Recollection Material – February 2023 “TOGETHER IN FIDELITY”
In the Old Testament, God presents himself as the faithful God, face to face with the human being who is inconstant and unfaithful. He is a God who has given his word and who does not change despite the circumstances. In fact in the many synagogues of the world, the phrase from Is. 40:8 is written as frontispiece: Verbum Dei manet in aeternum. Man passes away like the flower of the field, but God, his word and his plans, remain forever. The fidelity of God is a challenge to the believer, who is called to live in fidelity to the same Lord, to his promises to the human beings and not to abandon the path of God to follow other paths. For St. Augustine, the fact of being able to be faithful and to persevere in following Christ, is a gift from God. It does not depend so much on human effort, but on the grace of God, that enables man to fulfill what he has promised and his own commitments as a believer. Because of all this we will this month meditate on fidelity. Together in community, we want to encourage and help ourselves to faithfully live our Christian and religious commitments: to be faithful to God and to the brothers in community because it is only in faithfulness that true happiness is found.
Return to yourself.
We prepare ourselves to live this day of recollection returning to the heart to discover Christ present in our own interior. The following words of St. Augustine can help you for this purpose.
Why do you praise faithfulness when you demand it from your slave? How beautiful is faithfulness! But it is beautiful when you demand it of your servant; you see it when you demand it of another, not when it is demanded of you. How gold shines before the eyes of the body, so does fidelity shine before the eyes of the heart (s. 9, 16).
Your voice is my joy.
With heart well-disposed with serenity, read slowly the following words of the prophet Hosea. The text is short but full of meaning, Since it is like a letter from God directed to your very person.
21 I will espouse you to me forever,
I will spouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy;
22 I will espouse you in fidelity,
And you shall know the Lord.
The firmament of Scriptures.
The chapter two of the book of the Prophet Hosea is dedicated to the canticle of the unfaithful spouse, a history written about the relationship of God with the people of Israel. Yahweh is the husband, the people of Israel is the wife, a wife that has fallen in adultery and has abandoned fidelity to her husband. From verse 4, the Lord, in first person, complains that after so many favors showered on his spouse, she has left him in search of other men,, other lords (baals) whom she served and loved, forgetting God, who accepted her, nourished her, clothed her and sustained her; by whom she had been enriched and instructed.
Yahweh seeks every means to prevent that his beloved follow her lovers: he closes the road with thorns, he does not allow her to catch up with them and meet them. The Lord, despite his jealousy and anger for the betrayal of his wife, does not stop loving her. Thus he wants her to understand that he loves her, that she falls in love with him again, so that he can restore the situation of harmony that existed before she prostituted.
The husband has a plan to retrieve the love of his beloved. First by showing her that all those things she thought were gifts from her lovers (food, drinks, clothes, wealth), were in reality a gift from God, who will leave her without these things, that she may see her nakedness and poverty. Secondly, he will bring her to the desert to speak to her heart and again fill her with those gifts she had lost. Thus she will realize that he who provided them was her husband, i.e., God, that lover who always remained faithful. Once converted in the heart, the unfaithful wife will be a faithful wife.
Fidelity is the element that comes out in the whole chapter. God is faithful in his role as husband and much more; it was he who cared for the relationship, and, seeing the infidelity, not only did he remain faithful, it was also he who sought the means to restore the relationship. In tens of verses we hear the voice of the husband, humiliated and betrayed, but also the voice of hope: that wife who abandoned him will return. He will seduce her to restore the covenant they had made from the beginning. I will speak to her heart, it is the key of fidelity: to dialogue with the heart: the dialogue of hearts to maintain the chain of faithful love that must be mutually guarded.
