The Beauty of Faithfulness
This is a hard saying because it asks a hard question. Jesus shares a challenging teaching and a lot of his followers abandoned him over it. It says in the gospel today, "They no longer went with him." And so, Jesus looks at his closest disciples, and he asked them, "Will you also go away?" It's a great question for your faith, isn't it? And it's a great question for your life. When the going gets tough, will you go away? Do we fall away? When a relationship is challenged, do you find a way to hang in there or to stick it out? When your job's not going the way you want, do you stick to it, or do you walk away? When a habit's not producing the results you would like, do you keep grinding it out, or do you give up, sleep in, and drop out? It's true for life. It's not always an easy journey. It's not an easy journey being Catholic either, is it, following Jesus, having faith, and really trying to become the best version of yourself. I mean, we all have bad days, unexplainable things happen. We all have dry spells. Sometimes you're just not feeling it at all. And we all have moments where we wonder, "God, are you really with me or not?" So, today's gospel reminds us of a forgotten word, in many ways, a very unpopular word, faithfulness, also known as steadfastness or fidelity. You may know his cousins stick-to-itness and perseverance. Faithfulness, it's not the sexiest word around, is it? It kind of reminds you of St. Joseph, the unsung saint, who just quietly gets up every day and delivers the goods. In the face of gossip, Joseph sticks with Mary. In the middle of distractions of every kind, he's faithful to his role as the father, the earthly stepfather of Jesus. Even when the family's facing danger from King Herod, who's trying to kill Jesus, Joseph his steadfast, protector, defender, faithful. Joseph has a single-mindedness. He knows his task is of monumental importance. And so, he gives it his full attention. He knew what mattered most. And he was even willing to sacrifice his public reputation to do it. That's what faithfulness does. It keeps what matters most in the front of your mind.
For you and me, being faithful usually means being heroic in ordinary things. Anita and I first met Father Cadjian when we lived in Connecticut. He was a Dominican. He was 89 years old, and he just retired from parish ministry, leading parishes as their pastor into a life of full-time prayer. He lived in the priory with a group of Dominican's. And Father Cadj devoted himself to prayer. He was in the prayer chapel most of the day. And whenever I would swing by that priory to see my friend Father Stephen or to get some tutoring or some coaching there, and more often than not, I would run into Father Cadj. Father Cadj was a curmudgeon. He was an old New England guy. And he had that accent, and he had that attitude. And so, when I would see him, he knew that I was very sick. And he knew that my wife was a thousand miles from family, and she was trying to raise our girls away from her mom and dad and the rest of our family. And Father Cadj would say, "Alan, how are you doing?" And I'd say, "Well, I'm doing pretty good." And he'd say, "Well, I'm praying for you." And I knew that when Father Cadj said, "I'm praying for you," that he really meant it. Because his was a life of prayer. He was a pole star of faithfulness. In fact, the parish secretary knew that if somebody called the Priory in the middle of the night or on a Christmas morning with an emergency, she knew to call Father Cadj. Even at 89, he would still be ready, willing, and excited to go, in any emergency, at any moment, faithful. Father Cadj was faithful in every way. He was still wearing the clothes that he'd acquired in 1950. Because those clothes were good enough for him. He knew that the parish would give him enough food. The parish would give him what he needed. He didn't need any new clothes. In fact, he would take his little, small pension check - I don't know what a Dominican got, but maybe it was $25 a month - and he would sign it over. And he'd put the entire amount into the poor box to help people who really needed something. Father Cadj was faithful. He was faithful in prayer. He was faithful in generosity. He was faithful.
So, I always remember one day when I stopped by the priory, and Father Cadj came down to meet me. And he had a big bandage on his forehead. And I said, Father Cadj, you doing okay? He said, "Yeah. I'm praying for you." And I said, "I see that you got that bandage on your forehead. You doing okay?" And he goes, "Oh yeah." And he smiled, and he chuckled, and he was a little bit proud. And I said, "Well, tell me what happened." He said, "Well, I was in the prayer chapel. I was praying for you. And I fell asleep. And I fell over, and I hit my head on the rail in front of me. And they had to take me to the hospital and then stitched me up." And kind of bowed up himself. And he had his red badge of prayer courage on him. And I realized that Father Cadj was the first person I had ever met who was wounded in prayer. Faithful. He radiated faithfulness in nearly every aspect of his life, faithful in prayer, faithful in generosity, faithful in a life of eager and joyful service, faithful and true. Because God is faithful and true. Faithfulness comes in different shapes, sizes, and ages. Phyllis was an elderly woman in her church and her heart overflowed with a love for God's little kids. Her eyes lit up when she saw a baby. Her eyes sparkled when she held that child. And she worked in the nursery week in and week out in that church well into her 80s, rocking children in the nursery, so parents could be in worship. She developed her own special team to pray for each child and to pray for those families and to have a special luncheon every year for all the children who were baptized that year and for their families so that they knew they were loved, and they were prayed for. She was faithful day in, day out, year in, and year out. But her body began to experience challenges that come with aging. And her mobility got diminished and her walk became slow. And she required the assistance of a cane. And sometimes her body just didn't want to cooperate with her spirit. And with every passing Sunday, it grew increasingly difficult for her to simply arrive at the nursery.
So, you can imagine our amazement one Sunday morning, stormy weather, as we prepared around 8:00 a.m. And we resigned ourselves to the fact that very few people would get up to go to church on this morning. They'd wake up, and they'd see the rain. They'd see the gray skies. They'd hear the thunder. And they would just roll over and stay in the comfort of a warm, dry bed. As we looked out the window, a little small car pulled into the handicapped parking space right outside the church door. And slowly, but surely, a woman emerged from the car and opened an umbrella and finally stepped out of the car onto the pavement. And slowly, but surely, elderly Phyllis made her way into the nursery in the pouring rain. She knew her calling. She loved God, and she loved God's children. And she never considered anything else. It was right there before our eyes. Phyllis was displaying every bit of the best version of herself, in pain, in the rain, devoted to love, devoted to God, faithful. Faithful, it's such a great word.