Arts and Culture

Persons and Promises

10th and last in a series

As far back as I can remember, I have thought of promises as very important in interpersonal relations. In grammar school, perhaps even in kindergarten, when someone made a promise, I knew something important was being offered. I suspect this has been the experience of most people.

Catholicism is built on promises. God has made promises to us and we have responded by making promises to God. In baptism, promises are exchanged. I think the same is true of every eucharistic celebration. The meaning and mystery of the Eucharist is based on Christ’s promises to us and our response to those promises.

In his book, “Should Anyone Say Forever?” (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1975) Father John Haughey, S.J., stresses the importance of promises in interpersonal relations. What is unique about promises, he notes, is that they state something we intend to do in the future. With a promise, a person is projecting himself or herself into the future and expressing a belief that he or she can accomplish what is being promised.

A person is not so much making a prediction about the future, but rather expressing his or her firm intention. In effect, the person making the promise is saying, “You can count on me.”

Father Haughey, in discussing the person who makes promises, writes the following:

“He is saying to those to whom he gives his word that he is in charge of his own life and that he freely chooses to use his freedom to project himself into the future in the specific manner which he determines. He gives his word because he is free to do so and does so freely. But the word he gives puts him in communion with others. His word given takes on flesh. His future and the future of others are now intertwined by his own determination and intention.

“The capacity of human beings to make and keep promises is also the surest way they have to free themselves, to determine themselves rather than be determined. … By withholding one’s word one withholds one’s self. One becomes a bystander in the drama of human existence…” (p. 28).

Father Haughey’s reflections on the nature of promises have important implications for those who profess the Catholic faith. What he has written takes on new and deeper meaning when we use those insights to shed light on our relationship with God, and especially, God’s love for us. God did not have to make promises to us. Those promises are made freely because of God’s infinite love for us.

In relation to us, God is all yes, a pure self-gift. The gift of God to us is God Himself. I don’t believe God can say “no” to us. No prayers go unanswered. In fact, I believe every prayer is answered in a way better than we desired. In a prayer of petition we may not receive what we wish for, but our relationship with God may be deepened.

A Promise Perfectly Expressed

There are many ways that we can be helped to appreciate God’s promises to us. One way is to think of a Eucharist as the perfect expression of God’s promises to us and our promises to God. The entire eucharistic action depends on God keeping His promises, and us believing and hoping that God will keep His promises.

We begin a Eucharist by recalling the times we failed to keep our promises to God. We freely admit our sinfulness without fear because we believe God’s forgiveness is readily available.

As Pope Francis never tires of reminding us, the name of God is Mercy. The entire story of salvation is tied to God promising and keeping His Word. The readings at Mass can be read as God’s presence to those He loves. That presence is itself the fulfillment of a promise.

We can believe and trust that God will never withdraw from our lives no matter how many times we fail to keep our promises.

One of the great signs of God’s love and of God keeping His promise is the Real Presence of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist. Another is the presence of the Risen Christ within us.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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