Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What Abideth Forever

Abraham is asked to entrust himself to this word. Faith understands that something so apparently ephemeral and fleeting as a word, when spoken by the God who is fidelity, becomes absolutely certain and unshakable, guaranteeing the continuity of our journey through history. Faith accepts this word as a solid rock upon which we can build, a straight highway on which we can travel. 

In the Bible, faith is expressed by the Hebrew word ’emûnāh, derived from the verb ’amān whose root means "to uphold". The term ’emûnāh can signify both God’s fidelity and man’s faith. The man of faith gains strength by putting himself in the hands of the God who is faithful. Playing on this double meaning of the word — also found in the corresponding terms in Greek (pistós) and Latin (fidelis) — Saint Cyril of Jerusalem praised the dignity of the Christian who receives God’s own name: both are called "faithful". As Saint Augustine explains: "Man is faithful when he believes in God and his promises; God is faithful when he grants to man what he has promised".
Lumen Fidei 10

Reflection – Tuesdays with Francis again! Although really, this passage in particular is almost word for word taken from Pope Benedict Emeritus’ early work Introduction to Christianity, so we see here the great collaboration and continuity between the two popes symbolized by this encyclical.

It is worth spending time meditating on this passage, so beautiful and simple really, which bears us into great depths. The ‘word’ which is the most fleeting and ephemeral of all entities, but which on God’s lips becomes the rock on which the whole world rests. Faith in that word becoming the great source of strength and stability for the believer: ‘aman in Hebrew also has the sense of being solid, being firm and hence trustworthy.

It is curious, isn’t it, that so many of the things that seem to be so very solid and concrete in this world actually end up being very shaky foundations indeed on which to build our lives. Money or health or good looks or intelligence or natural charisma: all of them, while we have them, seem to be utterly solid and offer us true security. But any one of them or all of them together can be swept away with one bad turn of fate. We know this, and yet we keep building our lives on those shifting sands. It won’t happen to us, I guess we think, until it does.

Meanwhile, the word of the Lord abideth forever. As we’ve gone through the Sermon on the Mount these last weeks, we have some idea now of what it means to build one’s life on the word of the Lord. That (Matthew 5-7) is what a life built on the word of God should look like. But the Word itself is of course deeper yet. The foundational word is not this or that moral precept or good counsel about how to live in this world.

The word upon which we build our lives is Jesus. And of course this ‘word’ is not so much a word as a person, a relationship, a living communion, a choice made to follow, to trust, to imitate but above all to receive life, grace, and salvation from this One who is the Word of God spoken at the foundation of the world.

We are faithful when we decide that Jesus and our relationship with Him is the primary concern of our lives in which all other loves and concerns are put in proper order, purified and strengthened in truth and goodness. God is faithful when His grace acts to conform our lives more and more to the paschal mystery, to the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection, to the pattern of the communion of love of the Trinity which in the Son through the gift of the Holy Spirit becomes our communion of love—the Father’s will for all creation.

We have to be as clear in our minds and hearts as we can be about these things. So often people struggle with God’s faithfulness because “I gave my life to Him, and look at all these bad things that happened to me and to mine! God let me down. He didn’t take care of me.” But God did not promise us that bad things would never happen to us if we believed in Him. He promises us salvation, and He promises us His grace, and He promises us that He will dwell within us and make our home in us.

And He is faithful to that promise. Are we faithful to ours? That’s the question.

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