Minarick is a college professor. He tells us that "In my 25 years of teaching, I have never once heard anyone explain to students that learning is a duty. Parents and teachers extol the value of study...but to tell students they have the duty to study, just as soldiers have the duty of defendingt their country, never enters the discussion." And he goes on to describe how he is incorporating the idea of duty into his classes including Emerson's poem:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can!
On reflection, I'm not all that surprised at the antipathy our modern society has toward duty. My generation grew up in the aftermath of World War II. Our fathers and uncles and neighbors had responded to the call to duty and fought at great personal cost. In a Catholic family, I often heard about our obligation to "do the duties of our state in life." And I told my husband I should have this epitaph on my gravestone. "She did her duty with gritted teeth."
Perhaps that explains why our entitlement culture would rather not think about duty. It's hard and sometimes even unpleasant. They would rather apply it to others than themselves. The government, in particular, has a duty to provide for them from cradle to grave. They, on the other hand, have no duties, only rights. Certainly, the Occupy movement reflects that as the spoiled kids with their I-phones, I-pods, and I-pads (Did you ever notice the narcissistic emphasis of those names?) call society to pour out more goodies into their open arms and mouths. In one humorous discussion on YouTube, a reporter asks a young man if he will share his I-pad with others and he says, no because it's his personal property. When she points out that he is demanding that others share their property, he goes through hoops justifying his inconsistent position. Greed, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder. Recognizing and doing one's duty takes grownups. Is it any wonder that a dependent generation of adolescent crybabies hates the word?
Reflecting on duty seems to me to be a good Advent preparation. Our Lord spoke to Sr. Lucy of Fatima in 1943 saying, “The sacrifice required of every person is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of My Law. This is the penance that I now seek and require.” We would do well to listen and obey Our Lord. What are the duties of your state in life? Are you fulfilling them to the best of your ability? We would all do well to examine our consciences this Advent on what God expects of us. We have moral duties and, like it or not, we will answer for the way we fulfill or fail to fulfill them. Let us try to instill in our children and grandchildren the sense that doing your duty is a question of honor. Emerson's poem goes well with the final lines of Richard Lovelace's poem To Lucasta, Going to the Wars.
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Lov'd I not honour more.
Duty and honor are closely linked and both are pretty much ignored by our narcissistic culture that puts personal pleasure above all. A truly Catholic world view, however, values both, seeking to live a virtuous life where faithfulness to duty helps define an individual's honor and integrity. One would expect homeschoolers to get this even if the larger culture doesn't. But, like the plant growing in an acid soil, students, even homeschoolers, are impacted by the cultural soil. In view of that, one important duty of Catholic parents is to emphasize and instill a sense of duty in their children: duty to God, to family, and to our neighbor. It isn't just a responsibility but a sacred duty. God help us if we fail to perform it.