catholics, our loves and fears must exceed ordinary conventions. The spiritual life has habits of faith that elevate and transcend them. We baptize our babies, we teach them to think by bringing them up in the faith, and we send them to work in the world. Faith formation finds fulfillment in our life duties and points to the life to come.
We can give our children a good education. We can even require that they work. But we cannot guarantee that our children will “give a HOOT.” We can only point the way, directing them to love and seek the things that are above by word and example.
So we cultivate conventional religious behavior and aspirations – from reverence during Mass to frequenting the Sacraments. We gently teach them to fear anything that threatens heavenly glory. We demonstrate that we give a HOOT about our eternal destiny and theirs. But the ensemble of authentic faith and religiosity requires vigilance and love. Wise tutors avoid casual irreverence on the one hand and Pharisaical externalism on the other. Without wisdom and goodwill, giving a HOOT can all too easily collapse into PHOOEY.
The flip side of truth and goodness is error and evil. Some choices are wrong: “intrinsically evil”—always and everywhere—and place our souls at risk. So to remain faithful, we must be prepared to hazard the affection of family, friends, and invitations to cocktail parties – even our very livelihood—if our heavenly destiny is at risk. “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:26) We must give a HOOT about any threat to our salvation, scrupulously heeding the voice of conscience.
In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More discusses his holy obstinacy with his family. Pointing to his heart Thomas assures his family: “This is not the stuff of martyrdom.” Yet his love for obedience to the voice of conscience exceeded his love for the usual comforts of life. He gave up everything because he gave a HOOT about the Christian principles that bring salvation.
So resolve to be men and women of Christian principle: To stand on principle; to rejoice in the peace of soul that comes with a life of Christian principle, and to die on principle. In short, to think and work as a Christian—and give a HOOT.
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