From the heart to the heart is how a chain must be created between those who seek to live faithfully. Fidelity is a reason of the heart. Once the husband brings his beloved into the desert and shows her the consequences of infidelity, that is when the heart is opened. The people of Israel allowed herself to be seduced by the wealth and the power of alien peoples, she strayed from Yahweh and the Law, from his service, and had turned her face to the Baals, who pretended to be more wealthy and powerful. In the end the people of Israel was losing everything: she was subjugated, experienced famine, paid tribute, and her wealth went out of the country to other places. Yahweh, the God of Israel, maintains his fidelity and announces that he will do everything possible to reverse this history, but for this purpose it is necessary that the people return to be faithful to the covenant she had made, only by returning to the union with the first love, can she get out of the crisis, social, political and religious, in which the people was living.
In the Augustinian vocabulary, the adjective fidelis was very important not so much for directly alluding to the fidelity in fulfilling the precepts of God, and in following the path of Christ, but because in North Africa to distinguish those who had effectively received the sacrament of baptism were called fideles, while the catechumens, and all those who had received Christian initiation are simply called christianus. Certainly all were Christians, but terminologically that differentiation was being made, even though in some few occasions St. Augustine presents the term christianus as something exclusive of the baptized.
In this way, the adjective fidelis is used by St. Augustine to refer to those who in fact had received the baptism, as an invitation to persevere in the faithful fulfillment of the precepts and the Christian discipline. For this reason, St. Augustine uses another word that he particularly liked to refer to what the Old Testament called ‘fidelity’, it refers to the term ‘perseverance’ (perseverantia).
For St. Augustine perseverance is one of the keys of Christian life, and therefore, of religious life itself. Through his own pastoral experience, St. Augustine realized that many were those who came to receive baptism, as he allows us to see in De catechizandis rudibus, but that not all had begun to walk the Christian path, were persevering in it, since a significant number of believers, shortly after their baptism, for various reasons, put aside their condition of being baptized to again live like pagans, without being such, because in baptism they had received the indelible consecration to the Trinity (bapt. 4,4,6).
Because of this, St. Augustine invites above all to perseverance, and not to forget the wealth that had been received at baptism, and to live a holy life. Thus, before the baptized who were living in disorderly way, attending pagan spectacles proper to the ancient world, as were the race of chariots drawn by horses in the circus, or the gladiator fights in the amphitheaters, St. Augustine reminds them that on their foreheads they were carrying the sign of the cross, as a sign of pertaining to Christ, and that they cannot bear one front to the circus and another to the Church, since they must be Christians and must conduct themselves as baptized in all places. It is, therefore, an invitation to coherence and perseverance.
And this the Christians do: and I do not want to say also the faithful (baptized). It is possible that the catechumen despise himself, saying ’I am a catechumen’ – Are you a catechumen? –Yes, I am a catechumen. –Do you have two foreheads, one that received the sign of Christ and another that you bring to the theater? – Do you want to go to him? Change your forehead and go. Therefore, do not lose the forehead that you cannot change. Upon you God’s name is invoked, upon you Christ is invoked, upon you God is invoked, on your forehead the sign of the Cross of Christ is marked and engraved (s. 30IA, 8 [-s. Denis 17, 8]).
In another sermon, St. Augustine insists that it is necessary to persevere, but in order that the perseverance be active and true, one must first undergo a process of conversion. We do not speak of perseverance in evil, but in good and in the path of holiness, and for this it is necessary first of all to acknowledge one’s own faults and errors, to ask for the grace to persevere in the path of God until the end. Certainly, St. Augustine is conscious that the temptations of the world will not disappear once the believer has decided to be converted. The temptations will be there, and the believer will find himself assaulted by them along the way, but the important thing is to trust in the power of the grace of God, and to ask for perseverance until the end in the faithful fulfillment of one’s own Christian promises.
The first thing you must do is to be displeased with yourself that you may triumph over sin and make yourself better. Second, after having changed yourself, is to bear the tribulations and temptations of this world and persevere to the end in the midst of all these (en. Ps. 59, 5).
