Arts and Culture

God’s Fidelity

Second in a Series

A theme that Pope Francis seems to return to frequently is that God is faithful. We can rely on God’s love and commitment. God will never abandon us or forget us. We can rely on God’s fidelity and love.

I think one of the most dramatic acts in any person’s life – indeed, perhaps the most dramatic act – is making a vow. The unconditional nature is both frightening and marvelous. Vows can be a great sign of love.

Most Catholics have their baptismal vows made by godparents, but at some time in their lives they should make those vows on their own. Two people making marriage vows is another awesome act. People making religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – and committing to keep those vows for their entire lives – is awesome.

But as awesome as human commitments are, the commitment that God makes to us is incredibly awesome. The God Who creates us has made a commitment to us so we can count on Divine Love surrounding and supporting us throughout our lives. The God Who holds the universe in existence has made promises to us. If that is not awesome, then nothing is awesome.

Unbroken Commitment

We are surrounded by God’s love when everything in our lives seems to be going smoothly; we are surrounded by God’s love when nothing in our lives seems to be going well. Human beings sometimes break life commitments. God’s commitment to us will never be broken.

In his new book, “The Name of God Is Mercy: A Conversation with Andrea Tornielli” (New York: Random House. Translated from the Italian by Oonagh Stransky, 2016, pp. 176), Pope Francis mentions how previous pontiffs, such as Pope St. John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II stressed mercy. He then quotes Pope Benedict XVI on the central role that mercy has in divine revelation:

“Mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message: it is the name of God himself, the face with which he revealed himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ, incarnation of Creative and Redemptive Love. This love of mercy also illuminates the face of the Church, and is manifested through the Sacraments, in particular that of the Reconciliation, as well as in works of charity, both of community and individuals. Everything that the Church says and does shows that God has mercy for man.”

There is an anecdote that Pope Francis tells that I found especially touching. It reveals the simple, and yet strong faith of a Capuchin priest, as well as humanism and deep vision into the goodness of persons that characterizes Pope Francis’ personalism.

In Buenos Aires, he met a Capuchin priest who had a reputation as a great confessor. The priest went to Pope Francis because he was concerned that in the many confessions he heard he was too lenient. He had doubts that he perhaps had forgiven too much. Pope Francis asked him what he did when he had these doubts. The Capuchin said he went into the chapel and stood before the tabernacle and asked Jesus to forgive him if he had forgiven too much. But then the Capuchin priest said to Jesus that it was He who had set the bad example! That anecdote reveals not only the goodness and faith of the Capuchin, but also the goodness and faith of the Holy Father.

Maturity in Faith

Another anecdote that Pope Francis tells is about his niece, who was married to a man in a civil union. They were planning to celebrate the sacrament of marriage after the man received his annulment. The man went to Mass every Sunday and went into the confessional. He told the priest that he knew he couldn’t be absolved, but that he would like the priest to give him a blessing.

In light of the man’s practice of attending Mass, explaining in the confessional his situation and then asking for a blessing, Pope Francis believes that the man is a religiously mature person. I do too. I hope to keep these two anecdotes in mind the next time I hear confessions.

I can still recall with some accuracy when Catholics began to stop celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. When I went away to graduate school in 1964, there were confession lines every Saturday afternoon in church. When I returned in 1967, many of my friends had substituted psychotherapeutic sessions for sacramental confession.

Pope Francis laments that so many people are going to diviners and fortune tellers. He suggests that this reveals that people want someone to talk to, someone who will listen to what is bothering them. He urges confessors to spend time with penitents, especially listening to their dramas. Pope Francis calls this the “apostolate of the ear.”

I like that expression because it calls attention to how much good and healing can take place just by someone being an attentive and caring listener.

Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).