We Owe Each Other a Terrible Loyalty

I am thankful for the many gifts the good God sent my way during my childhood in the form of people who knew and loved Him and chose to share that knowledge and love with me. There are so many examples from the good Catholic sisters and priests who were among my teachers to my Presbyterian friend, James, who on the day we met announced that he was going to save me from the “chains of my Catholicism! He was wrong about the Catholic faith, but there was no doubt concerning his zealous love for the Lord. And his zeal most certainly helped me grow in my Catholic faith. I was blessed to know him.

Of all the people God has placed in my life, most of all I am thankful for my family. My mother, father and sister were those people who first introduced me to the faith—to Jesus Christ and the Church He gave to us. Their love of Jesus Christ and His Sacred Scripture, their devotion to His Blessed Mother and their love and fidelity to His Church were exactly the gifts that the Lord wanted them to pass on to me so that I would come to faith in Him. I am so thankful that my parents valued these gifts so highly that they asked a priest to baptize me as an infant so I would also grow in faith and be reconciled to God from the very beginning of my life. I am especially thankful for my sister whose love of life even in the midst of terrible physical suffering was a testimony to hope for us all.

Most important is the realization that God placed within my very being a desire for Him. Faith is His gift to me.

The catechism teaches us, “…the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response” CCC 2567. St. John of the Cross taught that if we are thinking about God, we can be sure that is because God thought of us first—that He placed that very thought of Himself within us. And so, I am most thankful to God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s call to each of us demands our response.

With these gifts, I began my walk of faith in Christ. I believe that it is important that each of us reflect on how we came to faith, to give thanks to God who has tirelessly blessed each of us with His grace, and to learn from that experience and prayer what He is calling us to do for the remainder of our earthly lives.

How are We Handing on the Faith?

As I reflect on this topic this morning, I realize that my desire for my grandchildren to also grow in faith and love of God has led me to look back at how I came to faith.

I think of how my parents handed on the faith to me, how my wife and I passed on the faith to our son and daughter, who with their spouses, are now handing it on to their children—four generations in my lifetime. I pray that my children and their families will continue to grow in their love of the Lord. I think of my wife, my mother and father, my sister, and all my family and all those who God places in my life. And with those thoughts, I sense a peace in my soul. I am so proud of my grandsons and granddaughters, and their parents. I am so blessed to have received Chris and Jenny’s marital consent and witnessed their vows for the Church, to have been the Father of the Bride for Michele and Cade, and to have baptized all my grandchildren. God is indeed good.

But, all of these thoughts have led me to reflect on where I am in my faith. Am I where I should be at this point in my life? And what of my responsibility to share that faith with others, particularly with my family? What obstacles are preventing me from advancing in the spiritual life. How can I become a better Catholic husband, father, grandfather and brother?

There is a story in Exodus about these responsibilities. Amalek has come to wage war against the Israelites. Moses sends Joshua and his men to engage Amalek in battle. Moses, stands on a mountain with his arms raised to God and as long as his arms are raised, the battle goes well.  But Moses grows tired and his arms begin to lower—the tide of the battle begins to turn. But Aaron and Hur help Moses by lifting his arms and the battle again turns in favor of Joshua who is ultimately victorious.  There is so much here, but let’s look at just a few points:

  • Joshua’s faith in God is evident in his obedience to Moses, God’s great prophet.
  • Moses assists Joshua through his prayer; prayer that is so intense and prolonged that Moses grows tired.
  • Others (Aaron and Hur) support Moses and Joshua by joining Moses in prayer through lifting his arms high.

I can look back over my life and see those occasions when I grew weary in prayer. Maybe I thought that God was not listening; maybe my faith was simply too weak. Honestly, there were times when I just gave up on God. I now see that it was not that I expected too much from God, rather, I demanded too little of myself. Praise God that, in my adult years, He sent my wife and others to my aid with their prayers and by their example and thus came His grace that has always prompted me to seek what is holy and good even while falling into what is not.

“We Owe Each Other a Terrible Loyalty”

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”  How true this observation is! I would only add that this “terrible loyalty” requires first of all our own personal holiness.

I want to share with you some questions I have for myself as a result of these reflections—questions which concern our response to God’s call, first for ourselves and then regarding our responsibility towards others. Of all the blessings in our lives, what ones do we truly appreciate and for which we are most thankful?

Here are a few thoughts for reflection:

Appreciation for God’s Gift of Himself and My Faith – Out of His Goodness He created me for Himself and desires eternal joy for me. He has made this life possible and my eternal joy attainable. Even while we were sinners and separated from Him, He became one of us; suffered, died and rose again, all for love of me.  Yes, me!  He has given me the gift of faith. Each of us can say the same thing. By His grace, I can live a life that is holy and pleasing to Him, and so can you.

Do I truly understand all that God has done for me? His gift of my very life is so easy to overlook. Truthfully, when times are difficult, do I thank God for my existence and count on Him as my fortress or do my actions reveal that at some level I blame Him for my troubles? What more can I expect of Him?

Appreciation for God’s Gift of Others – God has sent so many people to be Christ to me; to reveal His love and show me the way to Him. In my adult life, He sent my wife, children, daughter-in-law, son-in-law and grandchildren.  How lost I would be, if not for them!  The Lord will bless them for their witness, even if I have not—but I pray that I, too, will let them know how precious their gift to me is and that I will learn and grow from their love.

Who has He sent to me? Do I truly understand the sacredness of their lives and thank them in word and deed for sharing the gift of faith?

Appreciation for the Gift of His Church – God has not left us alone. When Jesus returned to the Father, He left us the pillar and foundation of all Truth, the Church (see 1 Timothy 3:15) and sent the Holy Spirit to lead the Church to all truth; to correct us and to comfort us, to set us apart and make us holy. He gave us His Sacred Scripture through His Church which gives witness to its inspiration and safeguards its teaching. Jesus, who is Truth, left us with a teacher so that we could know the truth. St. Cyprian wrote in 251 A.D., “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother” (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519).

Do I value the Church and learn from her or do I act as if I know better her?  Does my life reveal my honor and obedience to the Church? Do I value and embrace the sacramental life and the grace it confers?

Appreciation for the Gift of My Vocation – I am invited to love God with all my heart, soul and mind; this is the greatest commandment; and then to love others as I am to love myself. These are two separate obligations that come with God’s love—the first is directed to God and the second to others. Simply stated, to whatever state in life our vocation leads us, we are called to come to Heaven and to bring others with us.

The first part requires that I become a person of prayer.  If I am not, then I cannot say that I know and love God. Without a growing prayer life I cannot grow in holiness. And without God’s grace and my practice of humility, I cannot grow in my prayer life. Is my prayer life healthy and intentional? As I age, does my prayer life deepen? How can I strengthen and grow my prayer life?

A strong prayer life and faithful participation in the sacraments equips us to hand on the faith to others. Fueled by love of God and prayer, do I seek to share the gospel with others by both the example of my life and my words?

A Final Thought

In Luke’s Gospel, after Jesus had told the parable of the woman who persisted in seeking a just judgment from an unjust judge (her persistence paid off), He ended with a perplexing question, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

It is up to each of us to make sure He does find faith. And it is up to each of us that the faith we received from Him is fed and nurtured so that it can grow into a higher faith that He waits to give us when we are ready to receive it.

Yes, we can be saints and the only thing holding us back is our decision for it… an act of our will.  One thing I conclude from this: it is my pursuit of holiness through love for God and service to others, especially those in most need, that will make my Christian witness to my grandchildren most effective.

Into the deep…

“Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me” (detail) | Pieter van Lint, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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