Fidelity - easier said than done
Since my first days training to be a priest, fidelity has always been an essential concept and the embodiment of an ideal. What do I want to be? A faithful priest. How does that come to pass? I have to live out my spiritual and apostolic commitments, working for coherence between the values I profess and my everyday behavior and daily decisions.
At first, we often look at external behavior as the most significant indication of fidelity. It is undoubtedly significant, but through the years, I have come to see that much that we associate with fidelity happens on the inside. This goes along with what Christ says in the Gospel. “Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for he knew what was in man.” (Jn. 2:24-25)
Jesus lived in a time when fidelity was interpreted by some as a slavish interpretation of ethical and societal norms, as was the case of the Pharisees. They lived an exaggeration, but fidelity must at least take the norms into account. Fidelity is ultimately being known by Christ and by him discovering in our hearts true love that leads to the right action.
When Jesus faced the attention to the finer details of the Law of the Pharisees, while their hearts were rotten, it made him sick. He compared them to whitewashed tombs. (cfr. Mt. 23:27) It would be like finding mold in a closet and just painting over it. The rot would still be there. We can experience the temptation to focus on external details without ever working on our hearts. God knows what happens in the depths of our conscience. The conversion we are all called to undergo begins there.
This stark image helps his listeners to understand that Jesus is launching a moral revolution instead of just reminding them about some moral precepts. They had grown used to having preachers tell them what to do. Few men had achieved the depth that Christ was thrusting upon them each time he opened his mouth.
Before painting over the wall that is covered in mold, it is crucial to scrape off the mold and clean it. The mold will grow and spoil all the work. In the same way, when we are working on ourselves, it is important to do our best to get rid of our defects. We will never accomplish this ultimately, but the effort helps clean us up remarkably.
Inside of the cup
Jesus saw this clearly in the case of the Pharisees. He called out to them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Mt. 23:25) We should focus on cleaning the inside. This is a much more challenging prospect. It is relatively easy to clean the outside, which would be like polishing up our everyday behavior. But penetrating the depths of the heart and making sure that we are living what God is asking us requires great introspection and honesty. Then the work to be done requires great constancy and determination.
Getting rid of greed and self-indulgence is so hard because it means dying to yourself. So often, I hear people who try to present an “easy form” of Christianity. They are all doomed to fail because Christianity means following Christ. There is no way to be a good Christian and continue looking to serve only ourselves. We have to look to follow Christ.
A “vocation – like life itself – matures only through daily fidelity.” (Pope Francis, Message for World Day of Vocations, 2021)
Anyone following a religious vocation should long to hear the words from the mouth of the Master: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Mt. 25:23) This speaks of a mission that has been completed.
In the corporate world, employees are supposed to fulfill a series of tasks to catch the attention of their supervisors and be rewarded. Thankfully, in the case of a religious vocation, it is a different story. God wants to reward people richly and is happy to give them his grace. Daily fidelity, fulfilling the required tasks of each day, is the ultimate key to happiness. We spend so much time and energy searching for happiness when it is there for the taking when we respond with joy and peace to the mission that God gives us every day.
St. Joseph, an example of fidelity
St. Joseph, foster father to Jesus, and the father in the home of the Holy Family at Nazareth is a perfect example of this mature sacrifice.
This fidelity is the secret of joy. A hymn in the liturgy speaks of the “transparent joy” present in the home of Nazareth. It the joy of simplicity, the joy experienced daily by those who care for what truly matters: faithful closeness to God and to our neighbor. How good it would be if the same atmosphere, simple and radiant, sober and hopeful, were to pervade our seminaries, religious houses and presbyteries! (Pope Francis, Message for World Day of Vocations, 2021)