We likewise speak of a perseverance in good works. The Christian shows his closeness to Christ in fraternal love. Whoever perseveres in Christian life must persevere in the fulfillment of good works. That is why in explaining the dimensions of the Cross, following the text of Eph. 3:18, St. Augustine emphasizes that the horizontal crosspiece of the cross, in which the hands of Christ were nailed represent the invitation to good works. But it is not simply the fulfillment of good works, but also the perseverance in them until the end of the road, and element represented by the vertical crosspiece of the cross. Hence for St. Augustine to persevere in one’s own spiritual life is important, but this spiritual life must be manifested in one’s exterior works, in the good fruits that a person must produce. There can be no lazy believers who live only for themselves, not mindful of others. One must be fruitful, and persevere in producing good fruit.
In fact, in the transversal plank (of the cross), in which the hands of the crucified are extended, it is wide and because charity must be wide, it signifies good works. Where the back and the feet are fixed, from the transversal beam to the ground, it is long and signifies the perseverance until the end during the length of time (Io. eu. tr. 118, 5).
We likewise deal with the perseverance of the Church and of the faith, despite the presence of the darnel within the field of God (Mt. 13:24-52). St. Augustine is conscious that many persons get tired of doing good and of persevering in the Church or in the religious community, because in it there is darnel, there are persons who live with little seriousness the Christian life. St. Augustine, with the New Testament, invites to perseverance up to the end, to have patience with those who as yet have not converted, and to know that the presence of those who are darnel, does help those who like to be wheat, to purify oneself, and to exercise in patience and in charity with those who have not yet converted, as a prolongation of God’s own mercy, a mercy that extends to the moment of judgment and the separation of the wheat from the darnel.
God has judged it better to mix with his saints those who will not persevere, so that they will not believe secure those who should not feel secure in the temptations of this life (persev. 8, 19).
But in a particular manner, St. Augustine emphasizes that perseverance is a gift from God. It concerns an element that St. Augustine underlines particularly at the end of his life, after having known many cases of some persons who had begun very well their Christian journey, but who after some years had gotten tired and had put aside the Christian discipline. It is therefore necessary to pray every day so that God may grant us the grace of perseverance, a loving constancy in the fulfillment of our duties, in prayer and in community life.
Five urgent texts of the Constitutions: Together in faithfulness.
1. “Formation is a process that embraces the whole life of the religious. Beginning with the initial testing of his vocation, it helps him to walk in faithful- ness to the call and mission received from God” (n. 118).
2. “The superiors have the responsibility of looking after the continuing progress of the religious over whom they have authority. Towards them, they are to have pastoral and guiding mission, making use of the means that the Church and the Order have put into their hands. They are to encourage personal and collective faithfulness and to encourage the religious, especially those in need of encouragement, to participate in the special activities of permanent formation” (n. 262).
3. “(The prior) is to be the guide and the soul of the community. He is to take care that in it an atmosphere of spontaneity, of wholesome joy and of trust among the brothers is lived out. In the same way he is to motivate and to try to win over the brothers so that each one acts in faithfulness to the commitment he has undertaken” (n. 165).
4. “The experience of meeting the Master and of his unmerited call are the origin of every vocation to a life of following Jesus, a life which demands openness and fidelity to the Word” (n. 155).
5, “Faithfulness to his vocation demands of the religious a process of continuous purification and growth which, under the action of the Sprit, lead him to a total surrender to the Lord” (n. 225).
From the Word to the Action.
What does faithfulness in religious life imply for you?
How do you respond to the demands of your community life and of your vows?
How could you grow in faithfulness to God and to your brothers?
Let my mouth be filled with praise (…) the whole day. What does the whole day mean? Without intermission. In prosperity, because you console me; in adversity, because you correct me; before existing, because your created me; after, because you gave me health; when I sinned, because you forgave me; when I repented, because you helped me; having persevered, because you will crown me (en. Ps. 70, 1, 10). +