American Idol: 'Anything in the Name of ... '

By Chris Sparks

Have you ever heard someone say, "I'll give 110 percent"?

Sometimes, what's being promised is very good. Sometimes people mean to say that they will be truly, deeply committed. They'll go above and beyond expectations. Their "yes" means yes and their "no" means no. Their word is their bond. They'll do what it takes to make it happen, whatever "it" is. And so forth.

Sometimes we see people live up to that standard. We speak of them admiringly, thankfully, saying things like, "they gave the last full measure of devotion" (Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address). Or "They left it all on the field!" Or "They gave their all." They proved that they truly loved their country, their vocation, their family, their team, or their God by making a complete self-gift.

But there's a potential dark side to that promise, a world of problems and pain opened up before us if we strip away all restrictions, decide to overcome all obstacles, determine to make any sacrifice, all in the name of a cause.

You can see it most clearly in fairy tales, particularly the story of Rumpelstiltskin. A miller's daughter is bound by her father's foolish boast to the king: She must spin straw into gold overnight, or die. When a mysterious creature (Rumpelstiltskin) appears and offers aid for a price, she pays him with a necklace the first night, a ring the second, and then on the third, agrees to give him her firstborn child in exchange for her own life, marriage to the king, and a roomful of straw spun into gold.

She was willing at the time to do "anything in the name of" a cause - the cause of saving her own life and prospects, reasoning with herself that it was possible she would never have a child, that she'd never have to pay the price. She wrote a blank check, and then was able to escape the terms only by the providential chance of discovering Rumpelstiltskin's name.

Promising "anything in the name of" can sometimes lead into unthinkable places and doing evil things.

Here are some other ways of promising "anything in the name of":

  • "I'll do anything for this job."

Anything? Really? That's the philosophy of the pagan ruthlessness of Francis and Claire Underwood in "House of Cards," not of the holy selflessness with which St. Francis and St. Clare gave themselves to God and neighbor.

  • "I would do anything to have my (husband/wife/child) home safe."

Anything? Are you sure? That's the logic of "The Godfather," a logic that ends up ensuring that members of the Corleone family are never safe.

  • "I'd do anything for my country, make any sacrifice, whatever it takes, I'm there."

Whatever it takes? Do you hear what you're really saying? That's the reason for the fall of Boromir in Lord of the Rings, determined that the evil Ring of Power should go to his home city of Gondor and be used in its defense, not recognizing that evil means lead to evil ends, no matter how good our intentions that pave the road to hell.

When you make these sorts of commitments, you are promising that no matter what is asked of you, you will do it. You are writing a blank check to circumstances, to fate, to fortune, promising all, all that you have and are.

And no one is worth that. Not even God expects such behavior. He does not ask us to be willing to be damned in His name. He does not ask us to break His own laws, His own expectations, in His service. Rather, God asks of us to have some very sharp limits, to refuse to do certain things. We are to take a day of rest and worship each week rather than giving ourselves entirely to our jobs. We are to "hate" our family members (see Lk 14:26) - that is, we are never to give them the sort of adoration that is properly given to God alone. We are to always remember that we are strangers and sojourners here on earth with no permanent home, for we are citizens of Heaven and our homeland is with God on the other side of death (see 1 Pt 2:11).

And in the service of God, we are to live the truth in love, not be determined to do "anything in the name of" Jesus. In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis has Aslan, the character who is the Second Person of the Trinity in the world of Narnia, say of Tash, the demonic false god of the Calormene, "I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him." Some actions can never be done in God's name, but only in the name of the devil of hell. Some things are always wrong acts, always, no matter the intentions or circumstances, though those intentions or circumstances may mitigate our guilt.

We have some very bad habits in this country. One of those bad habits is a deep love of ruthless pragmatism, of doing whatever it takes to get the job done, of the good men and women willing to do the bad things, the evil things, the wrong things, in order to protect and defend the weak and the innocent, in order to make right a wrong. But that philosophy is condemned by St. Paul (see Rom 3:8) and by the example of Jesus, whose entire life was a model of restraint of His divine power, whose merciful love held back the wrath that we all deserve, in strict justice. God almighty submitted to crucifixion, to torment and ridicule, to rejection and death. He submitted to this, rather than do "anything in the name of" vindicating His own power and defending His own dignity. He rebuked Peter when the prince of the apostles took up the sword in defense of Jesus (see Jn 18:11), and so rebukes us today whenever we even begin to consider doing "whatever it takes" in defense of the good.

The limit on evil is not our own willingness to become evil to defeat the devil. The limit on evil is mercy

I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 47, 48).

Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with My will (Diary, 1731).

Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this Chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy (Diary, 687).

"Anything in the name of" is not the philosophy of true self-sacrificing love; it is rather the philosophy of hell. And we need to recognize that, and repudiate it in our own lives.

True love is all about self-restraint, and appropriate boundaries, and - well, let Scripture explain:

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor 13:3-8).

True love refuses to give "anything in the name of" the beloved, for to do so often means the destruction of both the lover and the beloved. That's why God answers every prayer, but sometimes His answer is "no." We are not called to give "anything" to the beloved; we are rather called to give "everything" that is ours to give, everything it is right to give, everything God wants us to give - and not a penny more.

So let us ask God who is love to give us the Holy Spirit in abundance, that we may make our self-sacrifice of love to God and neighbor with true wisdom and prudence. Let us ask for St. Faustina's intercession that we may limit evil with temperate strength, mercy, and forgiveness, not ruthlessness and vengeance. And let us trust in Jesus, the Divine Mercy and the Just Judge, to bring about good in spite of evil, to make all well in the end.


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