This Lent I have been reading the existentialist author, Gabriel Marcel, on the virtue of fidelity, a virtue I never thought much about. A certain explanation, well, it rather convicted me. About this time during Lent I start getting grumpy because it’s getting tough to keep the vows I excitedly made on Ash Wednesday. It’s similar to making a vow to a friend that I will visit her every day. Marcel used such a scenario, although this one’s my own take.
The first few visits bring my friend joy, which brings me joy. For a while, I look forward to the daily visits I committed to. Then one day, another acquaintance invites me to the Sweet Basil Diner and I really want to go. Do I give up lunch and honor my vow, but with resentment? If I do, you could call me a constant companion, but you couldn’t genuinely call me a faithful friend. Even if I forced myself to appear sincerely faithful on the outside, it would only be a façade, a lie.
Immediately there seems to be another solution though, and there is. The solution is a transcendent faith. Constancy, with no ultimate acknowledgment of anything beyond death, cannot sustain the virtue of fidelity. Marcel described fidelity as a mystery beyond time, not just being outwardly constant, but being inwardly with the other person. It is also to remember that our relationships are not with objects but with spiritual beings, human or divine. Such commitments, born of love, compel us to forego lunch dates because they are far greater than temporary pleasure.
In real life, it even translates to the little things. It means I put down the book I’m enjoying when my child wants to share a story, even if it’s about some goofy episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. It means I spend the extra five minutes to kiss my husband good-bye and wave from the window as he drives away for work, even if I have a million emails I’m anxious to check. And it’s about the big things. It means I pray, fast, and be with Christ, not because I said I would on Ash Wednesday, but because His love is bigger than the 40 days of a little sacrifice. These duties may seem a burden and a prison to the faithless, but they are the only freedom worth having to the one who loves and is loved.
I have a friend, a faithful friend, who reminds me often, “No Faith, No Hope, No Future.” I guess it really isn’t more complicated than that. Either death is the end and it all is an illusion, or death, as Marcel quoted from a friend of his, is the “door to all we have lived on earth.”