Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
What comes to mind when you hear words like faithful, loyal, dedicated and committed? Most would probably think of some couple whose marriage has lasted sixty or seventy years. You might also give the example of someone who continues to work for the same organization for decades, despite more lucrative offers from other companies. Maybe you would consider an activist who has remained steadfast in support of a cause, even to the point of being jailed rather than compromise his beliefs. And let’s not forget those whose devotion to God is so strong that they seem to be involved in practically every ministry in their parish.
But the best example, the model we should all strive to emulate, is not related to human fidelity but rather to God’s. All throughout the Old Testament we find covenants the Lord made with His chosen people. And in every single case He kept His commitment, even though the Israelites failed to keep theirs. In fact, much of the Old Testament landscape is littered with these broken covenants and all sorts of other transgressions.
Scott Hahn, in his book A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture, examines in detail the covenants God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, and the specific signs that accompanied each of them, namely – the Sabbath, the rainbow, circumcision, the Passover, and the everlasting throne, respectively. Hahn then demonstrates how the Lord fulfilled all those promises and brought them to fruition in Jesus, the New Covenant, under the sign of the Eucharist. Throughout the ages God has kept his commitments to His people. He is always faithful, even when we’re not.
Faithfulness, the seventh of the nine Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, is an expression of love, a love that demands fidelity, loyalty and commitment. The latter quality is especially tricky, and it can become a sticking point because it’s usually easy to make a commitment but often much more problematic to follow through on it. St. Camillus (d. 1614) got to the heart of the matter when he observed: “Commitment is doing what you said you would do when the feeling you had when you said it has passed.”
As Christians we are called to keep our commitments to the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the outcast, the forgotten. But just saying that we love our neighbor is not enough. We are responsible for putting our faith into practice; we’ve got to move; we’ve got to act. Our calling is to be a beacon of hope to those in need. And the way we demonstrate that we care is by going out into our communities and ministering to our brothers and sisters with love and compassion. That’s what it means to be faithful. While it’s true that our efforts may not always produce positive results, we should take encouragement from these words of St. Teresa of Calcutta: “God does not ask us to be successful but to be faithful.”
So, have I been true to my calling? How am I doing with regard to my faithfulness? Well, to be honest, the answers would have to be “not always” and “from time to time not so good.” There have been occasions when I didn’t pray for someone who needed my prayers, instances when I made excuses for not calling, visiting, or writing someone who was ill or lonely and, sadly, moments when I refused to offer assistance to a person who was looking to me for a helping hand. In other words, I just flat out failed. But despite these failures, my neighbor is still out there, and he’s still counting on me.
Past shortcomings should never be used as an excuse for missing out on new service opportunities that come along every day. At some point we will surely fall, but when that happens our only option will be to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to doing the work we’ve been called to do. After all, life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon, and we’ve all got to persevere if we’re going to go the distance on the spiritual path.
So, every morning, shortly after waking up, I try to remember to offer a little prayer asking the Lord to remind me of my responsibilities as a Christian, reveal to me specific service opportunities for the day, and also help me muster the energy to perform those tasks to the best of my ability. And when my strength begins to wane, I know God will come to my aid because, as I Thessalonians 5:24 says: “the one who calls you is faithful.” Heavenly Father, help me to always be faithful, too. Help me to be the “good and faithful servant” you want me to be, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)