The Personalist Project

Continuing our discussion of boundaries, I want to tackle the question of whether mindfulness of the boundaries between persons runs counter to the self-gift we are called to as Christians. 

I don't think boundaries, as I understand them as a Personalist and a Christian, prohibit true martyrdom. They aren't primarily about self-protection, except insofar as we are responsible for our own well-being. But other responsibilities---other *goods*---can eclipse even that very immediate and instinctual responsibility.

God, of course, has a kind of responsibility for each of us that we can't really have for each other. He creates us, holds us in being, and provides all of the created world to meet our needs. He won't violate the natural boundaries He created us to have because that would be counter to His own nature. He won't coerce us. But in the person of Christ, God sacrificed himself to be able to offer us redemption. 

What do we do with that kind of radical gift? If we are to be like Christ, doesn't that mean we should also be prepared to make equally radical gifts of ourselves for the good of others? Does altruism violate the boundaries between people?

I'd like to propose a few guidelines for navigating these questions. 

The principle I've developed for myself for non-reciprocal self-gift---giving to someone who cannot be relied upon to appreciate or reciprocate my care or concern---is this: my gift must be free, unconditional, and not interfere with my ability to meet equal or greater responsibilities to myself or those in my care. 

Free:

I am not coerced. I recognize where my obligations lie and I know what I am not obligated to do. I act out of my freedom, not under compulsion or coercion. 

Unconditional:

There are no strings attached to my gift. I am not attempting to exert control over another or make them feel obligated to me. I am not unduly attached to the hope of a particular kind of response that would serve or gratify me.

Not in conflict with my responsibilities:

I am not costing myself the ability to live out the responsibilities of my vocation. I am not giving time, energy, or money that I cannot afford to give.

I believe there are times where martyrdom can meet these conditions--when it is free, unconditional, and becomes the perfect fulfilment of vocation as an act of love that encompasses all those we are responsible to.  

Christ accepts his death freely, offering it as a gift we are free to take or refuse, and in doing so fulfils his vocation of love to us without permanently withdrawing from us. The world continued to turn and men and women continued to draw breath as God the Father held us in being even as God the Son died at human hands.

God is infinite being with infinite capacity for infinite love and therefore infinite gift. He is never lessened by His gifts. We humans, on the other hand, have finite capacity and finite being, and need to be prudent and wise caretakers of both our gifts and those in our particular care.

When your boundaries have been crossed again and again and you have finally learned where the borders around your own responsibilities lie, it can be frightening--vulnerable--to contemplate bringing down the stockade you have built to protect your heart. 

You or I may never face the extreme choice of martyrdom. But we do face smaller opportunities for self-gift every day, times and places where we can carry someone else's cross with them for a short while and lighten their load. 

Don't hesitate to embrace these opportunities when they come. The load borne freely, eagerly, that strengthens rather than competes with our closest responsibilities, gives more than it takes. This free self-gift takes some portion of our time and our love, but it gives back even more than it takes. 

"Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for himself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self"  (Gaudium et Spes 24)

Man is the creature God willed for himself. We were not created for anyone's use, but were created for the sake of the good of our existence. It is right and good that we should resist being treated as objects of use, and refuse to so treat others as objects of use. Healthy boundaries around our subjectivity are thus essential--not optional.

But as incommunicable as we are in our subjectivity, we are also made for communion. We cannot fully find ourselves without giving ourselves. We define our boundaries so that we can make this gift freely, whole-heartedly, without regrets or reservations. 

And I believe that it is here, in the freedom of our gift, that we may finally, fully find ourselves.  

Photo by lalesh aldarwish from Pexels 

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