Circular Letter: Advent 2002
Fidelity: Seven Characteristics
In the Work of the Holy Angels the members are encouraged to strive to acquire seven special virtues which will help them to achieve a more intimate union with the holy angels. These are: Fidelity, Humility, Obedience, Charity, Silence, Temperance and the Imitation of Mary.
In the trial of the angels, it has been said that their separation in the beginning was over the matter of fidelity to God. With St. Michael, “Who is like God!” the faithful angels chose to remain faithful to God, whereas the fallen angels fell away from God, they became unfaithful. Fidelity, therefore, is said to be the first hallmark of the holy angels.
Similarly, fidelity should be the first character trait of the members in the Work of the Angels. In this Circular Letter we wish to reflect on fidelity, a most fundamental virtue.
Humility is often called the foundation of the spiritual life, but if we reflect carefully upon the matter, we see that it is the office of humility rather to do the digging for the foundation. For humility removes the debris of self-love, so that the spiritual life can be built upon the bedrock of faith. But it is fidelity that anchors it there. This is why the very term fidelity is related to the Latin word for faith, ‘fides’. Similarly, its synonym is ‘faithfulness,’ which as is evident comes from ‘faith’. Without fidelity, there can be no perfection or holiness.
“Concretely, the way for the faithful to become saints is that of fidelity to God’s will, as it is expressed to us in His Word, the commandments and the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. As it was for Mary and for all the saints, so for us too, the perfection of charity consists in trusting abandonment into the Father’s hands, following Jesus’ example” (Pope John Paul II, Gen. Aud., July 22, 1998)
Before we analyze more carefully that which is proper to fidelity, let us take a brief inventory of its tasks, titles and liaisons. Blessed are those whose comportment and relationships are described by these words! God grant that we measure up.
We should be faithful, first of all, to God to whom we owe an absolute allegiance as our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. We should be faithful to the Church, both in her authority to teach and in her authority to command. In matters of doctrine, we should be staunch or firm, since the Gospel of Christ is one and immutable, while in matters of discipline, we should be as obedient, loyal, dependable and steadfast servants.
We should be constant in the practice of our faith, persevering and in the exercise of the virtues, longsuffering in trials. We should be loyal to the members of our family and to our friends (“a friend in need is a friend, indeed”). We should be patriotic to our country; we ought to be reliable in the execution of our duties. We should be true to our word, to our promises and commitments.
“Thirty years after the publication of the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis (Vatican II, Life and Ministry of Priests), we can see the providential wisdom of indicating that the key to priestly identity is to be found in fidelity and enthusiasm for the gift received from the Lord…” Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzaran, Archbishop of Yucatan, Mexico
In particular, we should be faithful to our state in life and to its corresponding duties: priests to their ministry, to their bishop, to their promise of celibacy; religious to their public consecration to strive for the perfect imitation of Christ according to the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience; married couples to one another, since their union is a sacramental sign of Christ’s faithful love for His spouse, the Church.
Under the categories of fidelity to God and the Church we, the faithful, must include our fidelity to the Blessed Mother, the holy angels and the saints, whom we confess in the “communion of saints”. And since we all form one body in Christ, member for member, we have a special duty to be faithful to the faithful, that is, to the members of the Church. By our Consecration to the Holy Angels, we have further committed ourselves by a special title to loyalty to them and to the Work of the Holy Angels.
John Paul II appealed to believers, especially young people, to rediscover the help of Guardian Angels in their lives. The Pope reminded the faithful that on Oct. 2 the Church celebrates the memorial of the Guardian Angels. This celebration encourages us “to think of these heavenly protectors that God’s provident care has put next to each person,” the Holy Father said.
Then, addressing young people in particular, the Pope said: “Let yourselves be led by the angels, so that your life will be a faithful living of the divine commandments.” Vatican City Oct. 2, 2002. Zenith News Service.
The Nature of Fidelity
We surely esteem fidelity in our friends. It is something basic to the moral life; without it society, indeed, the family could not exist. While it is true that love is first or paramount, it remains that love would not be true love if it were not simultaneously faithful. “In concrete terms, love means fidelity” (Congregation for the Clergy, L’Osservatore Romano, July 21,1999). Love entails the delight in the goodness of another and the generous benevolence by which we wish to contribute to their further well-being. Fidelity seals this good intention with the commitment to permanence. If you really love someone, you want to love him forever and to assist him always!
