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A Lenten Reflection on Fidelity

March 25, AD 2014 13 Comments

Moving June 2012 042

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.”

Hello, and thank you for reading. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my tiny office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge. Read more about me here, with pictures. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. "Like" my Facebook page Science Was Born of Christianity to follow updates about my book. God bless you!

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  • Bill S

    “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.””

    It’s not so much that it is all an illusion. It is a promise that has been made by people who can’t fulfill it. If you can imagine the brain shutting down, whether it be slowly and peacefully or abruptly and even violently, that’s the end of life as we know it. Anything beyond that is just speculation.

    • hv

      If it is truly the end of life as we know it and is completely unpredictable, then why are you spending whatever time you have left with people who think your opinion is nonsense?

      • Bill S

        Just to tell them that their opinion is nonsense.

  • Ezbs

    “Such commitments, born of love, compel us to forego lunch dates because they are far greater than temporary pleasure”

    This statement inspires to remain faithful to ones promises.

    I believe perfecting love is the point. I listened to a Priest talk yesterday, and I must admit I rolled my eyes a little at his reference to the fact that if we do things with love in our hearts, then God will have more mercy on our shortcomings and fault. The eye rolling was not very loving of me, I know. But only simple love cures cynicism.

    It’s revolutionary that giving and loving unconditionally, for God can be the answer to many woes in life. Because it requires or needs nothing in return.

    • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

      Oh wow, Ezbs, exactly! I forget how difficult Lent can be too, and I’ve noticed every year about this time, I just feel so tired and roll my eyes a lot. Lent is so intense, the school year is on its last leg, Spring hasn’t yet come (where I am), and the days just drag by. But your last sentence says it all.

      • Ezbs

        I hope spring brings you that refresher that you need. Its Autumn where I am. Enjoy Gods beauty. It’s my favourite time of year! X

  • Jeff_McLeod

    This is just excellent. You connected the dots for me Stacy by referring to fidelity sub specie aeternitatis, in light of eternity.

    The wickedly clever Kierkegaard once observed how we all recognize the condemnation of wrongdoing if we were ever to break a promise we made to the dead, yet we let ourselves off the hook for promises we give to the living.

    For example, your sister who is dying of cancer asks if you will care for her dog. After your sister dies, you quietly have the dog euthanized. Feel the smack of conscience in that story. It’s like a Seinfeld episode! How low can a human being get?

    How much more we owe the living. How much more of an outrage is it for us to leave our spouse because we’re “just not feeling it.”

    And how greatly are we condemned if we can’t even bother to stay awake with our LORD on the eve of his passion, let alone to follow through with our pathetic little promise to forego Dairy Queen Blizzards for 40 days.

    • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

      Yes! I love how he used to stories to teach what is obvious but sometime over-intellectualized. Thank you Jeff for encouraging me to read this book. It’s so good to have your guidance, otherwise I might have given up reading what at first seemed to difficult.

  • Mary Ann

    Great reflection. I especially love the point that relationships are not with objects but with spiritual beings, human or divine. So often we do acts of charity almost mechanically, out of a sense of duty, where we treat people like objects instead of doing the good deed out of pure love. True fidelity is to be loyal in spirit not just outward appearance. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Mary C. Tillotson

    Good thoughts. I’ve been told that marital fidelity shouldn’t be limited to “not cheating” but really means giving your spouse (and kids) the best of your time, not what’s leftover. Like you said.

    “Even if I forced myself to appear sincerely faithful on the outside, it would only be a façade, a lie.”

    Not necessarily — although it depends on what you mean by resentment. You can choose to stew in your resentment and begrudge your friend (even though your friend didn’t make the vow; you did). But it’s not always possible to totally do away with feelings of resentment, which can be powerful. In this case, I think it’s best to visit anyway and do your best to make your friend feel like your top priority (and appear sincerely faithful in her eyes), even as you admit your weakness (not to her). If it’s really bad and you’re having a huge struggle with an intense feeling of resentment that you can’t hide, for your friend’s sake, it might be better to call in sick (but still don’t go to the diner). Your resentful feelings may subside, but they might not, and especially when they don’t you have a chance to make a sacrifice — doing something you *really really really* don’t want to do for the sake of love.

    St. Francis de Sales (the kindest, gentlest soul you’ll ever read) struggled with anger. I heard that when he died, they found a bunch of scratchings under his desk; apparently he dug in his nails when meeting with people so he could be kind and patient with them. I don’t think this is necessarily dishonest; I think it’s him doing is best to treat them in the way they deserve to be treated. St. Therese of Lisieux, I heard, would run away from other nuns mid-conversation if she didn’t think she could hold her patience. We should pray and work to be better at the virtues we happen to be especially bad at, but I think it’s also good to recognize that we can’t just “get over” things. It takes time, prayer, work, struggle. Sometimes we should admit our weaknesses, with humility, and sometimes we should make concessions to our weaknesses for the sake of love. Admitting weakness with humility isn’t sinful; giving in to that weakness is.

    • David Peters

      I love your last sentence here and I think it is so true. The examples of the Saints you gave us are inspiring as well. I think what Stacy meant by that quote though, is that she didn’t want to be phony or a fake. She wants it to be real. We can all too easily put on our religious face!

  • David Peters

    Yes, it is all about the relationship.