When a man first begins to work out, he usually does so in a burst of enthusiasm. He envisions his ideal weight and future health. He buys new shoes and a barrel of protein-powder with a man who looks like a Transformer grimacing on its label. In short, he gets pumped. But if his enthusiasm isn’t followed by ritual — by a well-kept routine of stretching, running, and lifting — he’ll cease working out.
Similarly, upon first falling in love, couples surge with enthusiasm for each other, with dopamine highs and the immense desire to never be apart. (This is often referred to by their friends as the unbelievably-annoying stage.) But if this enthusiasm is not followed by ritual, captured and solidified in the day-to-day routine of communication, touch, gift, encouragement and sacrifice — from flowers, to phone-calls and favors — their love will fail.
Enthusiasm is followed by ritual or death, and it is our choice to decide which it will be.
Within the faith, we are blessed with moments of enthusiasm. Whether its in a community of friends or in a tangible experience of the presence of God, at a retreat or in the confessional, there are moments — these blessed moments — when the veil of the mundane is torn and we are exposed to something immense, some fiery taste of infinity, of love and forgiveness. Here what often seems murky is cleared, and what seems distant and “religious” is understood — real as a punch in the gut. And so we grow enthusiastic.
But enthusiasm is followed by ritual or death. If we simply say to ourselves — after some splendid moment of experience — that now, now we’ll follow God and love him and be kind to our neighbors and go to Mass — we’ll fail. What’s needed is ritual. What’s needed is the repetition of love until our whole lives ring with it, for God does not want us to be merely enthusiastic about him — he wants to love him, and love demands day-to-day effort.
But the day-to-day is not mundane! It is life. The Church provides us with a whole host of rituals to help us live our day-to-day lives, to help us extend the fires lit in our hearts into eternity, rituals that solidify enthusiasm and ground our faith against our own fickleness and weakness. That’s why I encourage any one willing to begin a daily routine of prayer, to, at the same time every day, pray a prayer of the Church. It might be a Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, a psalm, a chaplet, a novena, a hymn, or any of the thousands upon thousands of devotionals that aid us in becoming our true selves by orientating our very being to our Creator, but let it be a ritual.