Thus, fidelity is the virtue whereby we remain true to the fulfillment of our commitments through thick and thin, or “for better and for worse” as it is expressed in the marriage vow, the quintessential human vow of fidelity!
Heroic Fidelity in Romance
Antonio and Maria were in the spring of life; they had fallen in love. Moreover, he had proposed, she had accepted. So with the blessing of their parents, who were poor farmers, they were making plans for their future felicity.
There was only one small difficulty: their village on the Brazilian frontier was so far removed from anywhere that their missionary priest only stopped by but rarely. Resigned to wait for the priest who would celebrate their marriage…wait they did. It seems that the ‘regular’ priest must have passed away. And so time passed. Living on two sides of a stream, Antonio and Maria would come to the edge of the stream each morning, greet one another across the waters and say a prayer together before going to work in the fields.
This young couple waited ten full years before another priest visited their village, when they finally celebrated their marriage.
Worldly souls might consider their patient fidelity a great waste and foolhardiness. Now, while Church Law certainly authorized Antonio and Maria under those circumstances to celebrate their exchange of the matrimonial vow of fidelity in the presence of a few witnesses (something they evidently did not know), nonetheless, they earned for themselves an eternal blessing and a crown of splendor for their heroically faithful witness to the holiness of marriage.
Fidelity and Justice
As such, fidelity belongs to justice: we owe it to the other to keep our word. Similarly, it belongs to veracity: we owe it to ourselves, to the integrity of our own mind, to acknowledge the truth and to make our own word of promise come true.
Our commitment to be faithful may be implicit or formal. With respect to creatures truth means: to affirm of what is, that it is; and to say of what is not, that it is not. In other words, truth is the adequation or conformity of our mind to reality. Evidently, the world which God created (and ultimately, God Himself) is the measure of truth. We are truthful when we perceive, recognize and assent to reality for what it is.
Since the mind is created for the truth, it naturally assents to this light when it shines in our heart. In a similar way, the will has an innate inclination “to do good and avoid evil.” Thus, by our very perception of the natural order we are inclined to commit ourselves to pursue the good. This is the natural law, written in the hearts of men and to which our conscience bears witness (cf. Rom 2:14ff).
By acknowledging and committing ourselves to fulfill the moral consequences that arise from our position in the world, in society and before God, we enter into the realm of fidelity. Beyond the immutable obligations of the natural law to which we must be faithful, there is the vast realm of human freedom wherein we may choose one course of action or another. In many of these, though, man does not stand in isolation, but in a social context that also demands stability. Hence the need, indeed, the duty, arises to commit oneself by promise, contract or vow in a multitude of ways. This takes place in marriage, in work, in friendship, etc. For the sake of the Kingdom of God, the commitment may be to the evangelical counsels in the consecrated life, to the sacred ministry, or even to special devotions, such as consecrations to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Mary and to the holy angels.
In relation to veracity, fidelity has something “divine” about it. For in veracity, we acknowledge the truth of existing beings, while in the free commitments of fidelity, we remain true to our word, so that something new, something good can come to be. In this sense, fidelity is almost “creative”; at least, we may say that it is by fidelity that we come to perfection. Moreover, it is by our fidelity that we best cooperate with the holy angels. The end of their ministry is to help us to be assimilated to God, to become Godlike in charity and in the virtues. The more faithfully we cooperate with their inspirations and admonitions, the more faithful we remain in the midst of our trials, the more rapidly we shall be transformed into the likeness of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).
And should we deny the natural law of God or fail in our promises, we would, of course, be unfaithful. Herein lies the reason why the reprobate spirits were charged with unfaithfulness to God. In the first instant of their creation, namely, all the created spirits turned lovingly to God and committed themselves to His service in the light of their natural reason (Summa Theo. I. 63,5,c). But when further enlightened by the light of faith, in which they understood the supernatural kingdom of God’s love and their place therein, the devil and his angels rebelled in infidelity. As St. Thomas teaches: the devil sinned by aversion to the divine rule (De Malo 16,3,1m, 10m, 15m).
The just and faithful soul, though, loves the law of God: “O Lord, how I love Your law!” (Ps 119:97); “the works of [God’s] hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy” (Ps 111:7). It is by the grace of God that we can remain faithful; Jesus assures us: “Without Me, you can do nothing!” (Jn 15:5). At the same time St. Paul affirms, “I can do all things in Him, Who strengthens me” (Phil 4:14). For “God is faithful, and will not permit you to be tempted beyond your strength” (1 Cor 10:13); rather, “He will strengthen you and guard you from evil” (2 Th 3:3), for His faithfulness is a shield and a buckler” (Ps 91:4). Yes, He Who calls us is faithful and will sanctify us completely, spirit, soul and body, so that we might be found perfect at the coming of Christ (cf. 1 Th 5:24).
