It has been on my mind for some time that our culture desperately needs heroes of fidelity.
When I journeyed on Sunday, Aug. 22, to celebrate Mass for the 13 deacon candidates and their spouses, the readings from sacred Scripture focused on being faithful. I lift up in thanks the 139 deacons and their spouses who faithfully serve Christ and His people and especially those who have done so for more than 40 years since the order of diaconate was established in the archdiocese.
These 13 candidates will join a fine corps of deacons who truly have been the icon of Jesus, coming to serve rather than be served.
The readings of sacred Scripture that 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time focused on fidelity and making a lasting decision for Christ and His people. In the first reading from the Book of Joshua, Joshua told the people that they need to decide and that, for him and for his household, he will serve the Lord.
Powerfully the Gospel from St. John, chapter six, continued the theme. When people began to turn away from Jesus because of His hard teaching that He is the “Bread of Life” and would give His very self for His followers to eat, He asked His closest disciples if they would also leave Him. Peter shined forth with his faithful reply: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
At this June’s Priests’ Assembly, Father Bob Leavitt presented some of the thinking of the now 89-year-old Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. Professor Taylor gave a Harvard lecture in 1991 entitled “The Malaise of Modernity,” and right after the June assembly, I read the book with this lecture series with eagerness and great profit.
While Professor Taylor praises the modern search for authenticity — who among us does not want to be true to our deepest and best self — he also speaks realistically about counterfeit efforts in which choice itself is glorified.
Wisely, he identifies a major contemporary flaw in one who in isolation declares his or her authentic self and then untethered to an outside horizon of significance, changes this identity quickly. Taylor points to the danger of trivializing meaning in life by a kind of narcissism that brings not joy but emptiness.
He presented this lecture some 30 years ago but it gives voice to cultural movements that continue today. While praising the efforts for creativity in our culture, he was able to identify perhaps the biggest failing of a counterfeit authenticity in a lack of commitment to others.
In the midst of failures in marital fidelity or the rarity of fidelity in other vocations, we need to hold up faithfulness. Thus, I applaud our deacon community and next month will eagerly celebrate our traditional Wedding Anniversary Mass to highlight and honor couples who have been heroically faithful.
Fidelity, which is central to every Christian vocation, requires God’s grace. Unless there is a deep appreciation that God’s grace is present in our deepest need and that God will always provide, fidelity becomes simply an unreachable ideal.
I also have been reflecting on the relationship between fidelity and inspiring trust.
The gift of fidelity not only has a great impact on the person seeking to be faithful but on the person to whom he or she commits and to the quality of the culture and civilization in which he lives.
St. Paul writes to Timothy of God’s fidelity, “If we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he will remain faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:12)
Parents reflect that commitment of God who will be faithful for they cannot deny their own nature. So, the trust of a child is centered on this assurance of fidelity.
We in the Church have learned painfully from the clergy sexual abuse crisis that when a priest is not faithful to his promises, tremendous harm comes both to those whose trust is violated and to the wider community whose trust is shaken.
We pray for the grace of fidelity to God and His call in our hearts, and we hold up as heroes of our day those who remain faithful in good times and in bad. I began by identifying the gift of our deacons and spouses. Most deacons have that twin call of fidelity to Holy Orders and to Matrimony. For this, we give thanks.