The Fidelity of God
“God, ‘He Who is,’ revealed Himself to Israel as the one ‘abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Ex 34:6). These two terms express summarily the riches of the divine name. In all His works, God displays not only His kindness, goodness, grace and steadfast love, but also His trustworthiness, constancy, faithfulness and truth. ‘I give thanks to Your name for Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness’ (Ps 138:2). He is the truth, for ‘God is light and in Him there is no darkness’; ‘God is love’ as the apostle John teaches (1 Jn 1:5; 4:8).
“‘The sum of Your word is truth; and every one of Your righteous ordinances endure forever’ (Ps 119:160). ‘And now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are true’ (2 Sam 7:28); this is why God’s promises always come true (cf. Deut 7:9). God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive. This is why one can abandon oneself in full trust to the truth and faithfulness of His word in all things” (CCC 214-215).
Since God does not have any natural duty towards creation, we can only speak of His fidelity in terms of His unwavering goodness, in terms of His plans and the promises (covenants) He has given us for our salvation.
God’s fidelity, His eternal stability and the certitude that His goodness gives us is the only foundation upon which the fidelity of creatures can ultimately stand. This is the reason why chaos, incertitude and wars mark faithless generations. As a wise pastor once queried a young couple living in concubinage: “How do you think you can ever really be faithful to one another, you who are mere creatures, if you are not first willing to be faithful to God in obedience to His laws
The Shame of a Lie and Impurity is their Infidelity
As a lie is the dishonor of man, so is impurity the dishonor of woman, for therein is each unfaithful to their innermost call. In a lie man refuses to conceive the truth, and the impure woman does not wish to conceive life. Both these evils are united in the impure spirits, so called for their rejection of the mystery of faith. In their trial these unfaithful spirits refused to accept the Word of Life. For this reason the devil is the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning (cf. Jn 8:44). For what he rejected was the divine plan, whereby the Word of God should become man. At that same moment, he resolved to kill the Word of God when He would one day come in the flesh.
“Fidelity as an attribute of God confesses the firm, unshakeable constancy in which Yahweh remains: He Who is the gracious and merciful God. Even in the midst of a world filled with infidelity (Deut 32:4; Hos 4:1; Sir 11:30) He remains the ‘faithful God’ (Ps 30:6). Even when man breaks the covenant, His fidelity remains unshaken (Hos 11)“ (LTK, X, 333ff).
Time and again Scripture celebrates the fidelity (faithfulness) of God, especially within the context of the covenant, which is seen in the light of His extraordinary goodness: “All the ways of the Lord are kindness and faithfulness for them that keep His covenant and His laws” (Ps 25:10). God’s fidelity is His unilateral decision to conserve and provide for creation, which He brought out of nothingness in the generous outpouring of His goodness. God was free to create or not to create. And strictly speaking, the entire universe could fall back in an instant into nothingness should God ever fully ‘repent’ (regret) having created the world on account of the sins of mankind. But He has made known to us: “God did not make death, and He does not delight in the death of the living. For He created all things that they might exist” (Wis 1:13-14). So even in the face of our sins, He declares, “I will not execute the fierceness of my wrath; I will not return to destroy Ephraim: because I am God and not man; the holy one in the midst of thee” (Hos 11:9). As St. Paul attests: “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). This is not to say that all are saved–for some resist the call of Divine mercy–but rather, that as long as man lives in this world God’s faithful and merciful love is still tendered for his salvation.
The Covenant Promises and the Oath of God
Thus, whenever mankind or the chosen people fell away from God, God remained faithful to His salvific plan (love), always offering anew to mankind forgiveness and a Redeemer. In all generations He renewed His covenant with mankind:
He promised a Redeemer to Adam and Eve after their fall into sin (Gen 3:15).
He promised Noah never again to destroy the world by a flood (Gen 8:21f. 9:11-15).
He promised Abraham a son and an everlasting progeny and inheritance (Gen 17:2ff, 15; 15:4-5).
He promised David–not because he was without sin, but because he sincerely repented of his sins and stood upright before the Lord–the Messiah as his son and the eternal consolidation of his reign (Ps 132:11)!
“When God made His promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you…’ Meaning to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His will, God interposed an oath, that by two unchangeable things [namely, by the promise and the oath] in which it is impossible for God to deceive, we may have the strongest comfort” (Heb 6:13-14; 17-18).
This promise and oath are realized in the birth of Christ and through His death on the Cross. Concerning the first, the psalmist sings: “I will make known the decree (oath) of the Lord: the Lord has said to me: “Thou art My Son, this day I have begotten Thee…and I will give You the gentiles for Your inheritance” (Heb 2:7,8).
Concerning the second, namely Christ’s death on the Cross, St. Paul declares: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, becoming a curse for us; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a gibbet’; that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, that through faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal 3:13-14).
Thus, all the covenants of God’s fidelity are recapitulated in the birth of Christ and in His Paschal Mystery. By His death on the Cross, He reconciled us to the Father, establishing an everlasting covenant. This mystery of our Redemption He perpetuated by instituting the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the new and everlasting covenant in His Blood (cf. Lk 22:20). Through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Christ’s sacrifice is renewed daily in our midst; its efficacy is made present to us in an unbloody manner; and by the reception of His Body and Blood He remains in us and we in Him in a singular way. In this way, too, the Faithful and Suffering Servant makes us sharers in His victimhood, so that we might become sharers in His glory.
Such is the fidelity of God in His purpose and promise: He calls His creatures to become His servants, His servants to become His friends. What He counsels us, He realizes Himself: “If your servant is faithful, let him be for you as your soul” (Sir 33:31, Vulgate text). “Good and faithful servant…enter into the joys of your master!” (Mt 25:21).
Fidelity to God and to Man
Jesus Christ is the living and perfect relationship of God with man and of man with God. From Him the pedagogy of the faith receives “a law which is fundamental for the whole of the Church’s life”, and therefore for catechesis: “the law of fidelity to God and of fidelity to man in a single, loving attitude”. General Directory for Catechesis 1997, n. 145
A Story of Saving Fidelity
It was evening and Father Eugene, the chaplain at an American university, was tidying up his office after a busy day as he waited for a last appointment to show up. He had agreed to see Henry at seven o’clock, thinking that afterwards they could go over and see the big football game that was scheduled for eight in the university stadium.
Henry had been having a hard time of it of late, but even after a more lengthy talk, they could still get in the better part of the game. What Father Eugene had not foreseen was that Henry should be late. Seven o’clock came and went, but no Henry! Eight o’clock came and Father Eugene could hear the roar of cheering from the stadium at the kickoff…and was by now himself a bit ticked off! He was a stickler for punctuality, and it irked him this evening all the more, as he was quite a fan.
The thought occurred to him to forget Henry, who was already an hour late, and to go to the game. But something told him to wait, that he would be by presently.
After another twenty minutes of fidgeting, Father Eugene went and got his coat and cap, mumbling to himself, “What am I waiting around here for? Henry’s forgotten the appointment; he’s probably over in the stands now watching the game!”
But again, something inside him made him stop. He took off his coat and tossed it over the chair, saying to himself, “perhaps he’ll still come.”
The cheers from the stadium at the beginning of the second half raised his ire; he was rather peeved at the irresponsibility and inconsiderateness of the student. He grabbed his coat and was putting on his muffler, but again he couldn’t reach the door. There was somehow a terrible struggle going on inside himself that made no sense; he just had to wait for Henry. And so he did. He really didn’t know himself; he was amazed at his own conduct. “Perhaps there’s something wrong with me,” he pondered.
A while later, there came a knock at the door. Father Eugene opened and there was Henry. Henry had a pistol in his hand and was evidently most distraught. Before Father could say anything, Henry blurted out: “Why did you stay? Why didn’t you go to the game? Why didn’t you leave and abandon me like everyone else?”
“I couldn’t go. Something just kept telling me to stay put, that you would still come. I just had to wait for you! Come in, Henry, let’s talk, tell me what the problem is.”
Henry handed Father the pistol and entered; they had a good long talk, until long after the game. It was the beginning of Henry’s recovery. But it had nearly been the end, for Father’s staying or leaving had been the sign Henry had fixed to determine whether he would commit suicide or not, the sign whether anyone cared.
Later Father Eugene confessed, that at the time he had not understood what was happening. But later it was clear enough that his angel had been pressuring him to stay, knowing the consequences that would have followed, had he opened the door. “How I thank God that I was faithful to those inspirations of grace!”
Fr. William Wagner, ORC
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